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The Big Fixx: digital-camera image problems > When You Forget to Use Fill Flash

When You Forget to Use Fill Flash

Wouldn’t it be great if Photoshop had a “fill flash” brush, so when you forgot to use your fill flash, you could just paint it in? Well, although it’s not technically called the fill flash brush, you can create your own brush and get the same effect. Here’s how.

Step One.
Open a photo where the subject or focus of the image appears in shadows. Go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose Levels.


Step Two.
Drag the middle Input Levels slider (the gray one) to the left until your subject looks properly exposed. (Note: Don’t worry about how the background looks—it will probably become completely “blown out,” but you’ll fix that later. For now, just focus on making your subject look right.) If the midtone slider doesn’t bring out the subject enough, you may have to increase the highlights as well, so drag the far-right Input Levels slider to the left to increase the highlights. When your subject looks properly exposed, click OK.

Step Three.
Go under the Window menu and choose History to bring up the History palette. This palette keeps a running “history” of the last 20 adjustments you’ve made to your photo. In this instance, there should be only two entries (called “History States”). Open should be the first State, followed by Levels, showing that you opened the photo and then made a Levels adjustment.

Step Four.
In the History palette, click on the State named “Open.” This returns your photo to how it looked when you originally opened the image (in other words, it looks the way it did before you adjusted the Levels).

Step Five.
In the History palette, click in the first column next to the grayed-out state named “Levels.” An icon that looks like Photoshop’s History Brush appears in the column, showing that you’re going to be painting from what your image looked like after you used Levels.

Step Six.
Choose the History Brush tool from the Toolbox (as shown here), and choose a soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker in the Options Bar.

Step Seven.
Begin painting with the History Brush over your subject, avoiding the background area entirely. (Here, I’m painting over the left side of the subject’s face.) As you paint, you’ll notice that you’re actually painting in the lightened version of the subject you adjusted earlier with Levels.

Step Eight.
Continue painting with the History Brush until your subject looks as if you used a fill flash. When you’re painting, if it appears too intense, just lower the Opacity of the History Brush up in the Options Bar. That way, when you paint, the effect appears less intense. You can see the final repair here, with the background unchanged, but the subject in shadows is “brought out.”

Step Nine.
After you finish painting, if it still appears too intense, go to Fade History Brush under the Edit menu. When the Fade dialog box appears, lower the Opacity to decrease the effect. Here, I lowered it to 72%. A before and after is shown.

Before: The backlit subject’s face is in the shadows.

After: The face is now lit, and the background stays perfectly exposed.

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