Using Adobe’s Adjustment Brush in Photoshop or Lightroom to rescue awkwardly-lit scenes

Using Adobe’s Adjustment Brush in Photoshop or Lightroom to rescue awkwardly-lit scenes

Despite the power of post-processing tools, one area that has always been labor intensive and error-prone is correcting images that have multiple light sources with multiple color temperatures. Since white balance is best set on the raw image, correcting for two or more different light sources has required “developing” the image multiple times and then using layers and layer masking to composite a version that shows each area lit correctly. Fortunately Adobe has changed all that…

Adobe has added an Adjustment Brush capability to both Photoshop’s Camera Raw and Lightroom’s Develop module. Much of what you can do with the brush mimics actions you could also perform with Adjustment layers – but one capability stands out. You can use one or more Adjustment Brushes to use different white balances for different areas of the image. The first screenshot below shows my original Raw file without any use of an Adjustment Brush. The upper pagoda of the world-famous Shwedagon in Yangon shows off its 100+ tons of gold in the late afternoon. However, the lower portion of the pagoda and the family of worshippers are less attractively lit by the shaded sun. With any single white balance setting you can only make one or the other look good:

In just a few seconds I can create and apply an Adjustment Brush that adds about 1-stop of exposure to the shaded area, but more importantly significantly warms up the white balance. I can then simply “paint” the adjustment brush onto the image:

The resulting image does a much better job of representing what our eye and brain do – correct each portion of the scene independently, making everything and everyone in it look natural – but the camera can’t do on its own. The result is a natural looking combination of both white balances:

That image gives us a realistic rendering of the image, although we can tweak it a bit further if we want. Hitting the image above with a bit of added color using Vibrance we can also get a scene that looks much warmer, and might be more enticing for a commercial application like a calendar or travel brochure:

Buddhist Worshippers at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
, Nikon 24-85mm lens @ 24mm, Gitzo tripod with Acratech Head
f/6.7 @ 1/1000s, ISO 800