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The (somewhat) Magic Brush

February 24, 2010

I often get asked about the light in my pictures.  I don’t really have a great, one-step answer, so I thought I’d talk about a one of the tools I use to help me get the light right in my pictures.

In both ACR (CS4 version) and Lightroom 2 there is a little thing called an Adjustment Brush tool.  It’s your friend.  Use it.

Above is the picture as it came out of my camera.  You can see I have the Highlight Clipping Warning turned on, which paints the picture red wherever the highlights are blown out.

Above is what my picture looked like after I made over-all adjustments.  You can see that I bumped the exposure up and used the Recovery slider, which helps to recover blown highlights.  But still, I had areas that were too bright.  So I used the Adjustment brush to fix them.

I clicked on the little brush icon, which is highlighted in yellow, and then adjusted the exposure slider down and used a small brush to paint over the areas that were too bright.  Once you paint an area you can go back to the sliders and re-adjust them (if you didn’t take the exposure down enough, or if it was too dark).  You can have a bunch of different pins (if you click the “new” button) and you can go back and forth between them, adding to them, erasing from then, etc.  You can have some for exposure, some for contrast, some for saturation ~ you can even add color.  (I knew I planned to crop the top portion of the window out, so I didn’t bother fixing that part).

And that’s it.  As I seem to say on every post, you have to play around with it to get the hang of it, but it’s an awesome tool that’s well worth learning.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. *Olivier permalink
    February 24, 2010 11:37 am

    Great ! Well seen, very well done.
    And thanks a lot … I need a CS4 now ! lol.

    Serioulsly, that explains a lot of things about “your light” . It gives me ideas about how to obtain what i want in PS CS3.
    Many Thanks … (even if it just lets me think something like”why damn didn’t i have think of this before ! And it helps, a lot.)

    Have a great nice day, Lauren.

  2. san permalink
    February 24, 2010 11:54 am

    this is a great tutorial Lauren! thanks so much!
    i can’t find this brush in photoshop…is this a special program for RAW pictures?

    thanks so much!

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 24, 2010 12:01 pm

      Yes, it’s found in Adobe Camera RAW, the RAW processor that comes with Photoshop. The adjustment brush was introduced in CS4, and also in Lightroom 2.

  3. February 24, 2010 12:09 pm

    ok! thanks so much!! you help me alot! i will try it!!! yay!!


  4. joeandrews permalink
    February 24, 2010 1:13 pm

    Well written and pretty easy to follow, very nice job explaining this. Awesome post!

  5. February 24, 2010 1:23 pm

    Thank you so much! You help me with soooo much!! You should sell presets and actions to the public. I bet they would be a hit!

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 24, 2010 1:25 pm

      Jessica ~ I do, lol. *Cinnamon and I sell them together, here.

  6. Jacqui permalink
    February 24, 2010 3:42 pm

    Brilliant !

  7. February 24, 2010 4:27 pm

    I’m really glad you made this post because before I always just assumed your D3 was magic. There was something comforting about seeing all that red in your ACR window. 😉

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 24, 2010 6:09 pm

      LOL. I don’t think any digital camera is that magic (yet). You either have to expose for the scene, or expose for her face, and if you do the latter you’re going to completely blow the window out. So I find it easier to expose for the highlights (mainly) and then make adjustments after.

  8. February 24, 2010 5:27 pm

    Gee wizz …. I don’t have that feature in my camera Raw … you must be using CS4 … I have CS3 still …

    • elycerose permalink*
      February 24, 2010 6:04 pm

      Yes, it’s new in CS4 and Lightroom 2

  9. Kristy permalink
    February 25, 2010 7:43 am

    Wow..that tool is so fantastic! Sometimes there are so many things to play with you don’t notice them until someone points them out. Thanks!!!

  10. Ash permalink
    February 26, 2010 9:06 am

    I have never used this tool I must try it now.
    Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful tips with us.

  11. Liz permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:50 am

    Thanks Lauren! I’ve been a big fan of yours and followed you on flickr for quite some time. This blog is really amazing – I love how you go into such detail (it really really helps!) Just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for sharing your awesome talent!

  12. Elle permalink
    July 21, 2010 11:01 am

    Hi Lauren,

    I was just curious, how did you acquire your processing knowledge?

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