Why Highlights/Shadows in Photoshop? / by Alain Zarinelli

A blog reader asked me why I use Highlights/Shadows in Photoshop, and not just the sliders in Lightroom…

My answer? Control. Actually, more control over the result.

In Lightroom, the ’Highlight’ and ‘Shadow’ sliders have just a +/- option - I.e. highlight, resp. shadow, values can be increased or decreased, that’s it.

In Photoshop, the ‘Highlights/Shadows’ adjustment gives me more options over how much, where, and how to ‘blend,’ the adjustment.

As shown in the screenshot above, for both shadows and highlights, there are three sliders available (after you click the ‘Show More Options’ box…):


This is basically what is in Lightroom. It controls the amount of shadow (in ‘%’) pulled up in the image. I would recommend reseting the Shadows default from ’35%’ (out of the box) to ‘0%’ (like for Highlights,) and adjust up from there for the particular image.

For the shadows, I have found I rarely go lower than 10% or higher than 40%; for the highlights, 8% - 18% seems to work for most images - this will vary with each image capture, as well as the dynamic range of the camera used!

Tonal Width

Controls the range of tones in the shadows or highlights that are modified. Smaller values restrict the adjustments to the darker regions for shadow correction and the lighter regions for highlight correction. Larger values increase the range of tones.


Controls the size of the local neighborhood around each pixel. Neighboring pixels are used to determine whether a pixel is in the shadows or highlights. Moving the slider to the left specifies a smaller area, and moving it to the right specifies a larger area. The optimum local neighborhood size depends on the image and the sensor resolution. Like with the other sliders in this tool, it’s best to experiment with the adjustment. With experience, it will become “natural” where to put the sliders - this is also a major tool for your “personal style”

Color Correction

This seems a bit of a misnomer to me. This slider acts more like Hue/Saturation adjustment restricted to the shadow and highlight areas of the image.

Midtone Contrast

This slider is similar to the Clarity slider in Lightroom - one reason I don’t use clarity in Lightroom any longer…

I usually don’t touch Black Clip and White Clip.

Highlights and Shadows in Photoshop is a very powerful tool; unfortunately, it’s not (as of this writing) available as an adjustment layer. Therefore, I usually create a new layer and make it into a smart object, so I can adjust my values after the fact. I think all this may become clearer when I show how I process my photos in a screen capture video tutorial…