Photoshop: Fixing Those Shiny Faces

I was shooting a wedding rehearsal dinner in New York in a restaurant with dark walls and ceiling. No choice: I couldn’t bounce a flash off of anything white, so I had to use on-camera flash. I popped a Gary Fong Lightsphere onto the SB900 atop my Nikon D3s for the job. Although Gary’s “Tupperware” diffuser helps, you still end up with results like this. Obviously lit from just above the lens, and the awful glare from shiny skin.

Andrew & Mikey

But as luck would have it, I just returned from a four-day intensive workshop with color-correction.retouching guru Dan Margulis, where I learned a marvelous technique for improving those blown-out shiny highlights. After some experimentation, I came up with a variation of Dan’s technique. It works so well, I thought I’d share it with you here. The results are shown below.

Andrew & Mikey

The first steps are from Dan:

  • Dan’s technique requires that you switch to the Lab colorspace. Using my variation, you can stay in RGB.
  • Create an empty layer. (Dan uses a duplicate layer. I prefer to work in an empty one.)
  • Using the eyedropper tool, select an area with color near the blown-out highlight. This sets the foreground color.
  • Using the brush tool, paint that color over the shiny area. Dan sets the brush to Color mode. I paint in Normal mode, then change the layer to Color mode.

The results replace the white in the shiny area with color, but keep the luminosity. In Dan’s Lab version, this creates a color that Photoshop can’t render. It’s as bright as pure white but still has color. Since this isn’t possible in RGB or on your screen, Photoshop is forced to convert it to something else, which is why Dan’s technique works. I stay in RGB, then use the following additional steps:

  • Duplicate the layer you just created containing the touch-ups.
  • Switch it to Normal mode.
  • Dial back the Opacity to 30%-40%.

The result is similar to what Dan achieves in Lab, but I think you have a bit more control over it. Dan’s technique preserves virtually all of the contrast and texture. My version allows you to sacrifice some of that texture in order to reduce the highlights further. Give it a try!

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