I’m primarily a landscape photographer, and as such I don’t often shoot images of people. However, I’ve seen this question come up a few times and thought I’d take a minute or two to address it.
In any form of photography the best time to get the exposure correct is at the moment of image capture. However, for varying reasons sometimes that isn’t possible. The image below is a case in point:
This is an image captured with my cell phone so the dynamic range is compromised to begin with. Still, it’s a decent image (of a beautiful subject), but the right side of her face is washed out and lacks highlight detail.
One obvious solution might seem to be to use Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush to select the highlight area and tone down the exposure, but because there is no digital information in the washed out areas, doing so simply makes the white area gray, as seen below. Not very flattering:
The Adjustment Brush technique will work, but there’s one other step to perform first. Several tools in Lightroom’s Develop module including the Graduated Filter, Radiant Filter, Adjustment Brush and the Split Toning Tool have a Color Effect box, as seen here:
After clicking on the box to open it, you can place your mouse anywhere inside the colour box to sample a colour. However, after placing your mouse inside the box, if you click and hold the left mouse button down you can drag the colour sample tool outside the box and to a point anywhere on the image (actually anywhere on the computer screen, including the window of another program). In this case you want to sample a colour from the (lovely) subject’s face – in an area not washed out by over exposure.
Now after masking the washed out areas on the right side of her face, lowering the exposure by 1/2 stop doesn’t reduce the white area to gray. Instead Lightroom adds the selected colour to the masked area. The result, seen below, is much better:
Here are the three images, side by side for comparison.
NB: The selected colour will remain until it’s replaced. To return the Colour Effect back to normal, simply open the Colour Effect box and drag the Saturation slider on the bottom down to zero. The Colour Effect box can also be used as a colour replacement tool, but that’s another story.
Okay, that’s it. Now go out and make some photographs!