Fight Harsh Contrast with Photoshop Layer Mask

by Jim Zuckerman

MS-8214<br>Exposure for Highlights
Exposure for Highlights

© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
One way to battle harsh, midday sunlight is by combining two shots in Photoshop using a layer mask.

I visited this ancient Roman theater in Turkey during the worst part of the day. It was 11 am and the sun was very high, causing terrible contrast. Both film and digital technology can’t expose correctly for both the bright highlights and the much darker shadows, so the options have traditionally been to: (1) expose for the highlights and let the shadows go very dark or even black; (2) exposure for the shadows and lose detail in the overexposed highlights; or (3) compromise between the two and therefore both parts of the picture will look bad.

With Photoshop as my secret weapon, so to speak, I took two shots from a tripod. In one, I exposed for the highlights (MS-8214). And in the other, I exposed correctly for the shadows (MS-8218).

MS-8218<br>Exposure for Shadows
Exposure for Shadows

© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
I opened both pictures in Photoshop. I then chose the picture with the correct highlights (it doesn’t matter which one is chosen first) and used Select > select all and then Edit > copy. This placed the image in the temporary holding place, the clipboard. You can’t see it, but it’s there.

Next, I clicked in the other photo, activating it, and used Edit > paste. This pasted the clipboard image over the other one, creating a layer.

I then created a layer mask this way: Layer > layer mask > reveal all. I then made sure that the colors in the foreground/background boxes at the bottom of the tools palette were black and white, respectively. It’s important that the foreground box be black.

I selected the paint brush tool, and now I could ‘paint away’ the dark shadow foreground, revealing the correctly exposed shadow foreground beneath.

MS-8212<br> Combine Two Shots for Good Overall Exposure
Combine Two Shots for Good Overall Exposure

© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
Check out the finished result in image MS-8212 and see how good it looks compared to the other two versions.

Editor's Note: Jim Zuckerman teaches a number of excellent online photography courses right here at

Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at