Lots of you downloaded my newest free actions for Elements last week:  Select Brights and Select Darks.  If not, read this article to learn how to download these free actions for Photoshop Elements.

I use those actions in today’s edit to give you a few ideas of what you might do with them.  I used Select Darks to quickly select shadows, and then I brightened them.  And Select Brights helped me add haze to the highlights.  You can use these two actions anytime you  want to adjust either the brightest parts of your photo or the darkest, without spending lots of time painting a layer mask.


The selections created by these two actions can easily be applied to a layer mask, with the brightest parts of the mask corresponding to the tone you selected.  Shades of gray will appear for areas that are close to what you selected.  And the black parts of the layer mask will be the opposite of what the action selected.

The beautiful woman in the photo above is my step-daughter.  The photo was taken in the bride’s dressing room in the location of her wedding, which will take place next year.  I wanted the editing to feel light and romantic, and to emphasize the gorgeous filtered light coming in through the window.Here’s what I did:

  • Add a Levels Adjustment layer to correct white balance.  I moved the middle Blue slider to .82 and the middle green slider to .96.  (Yes, I could have adjusted WB in Lightroom as well.)
  • Added a Spot Healing layer to clean up distractions and blemishes.
  • Ran the Select Shadows action and immediately added a Levels Adjustment layer.  You can see that adding this layer with the shadows selected created my Layer Mask for me, with the darkest points in the photo represented by the brightest points on the mask.  I adjusted the middle slider on the RGB channel to 1.15, to lighten the shadows without lightening the brighter parts of the image.  I like this effect because it opened up the shadows on the left side of her face gradually and naturally with no complicated masking required.
  • Next, I ran MCP’s Magic Skin and Eye Doctor from Amazing Faces to smooth skin and pop the eyes.
  • And then MCP’s Spring Haze, from the Spring Splendor Collection, added a lovely, soft haze to the image.  However, I didn’t want the hazy look over her face, only the brighter parts of the background.  So, with the Adjust Spring Haze layer selected, I typed control/command + i to turn the mask black and hide the effect.  
  • I clicked on the background layer and ran the Select Brights action, then clicked again on the Adjust Spring Haze Layer.  By going to Edit/Fill and selecting White from the Contents box, I created a layer mask where only the bright parts of the photo were selected.  I fine tuned this mask by brushing her face out of it with a black brush.  Now my mask looks like this, and the haze is only applied to the brighter parts of the photo.  That emphasizes the soft haziness of the light shining through the sheer curtain.
  • Finally, I ran Directional Sunlight, also from MCP’s Spring Splendor, to add just a touch of warmth to the light coming through the window.

These two actions will be most useful when you need to adjust exposure, as I did when brightening the shadows above.  But there are lots of other uses for them.  For example, I sometimes like to select the Darks in my image and deepen and darken them – using either a Hue/Saturation or a Color Fill Layer, like the example below.

So that’s the tutorial on how you use Select Brights and Select Darks, Texas Chick’s newest free actions for Photoshop Elements.  Any questions?  How will YOU use these actions?