Elements does have some limitations compared to Photoshop. One of these is the difference in the Shadows/Highlights tools. So is there a workaround? Yes there is…

The Shadow/Highlights tool in Photoshop is designed to even up the tones in high-contrast pictures. It lightens the shadow areas and darkens the highlights by selecting these regions separately (though you don’t see the selections) and providing you with tools to adjust them.

Elements Shadow Highlight

This picture’s a good candidate. It’s not an extreme example, but it’s typical of outdoor shots where the sky is bright and the landscape is a little dark. What I’d like to do is balance it up a little better so that the sky has more depth and the bottom of the picture is a bit lighter.

This works fine in Photoshop, where the Shadows/Highlights tool gives you lots of controls for fine-tuning the results and making the picture look realistic, but in Elements it’s a different story…

01 Shadows/Highlights adjustments in Elements

Elements Shadow Highlight

All you get in Elements is this simple dialog with three sliders. I can drag the Lighten Shadows and Darken Highlights sliders to the point where the balance is about right, but the transitions between the adjusted areas are too abrupt – it looks like bad HDR, not a proper photograph. The Midtone Contrast slider at the bottom is supposed to boost the flat midtone areas, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

In Photoshop’s Shadows/Highlights dialog there are Radius sliders for blending in the adjustments more smoothly, but Elements doesn’t have them – and this makes this tool pretty useless, in my opinion.

But I do have another method for achieving the same result, and it works just as well in Elements as it does in Photoshop. I sometimes call it ‘luminance mask HDR’ just to make it sound clever, but actually it’s just like Shadows/Highlights adjustments, but with more control.

02 Duplicate the image layer

Elements Shadow Highlight

This technique uses the image itself to create the adjustment mask. (It’s not really a mask, but it has a similar effect.) So the first step is to duplicate the image layer by dragging its thumbnail on to the ‘Create a new layer’ button at the top of the Layers palette. Here’s our duplicate at the top of the layer stack above the original.

03 Invert the layer

Elements Shadow Highlight

Now use the ctrl/command-I shortcut to invert this top layer – in other words, you’re turning it into a negative. The dark parts become light and vice versa.