07 Double the effect
The picture looks better already, but what if you want a stronger effect? It couldn’t be easier! Just drag this ‘overlay’ layer on to the ‘Create a new layer’ button to create a duplicate. The effect is cumulative, and the combined adjustment is strong enough to work for even the most contrasty image. In fact, it’s a bit too strong for this one…
08 Adjusting the result
But that’s easy to fix too. All you have to do is select the duplicated ‘overlay’ layer and reduce its opacity value. I’ve taken it down to just 30% here, and that looks just about perfect.
09 The final picture
Now if all this seems a lot of trouble just to get round the limitations of the Shadows/Highlights tool in Elements, there are some important differences in this technique that make it superior even to the more powerful Shadows/Highlights tool in Photoshop.
1) Inevitably you get some ‘spread’ of dark areas into light, but with this technique you can fix them by painting directly on areas of the ‘overlay’ layer with black, white or shades of grey to restore the proper brightness in the layer below. It’s more painstaking, but if you just fix the glaring problems (like the darkening facade and roofline in the cream-coloured buildings on the right in this picture), people won’t notice the smaller ones.
2) It’s controllable after the event! You can strengthen the effect in an instant by duplicating the ‘overlay’ layer and weaken it by reducing the opacity.
3) It’s non-destructive. This is all done with additional layers. The original image on the Background layer at the bottom of the stack remains untouched throughout the process.
It’s true that Elements has some limitations compared to Photoshop, but in my experience there’s nearly always a workaround that gets you to the same place in the end – and in the process, you often discover something superior to what you were doing in Photoshop anyway!