Editing a Photo that has a Dark Foreground

I had the pleasure of taking care of my 2 youngest grandchildren for 3 days over the holiday weekend.  Owen is 2-years-old and Ella is 11- months-old.  Their mom asked me if I would dress them in the patriotic clothing she purchased for them and take their picture on July 4th.

I tried. I tried really hard. But photographing 2 squirming children, who would much rather be playing than posing for photos, is quite a challenge.

Two minutes into the photo session, Ella started crying. As my husband tried to comfort her, I turned my attention to Owen. Surely I could get at least one good shot of him?  I asked him to sit on a little stool nearby. He agreed, but was determined to keep his eyes closed and not smile. The bright sunlight was behind him, and I knew the photo foreground would be dark. But I also knew this was the only chance I was going to have.  This split second in time.

More importantly, I knew I could post-process the photo in Photoshop…. so I snapped.


Here’s how I corrected this photo:

  • I shoot in RAW format. When I opened the photo in Photoshop CC2015.5, it automatically opened in Camera Raw.  If you shoot in JPG format, navigate to your photo in Adobe Bridge. Right click on the photo, and choose to open it in Camera Raw. Photoshop Elements users:  File > Open in Camera Raw (I am looking at PSE14. I’m not sure how many versions of PSE have this option.)
  • I clicked on the AUTO option. Owen looks better, but the background is now blown out.
  • I dragged the Highlights Slider all the way to the left. This helped the background, but it still needs some work.


  • I clicked OPEN IMAGE to open the image in Photoshop. (Your Photoshop version may use different terminology for this.)
  • I added a blank layer above the photo.
  • I set the Foreground color to Black and Background color to white.
  • I choose the Gradient Tool, and selected the Foreground to Transparent gradient.


  • On this photo I only want to darken the background area where the trees are.  I clicked at the top of the photo and dragged the gradient about 3/4’s of the way down the photo.


  • I changed the Gradient Layer to the Soft Light Blend Mode and decreased the opacity of the layer to 80%.
  • I applied a mask to the gradient, made sure my foreground color was black, and, with a soft brush, brushed away the gradient on Owen’s face.

This is the final result.


If you are not familiar with using Masks, here is a previous tutorial that should help:  Using Layer Masks in Photoshop.

I hope you have found this tip helpful!

If you would like to keep a PDF copy of this tutorial, you may download it here: Editing a Photo with a Dark Foreground.



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Comments (4)

  1. […] Editing a Photo that has a Dark Foreground – 1 freebie(s) […]

    July 9, 2016 at 12:33 am
  2. Karen

    Nice picture! lol. I shoot in both raw and jpeg at the same time but if I use only jpeg, PHotshop 2015 CC does have a camera raaw filter for a jpeg photo. Most of the camera raw options are there, so you can sometimes either use leave “as shot” or auto. Auto generally really lightens things too much. Same with auto on the second set of options where the sliders are, But watching Creative Live one day a fellow ( I am sorry I do not remember who) was teaching a class. He often used sliding highlights all the way down, shadows all the way up, then holding contron (On windows, forget what it is on a MAC0, slide the whites to the right until you get a bit of highlights showing and the same for blacks-hold down the alt kep and slide left until some darker colors show up. Often I have to adjust the temperature slide to warm a bit or cool a bit but it works. Gradients are also there along with radial filters for jpeg photos, operating as a raw shot. Just a thought.

    July 9, 2016 at 9:26 am
  3. Ann

    Thank you Karen for this tutorial. I have a couple of photos like this and hopefully I can now fix them. And thanks for the link to fix the photo before taking it.

    July 9, 2016 at 10:02 pm
    • Karen

      You are welcome! Wishing you great success with your photos!

      July 10, 2016 at 7:05 pm
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