Quick How To: Painting non-destructive shadows

Today we are going to learn a super useful tip to quickly boost the shadows of any image, using its same tonal range and best of all, in a non-destructive way.

Notice this technique is not exclusive for treating shadows, but if you're just getting started in photo editing, it is better to break down all the tools Affinity Photo offers, into little pieces of information, so we can understand them better.

Final result

This is what we're going after. A subtle but powerful technique, that will noticeably improve your photos in less than five minutes.

First, open any image you want; preferably, a portrait, it will make things easier to understand.

Open the Adjustment Panel and select Curves. This will create a non-destructive layer on top of your image.

For this example, we'll be only modifying the Master Channel. We want to keep it as simple as possible for now. Depending on the image you've chosen, you'll need to adjust this Master Curve slightly different than the one shown above. However, that setting should work most of the times.

The idea here is to under-expose or 'burn' our portrait. This way, we'll have enough material to build our shadows pass.

While selecting our Curves Adjustment layer, add a Layer Mask, it will automatically get nested into your Curves Layer. Now, select the mask and, using the Paint Bucket Tool with a pure black color, fill the mask to make it transparent.

You need to apply this fill onto the image itself, not onto the Mask.

Keep the Layer Mask selected, select the Paint Brush Tool and, using a soft airbrush (any of the default airbrushes will do) and a pure white fill, start painting over the Layer Mask.

Start building up your shadows keeping a lower Flow value on your brush (15% - 30%).

Let the facial features tell you where to apply your brush strokes. If you think you've overdone certain parts, just switch your fill color to pure black again and paint over your mask to undo those parts. As you can see, it's practically impossible to screw things up!

Work along the contours of the face and under the nose, to emphasize the cheeks, chin and mouth. The idea is to make her/his most attractive facial features to stand out.

Same works for any image you're working with. This not only applies to portraits.

The ability of having your image shadows always editable, allow you to have more creative freedom before getting started and after you're done with your project. If you're not happy with the results once you've finished, you can always go back to your Curves Adjustment Layer to fine-tune its settings or edit your layer mask to paint more shadows and vice versa.

Hundreds of possibilities

Notice ow much we can do just by touching the Master Curve and focusing only on shadows. Just imagine what else can be done by modifying the rest of RGBA Curves, playing with other tonal ranges and different adjustments... whoa! It sound overwhelming, but, we'll be getting into all these settings one step at a time.

We hope you've enjoyed this quick tutorial!

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