Editing Toolbox: Reduce Highlights

As always, there’s about 100 ways to do things or fix problems when it comes to editing, so this toolbox goes through a few options for you.

Keep in mind that how effective these methods will be depends on how large the blown out areas are. If you have HUGE white blobs, this is going to be much harder to fix and might be something you look at fixing in camera, on location in future. Bracketing, under-exposing, or using an external light source or reflector could help.

Some options for fixing/reducing blown highlights include:

  • Lower highlights in LR and reduce clarity
  • Copy/paste some bokeh from somewhere else in the background
  • Clone stamp bokeh from somewhere else in the background
  • Use motion blur on the bokeh
  • Use gaussian blur on the bokeh (I recommend you add noise afterwards)
  • Fill in the white spots with the brush tool in a colour from the outside of the bokeh
  • cover the bokeh with a radial gradient, or add haze in Adobe Camera Raw.

Your main goals are probably going to be to:

  • soften the edges of the blown out areas so they aren’t so sharp
  • add some colour so it isn’t so white

Keeping that in mind will help you decide what you want to do, and how to do it with the tools available to you.

Layers Flowchart

I’ve been asked a couple of times whether there are lessons or resources on layers, specifically:

  • when to group and hide layers
  • where in the process to do clone/healing layers
  • what the hell is going on with smooshed layers

The problem was, the answer always begins with: “It depends.”

After all, whether or not you turn off layers depends what you have, and what type of layers are there. Where you do your clone stamp depends on what you’ve done already. 

So I made this flow-chart. I’ve tried to cover as many possible editing scenarios as I can think of, and of course some scenarios will have more than one “thing” that you’ve already done or WANT to do.

The important thing is to understand why it might be important to do things in a certain order, so you can make smart decisions about your workflow. I’ve tried to include some explanations as to why I would do things certain ways. 

As this is a Canva whiteboard, I can add or change whatever is there easily, so if you think I’ve missed something, haven’t explained something well, or want something added, let me know in the comments box at the bottom of this lesson. 

You do not need a Canva account to view it, and you can zoom in and out and navigate around. You can also download a .pdf version but it might be more difficult to read and can’t be updated if anything changes – unless you download a new version.

Editing Toolbox: Add Snow

In this editing toolbox, we’re going to add snow to the green parts of our image. You can of course add this to any coloured area of your image, it doesn’t have to be green. 

We won’t be adding falling snow. You can learn how to do that in the “Add a snow overlay” lesson here. 

You’re going to need a pretty decent understanding of Photoshop to follow this tutorial.

Note that it DOES take some playing around, experimenting, and redoing the layers and effects to get it to look how you want it to look. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work immdiately. Use the many tools you have in your toolbox to fix the issues you might have.

For example, in the video, you’ll notice I say that I don’t like the dark corner in the lower right. I later fix this with a curves layer, simply pulling up the curve to lighten that section so it isn’t darker than the rest of the snowy foreground. 

If problems pop up, ask yourself: what tools do I have to fix this?

How to do it:

In this particular case, I started by already separating the yellows and greens with the HSL panel in Lightroom so I could just work on greens. It didn’t really help. 

On an image layer, go to Select > Colour Range.

Use the eyedropper tool to select the colour of the ground/foreground/whatever you want covered in snow. Hold shift and click to add more colours, or click the eyedropper with the + next to it. 

Adjust the fuzziness to soften the edges of your snow and make it less harsh.

Hit ok when you’re happy. Be prepared to revisit this screen. 

Go to the adjustment layers panel (lower right hand corner, where you make curves layers etc), and click “Solid Colour”. Select white. Boom! Snow! 

Let’s make it more natural.

Double click the layer (not the thumbnail) to bring up the blend options.

Move the shadows/blacks arrow of the “Underlying Layer” toward the middle. You may want to split this arrow to better/more gradually blend the effect. To do so, hold option/alt and click the arrow. 

Now, your snow should be looking reasonably good. If not, you might want to make a new selection and try again. 

What you do from here is really up to you!

You might want to make your snow a more blue tint, or you might still have some green that you don’t want there.

Some options to colour the snow include:

  • hue/saturation layer, either very specifically isolate the green tones and desaturate them, or possibly even use the hue slider to shift it toward blue. 
  • gradient map. Make the shadows a more deep blue/purple, and the highlights a pale blue.
  • colour balance: add blues/purples as you want
  • gradient: try making a gradient from one colour to another. In my final image I used one going from a kind of  orange, to pink tone in the top right, to deeper purple.

Editing Toolbox: Grey-Green Warm Yellow Tones

In this 15-minute Editing Toolbox, you are going to learn how to create the soft grey-green and warm yellow-orange tones as seen in the photos above, when starting from a relatively green SOOC image. 

To be able to follow along in this tutorial you will need to know:

  • how to use the HSL panel in LR or ACR
  • how to use adjustment layers in PS
  • how to mask adjustment layers

Below, you will find a link to a similar photo taken at the same location, so you can try the techniques on this picture.

Feel free to share it in our private network, but please do not share on social media as it was part of a client shoot.

As I say in the video, keep in mind that the exact settings and numbers used in each of the layers WILL CHANGE dramatically from photo to photo. Therefore, don’t try and copy the settings exactly. Or even the process!

Instead, use the process and concept as a starting point, and tweak, change, add, remove layers and colours as needed. 

The main thing to remember is that you’re moving the green tones toward cyan and removing yellow from them, and you’re moving the yellow tones toward orange, and removing cyan from them.

How to: Fix your composition on location (and in LR & PS)

This is a technique I use very often, especially when photographing Journey, or any dog who has a tendency to look all around. 

Rather than try and continually move my focus point, or just hope that Animal Eye-AF will actually work, I minimally move my focus point and instead concentrate on just getting the shot. 

I want to get THE photo, where the dog is engaged, ears up, expression soft but alert. If I’m constantly trying to recompose the shot with my focus point, I’ll likely miss dozens of great expressions and possibly the perfect moment.

My process is usually: 

  • pose the dog with an intention for where/how I want him to look, and with that composition planned (eg., have my focus point where I want it)
This is how I intended the composition to be, so it's how I set up the shot, with my focus point over to the right, over his eye.
  • Journey will then usually immediately look somewhere else. Possibly in the opposite direction, possibly up. I DO NOT move my focus point (or maybe only very slightly) but if he’s looking alert, I continue taking photos!! I want to get THE MOMENT. 
  • When he stops being alert, relaxes, or disengages, I remove my thumb from the back button* (this is important!!!) and take photos of the surrounding area, AS NEEDED.
  • Below, you’ll see the when he looked around and the composition I had for those photos, as well as the extra photos I took. Because he looked to the right, and above, and because I felt like I’d chopped his legs off, I took photos to the right, above him, and below him.
  • If your dog leaves the scene or changes position, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You already have your photo of the dog in the perfect moment. All you need now are parts of the scene without dog! As long as the dog doesn’t take three steps to the right when you need to take photos of the scene to the right, then you’ll be fine. Just keep them out of the parts of the scene you’re building.
*You MUST make sure your plane of focus does not change. If your camera will refocus when you press the shutter, you must either: change to Back Button Focus, turn the focus mode to Manual, or flick the switch on the lens from AF to MF (if it has a switch). Otherwise, as soon as you press the shutter, the camera will focus on the background, and you  will not be able to make a panorama from your images, as the focus area will be completely different.

Keep in mind when looking at these photos, there might be 10 photos of just the dog looking all around first… and when he relaxes, THEN I take the photos of the surroundings.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t really hurt to have extra photos of the surroundings and it can be a good habit to get into if you are often cutting off toes, tails or ears. Unless you have a super tiny SD card (why) then when you import the photos, if you find you don’t actually need them, just delete them. I would always much rather HAVE these photos and the real image data from the location, than to ask Photoshop to create pixels using AI.

From there, it’s relatively simple in either Photoshop or Lightroom to combine the images. 

In Lightroom, simply select the photos you want to use in your panorama, right click, and select Photo Merge >  Panorama

This is the panorama Lightroom created for me using the above images. I could obviously crop this to wherever makes sense! I don't need all that space behind him!

Note! Sometimes LR will choose the “wrong head” if you have two or three photos which feature the dog’s head, so keep a careful eye out for that. You don’t want it to choose an out of focus version.

  • Otherwise, do your normal base edits (mine are in Lightroom)
  • Open all the layers in Photoshop (however is most convenient for you. I usually open all as smart objects).
  • Bring each layer into a single file (I use the “main dog image” as the base layer)
  • Crop to expand the canvas
  • Mask each layer in.
You’ll see this process in the video above.

Photoshop also has a “Merge as panorama” tool but I don’t believe it works with Smart Objects so I don’t use it. 

More examples of this technique in use!

Here, you’ll see I had planned for Journey to look to the left again, but he started by looking forward. No big deal.

THEN he looked to the left, which I was ready for…. until he looked UP.

Knowing I love photos of him looking up, but that I would need more space for him to look into if I wanted to edit the photo, I took 3 extras: one slightly up, then higher, and higher off to the side (probably to the left). 

At the end, you’ll see the combined & edited photo.

SUPER typical Journey sequence here. Straight forward, right, left, less left, straight, left, up!

So, I just took a whole series of photos basically around Journey: to the right, to the left, above and below, so I could build a canvas in basically any direction I wanted, if I decided there was one worth editing. 

Very simple one of these two howling wolfdogs. 

When I took the photo, I thought I would probably want to change this into a portrait-orientation photo, since they were pointing upward, and didn’t have a lot of space above them – plus I wanted that pretty golden bokeh in the shot, so I took a photo just above and merged them together in Lightroom.

This is an interesting sequence, especially since I never shoot portrait orientation but was here. 

We started with Fawkes in the middle, looking at me. He changed to look to the right, so I took those photos and started to “build the panorama”…. but then he looked at me so alert and so serious that I took the photo quickly! Of course, the composition was COMPLETELY off, I don’t even know how I managed to get that photo…

I grabbed another couple of shots of the scene: one above and one below… and ended up needing to merge a few together because the one I wanted to use was the one with the worst composition 😂

Same location as above. I think I’d been aiming for a similar photo as Fawkes from before – looking straight at me, but of course Journey had to do his own thing and looked to the right.

I grabbed two more photos to the right, thinking I would need quite a bit of extra space (I didn’t need QUITE that much, but it really never hurts to have more!) and I took some above as well, which I didn’t end up using, as the photo worked better as a landscape photo in the end. 

Workshop: Style, Self Analysis and Goal Setting

In this workshop, we discussed style and goal setting, but there are some prompts in the PDF booklet for you to work through to help you analyse your photos and where you’re at, and what you might want to work on going forward.

I recommend setting aside a bit of time to dig into the prompts when you’re not stressed, distracted or multitasking. 

As I say in the workshop, I personally don’t think it’s necessary to “nail down” a style – I certainly didn’t spend any time thinking about or worrying about mine, I just created what I liked, and when I saw things I liked, I tried to create them too. It surprised me when people were like: “Oh I knew this was yours, I can spot your style immediately”. That was the first and last thought I gave to my own style until working on these lessons and courses.

But, since it’s such a “pain point” for many students, and a potential source of stress, if the advice to just create what you love and to continue learning isn’t enough for you, then maybe these tools will help.

But at the end of the day, I truly don’t think having your style defined or labelled is useful. If you create what you love, it will show through in your photos. If you get too locked into creating certain photos or in a certain way, you might find yourself stagnating and getting stuck.


Last point:

with the goal setting exercise, I give you permission to dream big. Seriously. We are often told our goals need to be achievable, or we (especially women!) tend to feel like we’re not allowed to want too much. 

Be audacious. Put down the biggest thing you want, even if it seems like “too much”, or that you aren’t deserving… you are. You’re here, you’re showing up for your craft, you’re investing in your education. You are totally deserving of whatever big dreams you have. Why not? But the only one who can make them happen or at least set the wheels in motion, is you.

And trust me when I say that I know this, better than most, having somehow managed to achieve some massive dreams in my life so far. But nobody else did it for me. If I hadn’t dreamed big, grit my teeth, and made it happen… nothing would have happened. 

As I said in the workshop: I would love for you to share your little galleries, your thoughts on style, and to hear about you taking action steps toward your goals. I want to celebrate your success, and you never know how your small wins could inspire others!

Video recording coming as soon as my computer lets me export it.

15 Minute Techniques: From Grey Winter to Golden Backlight

A very (very) quick lesson on changing this boring white/grey bokeh into something else.

This is not a full editing tutorial, I don’t do my basic edits or mask the dog out properly. You’re going to need a decent understanding of photoshop – I move through the techniques here fast

I just wanted to give you a variety of ways that you could create a fake backlight effect if you were working with this kind of image that has a lot of white bokeh.

This probably won’t work on photos with large areas of open sky, or potentially with difficulty on images with blown out areas in the background. 

You don’t need to use all of the techniques shown. Pick and choose what works for you.

And of course, you might not want to go for the golden look. Most of these techniques can be used simply to add some colour to the background in some way, so you could make it more of a blue or grey – though blue would require more careful masking of the white areas, since blue sky doesn’t spill out into the whole background and change the light temperature the way golden light does.

As always, try to keep it natural. The more you learn about how light works, the better you’ll be abl to fake it.

How To: Use Overlays

Using overlays, eg., bringing in an outside image element to your photos, can be a way to make them feel a bit more complete, to add to the story, or to create a special effect. 

There are many kinds of overlays you can find both free online (be very conscious of copyrights if you’re using the photos for commercial purposes, eg., to advertise your business or to sell to clients), or on websites like Etsy.

Some of the most common overlays include:

Once you start using overlays, they can become a bit addictive, because they are a very obvious way to “fill space” in your image, and to really hit your viewer over the head with the story you’re showing, and in my opinion, once you “feel” that, it’s hard to create more empty, less obvious photos again.

For example: it’s autumn.  You create a beautiful autumn photo of your dog amongst the colours and fallen leaves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this photo, it’s beautiful. You add a falling leaf overlay, and BAM it’s like someone has punched you in the face with the autumn-ness of it, and suddenly every single photo following feels empty and incomplete, so you have to add falling leaf overlays to them too.

Same with sun flares/lens flares. You add this one time, and the photo feels warm and magical. Suddenly every photo following feels a bit cold and empty, so you end up adding an overlay to every photo whether the sun makes sense or not. 

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s your style to really punch your audience in the face with “the scene”, or maybe you use overlays to complement your style and fill in space. My main advice is to not use them as a crutch or in place of good photography skills or taking a good photo in the first place. 

Generally, with my photos, I am considering if I’ll need to use an overlay as I’m taking the photo.

Is the scene/location a bit empty in the foreground, but the background, light, location otherwise is absolutely perfect? Ok, then I might need to use a blurry foreground overlay to just “fill in” the lower part of the scene.

DSC03669 DSC03669-Edit

In the photo above, I loved this moment looking out on a favourite lake/pond that these two used to go to all the time… but the actual spot was pretty “blah”. I’d never been to the location before and had no opportunity to scout it out beforehand so had to roll with what I could find. This spot in particular allowed Dusty to have a little break, and for me to capture some moments of them together (he was very sick and old)… but I knew the scene would be too “open” in the foreground for me, especially once I saw the photos.

I wanted this to feel like a very intimate moment. If the two had been facing the camera and smiling, I don’t think it would have needed the foreground to be “closed in” with an overlay.

As always, whether you use an overlay or not can go back to the kind of mood/feeling/story you’re aiming to create, including some of the things we covered in the pose/expression workshop.

My point here is… be mindful and purposeful when using overlays. Don’t just use them because they’re trendy, or because you “should”… use them to enhance your photo – and sometimes, that means to only use them carefully and subtly. 

Downloading & Bringing them to PS

Most overlays are simply image files, usually .png files. They might have a transparent background, or maybe a black background (in the case of sun/light flares). 

When you download them, you may need to unzip them. I usually just keep them in an “overlay” folder.

When it comes time to use them, I go to the folder, find the overlay I want, and drag and drop it into PS. 

PS will put it as a new layer on top of your image, and it will be a smart object. You will be able to resize it. Hit enter/return when you’re happy with the size & rotation.


Here, I've dragged & dropped the overlay onto my image. There are handles around the outside of it to resize it.

Resizing & Depth of Field

Depending on your overlay and the effect you want to achieve, and even how realistic your overlay is, you may need to do quite a lot of work to make it look like it fits in with the scene, or potentially none at all. 

Usually, you will need to stretch your overlay, as they aren’t made to fit on our larger image files.

You may also want to mirror them or flip them. To do so, go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical.  You might also want to click and drag the edges to rotate it around so it fits better. 

If your overlay has some kind of lighting (like the leaves I’m using above) consider any lighting reflecting off other objects already in your scene. You should try and get the lighting to go in more or less the same direction, unless you’re going to be significantly blurring the overlay. Same with the growth direction of leaves. Try not to have some leaves with the shiny part facing upward, and other leaves with the shiny part facing downward because you flipped them.

In the case of sun flares/lens flares, you will want to look carefully at where the light actually was, and where any lens flare would naturally go. Remember, there probably shouldn’t be two suns in your world. These overlays usually have a black background. If so, set the blend mode to “screen” to remove it.

There is no scientific formula here for what is “correct” in terms of how big or small you make your overlay. You may need it bigger or smaller depending on what you’re using it for. One leaf in the corner might be enough, or you may need to stretch it really big in order to distort the perception of the depth of field. Remember if you’re photographing something and there is a branch or fern or something directly in front of the lens, it appears BIG.

Once it’s the size you want, think carefully about where it is, and the depth of field you’re using. If your photo has a very narrow depth of field (eg., only the dogs’ eyes are in focus), then anything in front or behind the dog should be blurry. The further away the object gets from the dog, the blurrier it will be. If we are using the leaves above as an example, and we want the perception that they are extremely close to the lens, they will need to be extremely blurry. If I wanted them to look like they were closer to the dog, they would still need some blur. 

Some overlays are already blurry. Some don’t need anything added to make them look like they are very close to the lens. Again, there is no scientific formula here. You have to look at your scene, the depth of field you created, and consider where you want your overlay to be, and how blurry something in that location would be. 

Then, we’ll go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur.

Here, you can adjust the settings of the blur to make it blurrier, or sharper. I can’t give you a number range to use, because the settings will depend on the factors I mentioned above.


Here, I want my leaves to be a very soft, blurry foreground element. Any sharper and there’ll be too much going on. I want it to look like they were right up against the camera lens. I’ve stretched them, rotated them, and added a lot of blur to them.

Making it Natural

One thing to note is that when you add gaussian blur, all the noise will be stripped away – or there may not have been any to begin with on your overlay.

While this sounds like a great thing, you now have a part of your image that is unnaturally silky smooth, especially compared to the rest of the image. 

To keep it tied in with the rest of the image, we’re going to add some noise.

Zoom in on your photo so you can see part of the original image and how noisy it is (no judgement here. It is what it is) and part of the overlay.

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

You want to choose a % that matches up the overlay with your original image. It will probably only be between .5-4% at most.

Next, we need to make sure that the colour, light and so on match the rest of the scene.

Again, depending on what you’re adding to your scene, you may have a lot of work, or not much work to do here.

If you’re adding a butterfly to your very backlight scene, you’re going to have to think carefully about how the light is going to hit and frame the butterfly.

If you’re working on a scene with a lot of sparkly rain getting hit by light, you’re going to need to think about how your leaves are also reflecting light.

Unfortunately there are way too many individual scenarios you may encounter to cover them all here, but everything you need to do can be done using various adjustment layers, especially in regards to colour and light. 

To make sure that your adjustment layers don’t affect the whole image and you don’t have to mask in just the overlay, we are going to use clipping layers. This will “clip” the effect to just the overlay layer and only affect it. 

You can use as many clipping layers as you need to get the image to fit in. You need to be thinking carefully about the white balance in the scene, about how light or dark it is, where the light is coming from (you can still mask things in or out with clipping layers!), the colours of the other elements in the scene and so on. 

I would say it’s much easier to blend in a blurry foreground element than it is to colour/light/DOF match something like a butterfly, fake owl, fake branch which is in focus and so on. The less detail we can see in the overlay/addition, the less perfect our matching needs to be. 

Here I’ve applied a selective colour adjustment layer but as you can see it’s really made my whole photo turn red. I COULD mask out the leaves at the bottom, or I could use a  clipping mask. To do this, right click on your Overlay layer, and choose “create clipping mask”.

Here you can see the selective colour layer has a little arrow down to the overlay image. This means they are clipped together.

And you can see how none of the rest of my image is affected, only those green leaves, which are now fitting in quite well with a yellow/orange tone.

The last thing I will do with this overlay, will be to reduce the opacity just slightly. Often when we shoot through some leaves or have them very close to the lens, they become hazy and a bit see-through, rather than solid like this.

Advice on Making things Realistic

I am aware that this lesson has been full of non-speciic advice. But as I said, it is impossible to cover every single situation, from leaf overlays as blurry foreground elements all the way to butterflies as a second subject.

The best advice I can offer you to be able to make your overlays realistic, is to take as many photos as you can and observe.

Observe how the light works on branches in the foreground and background. 

Observe what happens when you have leafy branches very close to the lens, a bit further away, or behind the dog. 

Observe how butterflies move and land, how the light hits them in certain ways. 

Observe how very strong light leaking into your lens creates natural flares, how strong the rim-light is, how the tops of grasses become bright and sparkly. 

Observe how you see your dog through falling snow – most people make the mistake of erasing the snow off the whole dog, but snow just doesn’t work like that. It falls everywhere, in front of the dog, on the dog, behind the dog. 

Observe the fog. Is it a grey blanket? Does it move in puffy clouds? What happens when it is closer to the camera, or far away behind the dog? Think of your depth of field.

Observe the subtle shadows thrown by a leaf close to the face,

The more you observe, the more natural you will be able to make your overlays and additions.

Changing Colours Workshop

In this workshop, we will be learning several methods to change the colours of your photo.

The recording of the workshop is available below.

There are many times and situations where we might want to change some or all of the colours in our photo. In this workshop, we’re going to look at both the how and why of changing colours, as well as covering multiple tools in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in order to create the effects we want.

We will be looking at:

  • Options in Lightroom:
    • HSL Panel
    • New masking features
  • Options in Photoshop:
    • Selective Colour
    • Hue/Saturation
    • Using your smart object
    • Colour Balance
    • Gradient map
    • Gradient fill

We have two RAW files for this workshop. One, we will work on together, and the other you will have a chance to edit at the end of the workshop in your own time. 

There are actually 5 RAW files there. We will work on “Colour Change-1” together in the workshop to turn green to autumn. You can then download any of the Journey files you like, and work on making it a more deep, rich mossy green.

Please remember: you are welcome to edit and share your edits to Social Media, but they must link back to me, and not be used for commercial purposes.

There is also a downloadable .pdf workbook in the folder