Fake Fill Flash

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott on May 19, 2008

Today I’m going to teach you a method I use to fake a fill flash. The objective is to lighten the dark areas without blowing out the highlights. Here’s the before and after:

Fake Fill Flash -- Before Fake Fill Flash -- After

Once you’ve got your picture open, duplicate the background layer. Next, create a new transparent layer and name it “Flash Fill”. Then re-select the background layer copy.

Fake Fill Flash -- Select layer

Open the Threshold dialog (Colors > Threshold). This will take away all the color for that layer and you’ll get a strange black and white effect.
Fake Fill Flash -- Threshold default
We’re going to use this as a selection mask, but first we’re going to adjust it a bit. What we want is to black out all the areas we want lighten, so grab the triangle slider in the center and adjust it until you are satisfied that all the areas you’d like to touch up are blacked out and click OK.
Fake Fill Flash -- Threshold dialog

Fake Fill Flash -- Threshold adjusted

Now, there are a couple of different ways you could accomplish the next part, but here’s what I consider the easiest. Choose the Select by color tool (Select > By Color), and click inside one of the blacked out areas. You should see the marching ants appear all over the image. Now, we’re done with the background copy layer, so you can delete it or simply hide it if you choose.

Select the Flash Fill layer we created in the beginning, and fill the selection with white. Then deselect by pressing Ctrl+Shift+A. Now the areas you want to lighten should be filled with white and your image probably looks pretty funny. Don’t worry we’re not finished yet!

With the Fill Flash layer still selected, change the layer mode to Soft Light.

Fake Fill Flash -- Layer mode

Now we want to soften the edges a bit so it doesn’t look so strange, so apply a Gaussian blur at an appropriate radius (Filters > Blur > Gaussian blur…). You’ll have to play with this setting to find out what “appropriate” means for your image because it will vary depending on how large your image is. The larger the image, the higher the radius. I’ve chosen 50 px for my 2000 x 3008 px image.

Now it’s starting to look pretty nice! The last thing to do is to adjust the opacity for the Fill Flash layer. Just take it down until the image looks natural. You may be happy at 100%, but that might be too much. Play around and find the right setting for your individual image.

Fake Fill Flash -- Before Fake Fill Flash -- After

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

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15 Responses

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  1. Cipri said, on May 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Very nice, very nice!
    Keep up the good work.

  2. B said, on May 27, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Nice tutorial, as always :)

    BTW, isn’t this similar to the contrast mask technique?

  3. Scott said, on May 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Good catch B. This is an almost identical procedure. I think it’s a lot simpler though and has a different end result.

  4. Robert said, on June 1, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Great tutorial. My picture looks alot better. Thanks!

  5. darksgtphoenix said, on June 9, 2008 at 1:59 am

    wow… I’m fairly good at photoshop, but I never would have thought of this. That’s great. :-D *runs off to read your other stuff*

  6. jeanette said, on June 15, 2008 at 11:28 am

    where do i find the select by tool in photoshop elements 5

  7. Scott said, on June 15, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Jeanette, I’m sorry but I’ve never used PS Elements. I have no idea.

  8. jeanette said, on June 17, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    what version do you use

  9. jeanette said, on June 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    what version of photoshop is it

  10. Scott said, on June 17, 2008 at 3:00 pm


    I’m actually not using any version of Photoshop; rather a free program called The Gimp. You can obtain a copy for your operating system at

  11. cap said, on August 8, 2008 at 1:04 am

    cool tip! I’m gonna try this with some party pics I took a while back. thanks.



  12. stephentrepreneur said, on December 9, 2008 at 9:01 am

    I’ll have to try this. I have a different method that works very similar to this. I’ll write a doco for it ASAP.

  13. ozsyd said, on April 5, 2010 at 12:12 am

    New to GIMP. Select the Flash Fill layer we created in the beginning (yes, I can do that), and fill the selection with white — How? Thanks.

  14. Dawn said, on June 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I’m with ozsyd…. how do you fill the flash layer with white? I got lost on the same step!

  15. Mom Photographer said, on March 4, 2011 at 1:46 am

    awesome!!! love it! thans for sharing! great blog you’ve got here!!! :-) very useful! I’ll be coming back more often!!!

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