‘Smearing Shadows’ For More Pleasing High-Contrast Looks

April 14, 2023

Colorist Cullen Kelly explores a technique for sculpting rich, soft, and filmic shadows on high-contrast looks for a more pleasing effect.

Using Luma keys and Lift/Gamma corrections to soften high-contrast looks

We’ve all got our favorite techniques for fine-tuning the dark areas of our image, but oftentimes I find there’s a certain filmic shape I struggle to get in my shadows. Today are exploring a technique for sculpting rich and soft shadows.

Using film print looks as inspiration

One of the signature traits of a film print is the combination of strong contrast through the midtones with a “roll” in the highlights and shadows, creating a bold yet detail-rich image. This aesthetic can be achieved in many ways, but today we’re going to explore a highly effective technique I borrowed from Company 3 Senior Colorist Tom Poole. For lack of a better term, we’ll call it “shadow smearing” – a name I promise will make more sense after today’s Insight!

Key takeaways from this Insight

By the end of this Insight, you should understand how to:

  • Create a soft shadow qualifier and “smear” the high and low values closer together
  • Visualize a qualified lift/gain adjustment as a curve

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– Cullen

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