The case for local change
Treat each area of the image individually
Simply put, if you make a base setting for the entire image and then use local adjustments (such as a radial filter) for one, two or many specific areas, you gain in two ways. First, you can precisely target areas that you may want to lighten, darken, or change the contrast, colour or saturation of. Second, you can do this and still maintain a photographic look (or any other look).
This is precision processing, and it can handle almost any high dynamic range situation – at least within the capacity of your camera’s sensor. In old-fashioned darkroom printing, this was how skilled prints used to be made, though the clock was running and extreme precision wasn’t quite possible. The downside is that this method takes time and even some skill, but really, if you’re shooting for yourself and don’t have to produce a large number of images quickly for a client, a good image deserves time being spent on it.
The tools to use depend on personal preference, but a radial filter has a lot going for it, because if you get the degree of feathering right, the adjustment effect ramps smoothly and imperceptibly. An oval is the simplest shape, and visually, our eyes go along with it easily. Adding or subtracting with a brush brings precision. You can apply any slider effect, of course, but here’s one tip: setting the black and white points within each filter area is a powerful way of increasing contrast locally and effectively.
Here the face needed to be lifted from the shadows to give it emphasis. We used a radial local adjustment filter with a mixture of Exposure and Contrast adjustments, and the less-used Black and White point sliders