Is there some hotkey or other quick method in popular editors for showing, separately, which pixels are highlights, which are shadows, which are midtones?

I know only of a function to select midtones or shadows in Photoshop and then copy that to a new layer. Is there faster way to just quickly visualize it? For example, there is a feature in Lightroom to watch over- or underexposed areas on a photo. Is there a possibility to watch shadows, midtones and highlights the same way?

  • May sound stupid but... Copy your starting layer 3 times and use the curves to cut off the undesired portion of the histogram each time? Sep 2, 2015 at 6:35

4 Answers 4


Using Photoshop and a levels layer. Hold down the Alt key (Windows) and slide the highlight arrow towards the center. That will show the brightest pixels first. Then pull the Shadows arrow towards the center. That will show the darkest pixels

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What you ask is exactly the idea behind Luminosity Masks.
Namely choosing pixels according to their tonal range.

Think of creating a mask where high values (Pass through) are designated to a certain tonal range (Highlights / Midtones / Shadows) while low values for all the rest.

This mask will select the tonal range you're desiring.

There are many great tutorials about it out there.
My favorite is Luminosity Mask: The Complete Kickstarter’s Guide.

There are also many tool to automate and enhance the Luminosity Masks generation process.
A new tool I encountered seems to be the easiest to use while being very powerful (Allowing exact selections) - NBP Lumizone.


Open the Levels dialog box and watch the image as you move the slider. That's the quickest way to visually "watch it"?

Levels is sometimes referred to as threshold range (Gimp), luminosity sliders (in Lab color space), and similar terminology. Find the Levels equivalent commands and adjustments in your software. Since the question mentions Photoshop and Lightroom, we will stick to Levels in the response.

  • 1
    What software do you mean?
    – Olya
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:14
  • 1
    @Olya you asked for "popular editors" and you got an answer as vague as that. I agree with the answer, most "popular editors" have some level adjustment.
    – null
    Sep 1, 2015 at 13:41
  • @Olya, you mentioned Photoshop. So you should start there or check in other "popular editors" as null suggested above. Levels is a common feature.
    – Emacs User
    Sep 1, 2015 at 14:23
  • 1
    Levels in Photoshop, for example, aren't exactly what I want to do. If I understand what you mean, you offer to move black and white points and watching changes at the picture. But I'd like to watch just original pixels in a shadow range or in a midtone range or highlights. I can do that if I chose the menu "select" in Photoshop, then click "color range", then select, for example, "midtones" and copy this selection on a new layer. But I thought that there should be shorter way to do that... Perhaps it's not.
    – Olya
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    Shorter way to do what? To view or to copy? No need to copy to view. Move the sliders into proper "ranges" to see the appropriate shadow, midtone, or highlight pixels on your original layer of your original image.
    – Emacs User
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:42

Click the Select menu, then Colour Range, then choose Highlights, Midtones or Shadows from the Sample Colours box. This will select the highlights, midtones or shadows of the image.

  • From the question: "I know only of a function to select midtones or shadows in Photoshop and then copy that to a new layer. Is there faster way to just quickly visualize it?"
    – mattdm
    Feb 25, 2019 at 12:32

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