Aaron Nace from PHLearn put together a really great video tutorial on recovering detail in shadows and adding a gradient layer. Check his video out: Amazing Trick to Recover Shadow Detail in Photoshop. I use these photoshop techniques all the time, and the best part of this technique is it makes it look like you have a much more expensive camera than you really do (since really expensive cameras are the ones with wider dynamic range). In addition, think about the possibilities of applying this technique to just part of an image… say the background is too dark for your tastes, but the subject looks great…. using shadows/highlights to bring up the background selectively (using a mask or a duplicate layer) can really add a dynamic feel to your shot. Well worth exploring if you want more control over the tonal range of your images.