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Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac Essential Training highlights the important features of this comprehensive image editing application. Photographer Jan Kabili shows how to use Photoshop Elements 8, along with its companion program, Bridge CS4, to organize and edit photos, build projects like web galleries and photo collages, and share photos with family and friends. Jan dives deep into the application's editing tools, which rival those of the full product, Photoshop, in their ability to take snapshots and turn them into great photos. Exercise files accompany the course.
When you are shooting a photo on an overcast day, you sometimes end up with the result like this. This image is flat. In other words, it doesn't have a wide enough range of tones to look good. There are no bright whites and no dark darks. Most of the tones in the image are close to middle gray. One of the features that I can use to adjust the lighting in this image is levels. I think you are going to be surprised at how levels can really save an image like this. There are two places from which I could apply a levels adjustment. One is a direct adjustment from the Enhance menu>Adjust Lighting, and I could choose Levels from there.
But as I explained in the preceding movie, I don't like to apply direct adjustments to a photo, because that will permanently change the pixels. Instead I like to apply adjustments with Adjustment layers wherever possible. So I am going to exit out of that menu, and I am going to go over to the layers panel, where I have a single Background layer that contains this photo. With that layer selected, I will go down to the New Adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layers panel, I will click there, and I am going to choose Levels, to apply a Levels Adjustment layer.
You can see the Levels Adjustment layer here, above the Background layer, and in the Adjustments panel, the controls for Levels now appear. The Levels Adjustment layer is just like the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer that I showed you in the last movie. It comes with its own layer Mask, which can be used to limit the effect of the adjustment on different parts of the image, and it affects all the layers below, unless clipped to a single layer, in this case there is only one layer, so there is no need to do that. If you open the file later after saving it with layers intact, you can always go back and edit this Adjustment layer.
Now let's take a look at the Levels controls in the Adjustments panel. Here is a chart that represents all the possible tonal values in this image. So if you can imagine the image without color and just think of it as grayscale, picture a range of possible tones, from the brightest white on the right side of the chart, to the darkest black on the left side of the chart, and a variety of great tones in between. This mound of black in the middle represents the actual tones in this particular image, and the height of the bars clustered together here represents the frequency of a particular tone.
So as you can see the most frequent tones here are those directly in the midrange, middle gray, and all the tones are clustered around middle gray. There are no tonal values in the white area and no tonal values in the dark area, and that's why the image looks so flat. But I can fix that here in the Levels controls. The way to do that is to move my mouse over the white slider on the right side of this chart. By the way, this chart is called a Histogram. I am going to hold down the Option Key, as I click on that white slider, and start dragging it to the left.
As I reach this mound of black bars, notice that there are a few colors appearing in the document window. Those colors represent the pixels in the corresponding color channel that are going to be set to pure white, as a result of my moving the white slider to its new position here. So I am going to release the Option key and release my mouse, and you can see that there are now some bright areas here in the hill, and the whole image in fact is lighter, because along with the white slider moving to the left, the gray slider, which represents midtones has also been pushed to the left.
Basically what I have done here is to push all of the tones to the right of this white slider to pure white. Now I am going to do the same thing with the black slider. I will hold the Option key, I will click on the black slider in the Levels controls in the Adjustments panel, and I will start dragging to the right, and soon I will see just a few hints of color, and that means that there are some pixels that are being pushed to pure black. So I am going to release my mouse, and look at the difference in that image. If I go down to the bottom of the Adjustments panel and I clicked the Eye icon there, this is how the image looked when I started this adjustment, this is how it looks with this adjustment.
What's happened is that I have set a white point, I have set a black point, and I have managed to expand the tonal range of grays in between those two points, something that you really can't see on the Histogram in the Adjustments panel. But there is another Histogram that will show that and that's in the Histogram panel. I will open that for you now by going up to the Window menu and down to Histogram. In the Histogram panel, I will go to the Channel menu, and I will change it from Colors to RGB. Now it looks more like the Histogram in the Levels controls.
As you can see, there are now black bars across the entire tonal range, and those bars have been strung out so that there are actually spaces between them, and they don't look like a solid mound in the middle. So that's the incredible kind of job that a good Levels Adjustment can do. This has really saved an image that I might have thrown away, and made it into one that I think is quite dramatic.
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