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You can zero in on correcting brightness and contrast in a photo, using the controls in the lighting section of the Quick Photo Edit workspace. You have three different options to try here: Auto Levels, Auto Contrast and a set of three manual controls that let you control the brightness of dark areas, of highlights and of midtones separately. No matter which of these lighting controls you use, your goal is usually the same. Most photos look their best when they have white highlights that display some detail, some black shadow areas, and a full range of gray tones in between.
If you imagine a photo as a grayscale rather than a color photo, you can better evaluate whether it has those tonal qualities. For example, look at this image closely and you'll see that it really doesn't have any white whites or any black blacks. The tones in this photo are concentrated in the gray area of the tonal range. And so the entire photo looks flat, as if it had a gray mist over it. Let's see if we can fix that using first the Auto Levels control in the Lighting section of the Quick Photo Edit workspace.
To apply Auto Levels, I will just click the Auto button here, and that immediately adds some tonal punch to this image. But at the same time, levels adversely affected the colors in the image, which is a typical result of applying levels. The sky looks pretty unnatural right now; it's almost a sea green color. When I get color shift like this from Auto Levels, I'll usually try Auto Contrast instead, because Auto Contrast affects the tones in an image the same way that Auto Levels does.
But Auto Contrast doesn't have much of an effect on color. So I'm going to undo the Auto Levels adjustment by going up to the Undo button at the top of the screen and clicking. Now I'll go down to the Lighting controls again, and this time I'll click Auto Contrast. That's giving me the result I was looking for; increased contrast and the right amount of brightness without a color shift. So those are the Auto controls. When you need more control over the dark, bright, or midtone areas of a photo, give this set of three sliders or their associated thumbnails a try.
You can use these manual controls on their own or after applying an auto adjustment to fine-tune that result. I'm going to open another image by double-clicking it in the Project Bin, to show you the kind of photo on which these controls are particularly useful. This is an image that's backlit. The subject in the foreground is too dark and the sky is so bright that I can't see a lot of highlight detail. So I'll try applying a Shadows adjustment first, dragging the Shadows slider over to the right. And as I do, it's like shining a light on the darkest areas of the photo.
Next I will try to tone down the highlights in the sky by dragging the Highlights slider over to the right. As you can see that makes the highlights darker but it didn't darken the shadow areas, and I think it makes the sky look more dramatic to see the details in the clouds over here. Sometimes these adjustments can have a negative effect on the gray tones in an image making them look kind of flat or unnatural. So I will go to the Midtone slider and I'll drag that to the right to crisp up those midtones. Now this photo still isn't perfect, but if we compare it to the original, I think you will see how powerful these three controls are, when you have a backlit photo like this one.
I will go down to the View menu and I will choose Before & After Horizontal. Here is the original photo on the left. The buildings are so dark that I probably would have rejected this photo. But with just a little bit of effort, I was able to use the Lighting controls in the Full Photo Edit workspace to make this into an acceptable photo. As you have seen the lightness controls in the Quick Photo Edit workspace are pretty straightforward to use, and they can have a powerful effect on photos that you'd otherwise have rejected, as too dark, too bright or lacking in contrast.
Be sure to give these controls a try on your own photos.
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