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The most flexible way to make adjustments to the exposure, contrast or color of a photo is by applying an adjustment layer. A corrective layer that floats above the image layers. In this example, I have an image that's too dark. So, I'm going to apply a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment layer, which is a new flavor of adjustment layer in Elements 8. Before I apply a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, let me show you another way that you could apply an adjustment directly to the photo layer. This isn't the way that I recommend though, and that is with the layer that contains the photo selected in the Layers panel, to go up to the Enhance menu, to go down to the Adjust Lighting category, where there is a direct Brightness/Contrast adjustment as well as other direct adjustments to the image lighting, and then in Adjust Color, there are some other direct adjustments.
I am not going to choose any of these, because I like to avoid direct adjustments when I can, because direct adjustments change the pixels in the photo permanently, and I can't go back in and tweak a direct adjustment later if necessary. So, I'm going to apply a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment another way as an adjustment layer. To do that, I'll move over to the panels on the right side of the screen. I'm going to close this Effects panel, so there is more room to show you the Adjustments and Layers panels, by clicking the panel menu icon here and choosing Close Tab Group.
To create an adjustment layer, I'll make sure that the layer that contains the photo is selected. In this case there is only one layer so it's automatically selected, and then I'll go down to the bottom of the Layers panel and click this black and white circular icon to reveal this menu. The choices in the second, third, and fourth groups are all adjustment layers. The choices up here are fill layers, which I don't use very often. I'm going to select the Brightness/ Contrast menu item here and that does a couple of things. First of all, it adds a new layer in the Layers panel that looks different than a regular layer like this one.
This new layer is an adjustment layer. It has an adjustment symbol on the left and then it has a layer mask on the right, because every adjustment layer comes with its own layer mask, which I'll show you how to use in a moment. Now take a look at the Adjustments panel. The Adjustments panel is displaying the controls for this particular adjustment. Because this image is too dark, I'm going to take the Brightness control and drag the slider over to the right, and as I do, I'm increasing the brightness of the image, as you can see in the document window. I'll put it at about 100, which is a subjective decision based on the look of the image in the document window, and that will change with each image.
At the bottom of the Adjustments panel are some icons that you'll find regardless of which kind of adjustment layer you apply. The first of these isn't relevant right now. It's used to clip an adjustment to just one of multiple layers, so that the adjustment affects only that layer. Otherwise by default, an adjustment layer affects all of the layers below it in the Layers panel. The next icon, the eye icon, I can use for a before and after view. If I click this eye icon like this, keep your eye on the document and you'll see the document go back to its original state, before I had applied a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer.
And if you look in the Layers panel, you'll see that the eye icon has automatically been turned off to the left of that Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, meaning that that adjustment is temporarily invisible. So, I'll go back and click the eye icon again to enable the adjustment again. If I'm satisfied with that adjustment, I might go on and make some changes to my image. So, I'm going to click on that Background layer in the Layers panel that contains the photo, and imagine that I've made some changes there and then I look at the image and I say you know, I like the brightness of the image, but I think it needs a little tweak to the contrast, which is the difference between the bright tones and the dark tones in the image.
So, at any time, even after I have saved and closed the file, as long as I saved it in a format like Photoshop document or .psd format, which retains adjustment layers, I can go back and reopen this adjustment layer and change it. To do that, I'll click once on the thumbnail on the left side of the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer in the Layers panel and that brings back the Brightness/Contrast controls in the Adjustments panel. This time, I'm going to take the Contrast slider and drag it to the right.
I think that gives a little more punch to the image. If I want to see how the image looks without this contrast change, but with the brightness change that I made last time, I'll come down to the bottom of the Adjustments panel and I'll click and hold on this Eye icon with the curved arrow. So I'm clicking and holding down my mouse and that's how the image looks with contrast at its default of zero but brightness set to 102. And here when I release my mouse is how the image looks with both the brightness and contrast adjustments that I have made. If I decide that I like the way that the image looks better without this contrast tweak, but with the first change that I made to brightness, then I can go to the next icon, which is this curved arrow, and click and now Contrast goes back to zero, but I've retained my Brightness adjustment.
And if I want to see the image with no Brightness/Contrast adjustment at all, as I mentioned before, I'll click the Preview icon here. And here's the image that I originally started with. I'll turn that back on by clicking the eye icon again and finally, if I decide that I don't want any Brightness/ Contrast adjustment at all, I can delete the entire adjustment by clicking on the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and dragging it down to the Trash icon at the bottom-right of the Layers panel. However I don't want you to do that right now. Instead I'm going to drag that back up and release my mouse, because I want to show you another advantage of making adjustments using adjustment layers, rather than direct adjustments.
And that is that adjustment layers come with their own layer mask. By default that layer mask is white, so it's having no impact on the adjustment right now. But if I add black paint to this layer mask, I can hide the effect of the adjustment in part of the image. So, let's say that I decide that I like the brightening of most of the image except for right up here where it's pretty much blowing out that area and drawing viewers' attention to that rather insignificant part of the photo. So, to fix that that I'm going to go to the toolbar and I'm going to select the Brush tool.
I'm going to switch the toolbar to a double-column, so that I can reach the Foreground Color box down here. I want to make sure that is set to black. If it isn't, I'll press X on my keyboard and that will switch from white to black. Then I'll come into this image and I'll just paint over that area, and what I've done is to hide the brightness adjustment from that part of the photo. I'm going to show you the layer mask now by going over to the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, holding down the Alt key on my keyboard, and clicking on that layer mask thumbnail.
And there you can see where the black part of the layer mask is hiding the Brightness/Contrast adjustment, so that the original photo shows through in that area. I used a Soft Brush, so there are also some various levels of gray pixels at the edge of that black paint, and those are acting to partially hide the adjustment, blending in the black part of the layer mask with the white part. I'm going to Alt-click again on the layer mask thumbnail on the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. By the way, you can apply more than one adjustment layer to an image.
If I wanted to add another adjustment layer, I would simply choose that adjustment layer from this menu. I could choose another flavor of adjustment layer or I can add a second Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, and limit it to another area of the image by painting on the layer mask. So, when you're applying a Brightness/ Contrast adjustment, a Levels adjustment, a Hue/Saturation adjustment, or a handful of other kinds of adjustments, try to apply them as adjustment layers rather than as direct adjustments to a photo.
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