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Especially, when you're just starting out and getting used to Photoshop Elements, it can be pretty intimidating to try to wrap your head around things like Shadows, Highlights, Midtones, and to have terms like Histogram thrown at you. As with most things all will become clear and easier as time goes on and you become more familiar with the user interface and all the options with tools, filters and adjustments. In the meantime now, Elements has a nifty little feature that actually guides you through some of the more mind-boggling tasks called, aptly enough, the Guided menu.
For the purpose of adding contrast to a faded photo, we're going to have a look at the Lighting and Exposure option. First thing you'll want to do is to duplicate your original layer by clicking Command+J or Ctrl+J or right-clicking on your original layer and choosing Duplicate layer. You'll want to name your layer something like Guided and click OK. At the top right of the screen in the Edit menu, choose Guided. If your Project Bin is there on the bottom, double-click on the tab to minimize it.
The second submenu in the Guided menu is Lighting and Exposure. Let's click on Lighten or Darken. In the dialog box that pops up, is an Auto button. Let's select it just to see what happens. Sometimes Auto does a really good job and sometimes not so much. This time that photo looks a little dark. You can always adjust the sliders and see how that affects the whole photo. At any time, if you don't like what it's done, you can always hit the Reset button at the bottom to get back to the original.
The same sliders appear here as are in Levels and in Quick menu Lighting, only here you get a little written explanation of just what it is you're doing and the exact areas of the photo that are being affected by the sliders. The first slider, Lighten Shadows, affects only the dark areas. If we side that over, with can see what happens and it lightens it up pretty well. The second slider, Darken Highlights, affects only the light areas. If we move it over, it lightens the darker areas.
Third slider, Midtone Contrast, affects only the medium bright areas. We can move that over and see how things are looking there, put that at about 37. Now let's take it down and lighten that up just a little. That looks pretty good. Again, if you don't like what you've done, hit the Reset button and get it back to the original photo. To get back to the main Guided menu, select the Done button at the lower left of the Guided panel. Let's do that now.
Now, we'll take a quick look at Brightness and Contrast. Again, you see the Auto button, let's click it and see what happens. As you can see, it darkened the contrast a bit. Again, we can use the sliders on the bottom to adjust the brightness and contrast, but Auto is a good place to start. Under the Auto button are the individual Brightness and Contrast sliders, along with the explanations of how the adjustment is affecting the photo. These explanations are clear and helpful, simply telling you that the Brightness slider makes the image lighter or darker and the Contrast slider affects the difference between light and dark.
At any time you don't like what you've done, again, hit the Reset button. Now let's click the Done button to get back to the Guided menu and choose Adjust Levels. We adjusted the levels basically back in the Lighten or Darken a photo guide, but that's not what this is. It's a little crash course on histograms and it's wonderful. It took me many years working in Photoshop before I understood and really utilized histograms. They since become a critical part of my workflow and I highly recommend you get to know them and make friends with them at the very beginning.
There is also a handy little button to make a levels adjustment layer in the Guided dialog that lets you name the layer and then goes right into the Levels panel. Let's do that right now. Let's call this Guided Levels and click OK. Now you have your Levels dialog complete with your histogram and sliders. Levels would be one of your most used adjustments in photo restoration, so you should try to become comfortable using them.
Let's move this box over, so we can see the photo and just move your slider over to where the dark area of the Histogram is. This way you have control and you can move it back a little bit if it's a little too dark and click OK. If you're not comfortable with your workspace, it's hard to do good work. That comfort level will come in time with familiarity and experimentation. The Guided menu in Photoshop Elements gives you a bit of a head start in learning what your tools are and how to use them. You can learn more about this and all the features in the lynda.com training course Photoshop Elements 9 Essential Training.
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