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In many cases, the lighting adjustments we apply to an image can have the most significant impact on the final result. For this image, I think that's definitely the case. I had been photographing swirly waves from up here above, and the light was fading quickly. And so I ended up with an image that was relatively flat. Not a lot of contrast. And so I'd like to fine tune the overall contrast. However, instead of using a simple brightness contrast adjustment, I'm going to use a levels adjustment, which provides a little bit more control.
To apply this adjustment, I'll start off by choosing Enhance, Adjust Lighting and then Levels. This is similar in concept to the Auto Levels adjustment. The differences here we're able to exercise greater control over that adjustment. So, I'll choose Levels from the menu and that will bring up the Levels dialog. At first glance, this might seem like an especially complicated dialog to work with. But in fact, there are only three controls we actually have to concern ourselves with. Those are the Black Point adjustment which effects how dark the darkest pixels in the image will be.
The White Point adjustments, which effects who bright the brightest pixels in the image will be. And the Mid Tone adjustment, which adjusts overall brightness for the image. In other words, we're enhancing brightness and contrast but instead of only adjusting contrast with the single slider. We're able to fine tune that contrast affecting the dark areas and the bright areas independently. Let's take a look at how this works. I'll move the levels dialog out of the way a little bit so I can see more of the image and I'll start off with the white point.
This adjustment allows me to specify which pixel value in the image should be map to white. If I move the white slider to the left you'll see that an increasing range of toner values are mapped to pure white. This obviously causes a significant loss of detail in those highlights as you can see. But with the more modest adjustment we'll actually improve overall contrast. The histogram chart, that's shown just above these sliders, is indicating the range of tonal values within the image. Black is to the left and white is to the right with all of the tonal values inbetween, following in the middle.
The higher the chart in a given area, the more pixels that have that particular brightness. So you can see here we have either none, or very few, pixels that are black, very few pixels that are white. And lot's of pixels that have a relatively middle tone value. In other words this is a relatively flat image without much contrast as we can tell just by looking at the image itself. This histogram also gives us a sense of how we might want to make our adjustments. But I'm going to show you a little trick that makes it much easier to figure out where you might want to place the black point and the white point.
Simply hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on MacIntosh, while adjusting either the black or the white point and you'll get a clipping preview display. What this is showing us is which pixels are losing detail because of our adjustment. In most cases we'll want to adjust the highlight slider. The white point slider. So that no-pixles are visible but we'll want to bring it as close as possible to having some pixles appearing. In other words, move the slider to the left until you see pixels and then move the slider to the right until those pixels disappear.
Not necessarily all of them, but most of them. You can then release the Mouse button and evaluate the image to get a better sense of the result. I'll go ahead and adjust the black point in the same way. Holding the Alt key on Windows or Option key on Macintosh to reveal that clipping preview display. And once again, I'll move the slider over to the right, until pixels start to appear. And then move back over to the left until the last of those pixels, or at least most of those pixels have disappeared. This will give me a good starting point for the black and white points in the image.
If I move the white slider further to the left, I know I'm going to lose more detail in the highlights. And if I move the black point slider over the right I know I'll lose more shadow detail in the image. I might be willing to sacrifice that detail in order to enhance the overall appearance of contrast. But in most cases, I'll leave these endpoints set at those values that were indicated by clipping preview. I'll then set about adjusting the midtone slider. Moving to the right will darken the image and moving to the left will brighten the image.
In this case I think a little bit darker interpretation will produce something that is a little bit more energetic and maybe a little bit moody as well. I think it will enhance the mood of this particular image. So I'm going to move that mid tone slider that brightness slider over to the right some what significantly in this case. And you can see I'm ending up with an image that is a little bit darker, and a fair amount more contrasty, which I think really enhances the result. I'll go ahead and turn off the Preview check box so that I can see the before version of the image.
And then turn the Preview check box back on so I can see the final result. That's looking very good to me, so I'll go ahead and click the OK button to finalize my levels adjustment. As you can see, by applying an independent White Point and Black Point adjustment to refine contrast and then fine tuning overall brightness. The Levels adjustment really helps us enhance the appearance of our photos.
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