In this exercise, I'll show you how to apply a custom levels adjustment to the composite image. Then in later exercises, we'll see how to adjust each channel independently. I'm working inside an image called Blended sundials.psd, found inside the 14_levels_curves folder. This is that image that that I shot in San Remy, complete with the three layers of Auto adjustment that I blended together to create what was supposedly the ideal color correction. We're actually going to do better than that this time around. So what I'd like you to do is click on the bottom Auto layer, Shift+click on the top one, and let's go ahead and combine them into a group by going to the Layers panel flyout menu and choosing New Group from layers.
I'm going to call them the auto adjustments, like so, and then click OK. Then I'm going to turn that group off. So what we're doing is we're returning to the original dim photograph. Now I'll go ahead and click on the Background layer to make it active. The easiest way to create a new Adjustment layer is, if you loaded my dekeKeys, just press Ctrl+Shift+L or Command+Shift+L on the Mac. But for those of you who declined to load dekeKeys or couldn't load it for whatever reason, let me show you how to create that keyboard shortcut on your own, because I think you will find it incredibly useful.
Go up to the Edit menu and choose the Keyboard Shortcuts command. Then your Set would probably be something like Photoshop Defaults or something else that you've created. Next, go ahead and change your Shortcuts For option to panel menus. That's the simplest way to work. Twirl open the Adjustments item right there and scroll your way down until you see these items, Levels and Curves and so on. What I recommend for Levels is Ctrl+Shift+L, Command+Shift+L on the Mac. Now, you'll get a warning that says, this is already in use for Image > Auto Tone.
What I would suggest you do is say, who cares, click on the Accept button and you've changed that keyboard shortcut, because after all a customizable adjustment layer is much more valuable to you than the Auto Tone command. Then go ahead and click on Curves, if you want to follow my advice here, and press Ctrl+Shift+M, Command+Shift+M on the Mac, because Ctrl+M or Command+M is the standard keyboard shortcut for the Curves command, adding Shift will get you the Adjustment layer. Then let's scroll down a little farther here. I'll take it down so that we can see Hue/Saturation. What I recommend for this command, and it's also going to provoke an alert message, is Ctrl+Shift+U or Command+Shift+U, because Ctrl+U or Command+U is Hue/Saturation, Add Shift for the Adjustment layer.
That's going to remove that shortcut from the Desaturate command. Again, big deal, when you need that command, because it is a static adjustment, you can go ahead and choose it manually. Then finally, for Black & White here, I recommend yet another keyboard shortcut. This time press Ctrl+Shift+B or Command+Shift+B on the Mac, and you'll be warned that you're going to swipe this keyboard shortcut from the Auto Color command. Yea! That sounds great to me. I'll go ahead and click on the Accept button. Then you would go ahead and click on the little floppy disk in order to save your custom keyboard shortcuts.
Anyway, I'm just going to Cancel out, because I've already selected dekeKeys in the past. Now, I'll press Ctrl+Shift+L, Command+Shift+L on the Mac. That reveals the Adjustments panel. It goes ahead and clicks automatically for me on the Levels icon, and it brings up the New layer dialog box, which I'm going to call custom levels , like so. Then I'll click OK in order to create the New layer. Now notice what we have here. We've got the big old Histogram, which stretches, as you may recall from our discussion of the Histogram back in Chapter 7, of the Fundamentals portion of this series, it stretches from black over here in the far left side, to white, over here in the far right side.
So your Shadows are in this general region, your Highlights are over in this general region, and your Midtones are in between. Now, notice we also have three slider triangles here; one for the black point, one for the white point, and one for the so-called gamma value in between. We'll investigate what gamma means in the next exercise, but for now we're going to adjust these black and white points. Now, if you take this black point over to the right, what you're doing, and notice that value is tracked numerically inside this first field, what that does is it says, any luminance level from this point to the left is going to be clipped to black and the rest of the Histogram is going to be stretched out in between.
So in my case I'm saying, any luminance value of 46 or lower, and remember that 0 is black, 255 is white, anything with a luminance level of 46 or lower is going to be clipped to black. Well, in our case we really don't want to clip anything to black, because we already had good Shadows, as witnessed by this Histogram here. It already touches the left hand side of the graph. So we must be in pretty good shape. Now, I could go ahead and clip just a few of those Shadows, if we wanted to punch the Shadow detail inside the image, but our Shadows are currently a little bit overly dark, because of this bright light source and also this shallow awning that's casting a very dark shadow.
So I would go ahead and leave the black point value set to 0. The adjustment that this image really needs is a white point adjustment. So notice that this Histogram there ends right at about this location. Well, that's where the white point ought to be. So go ahead and drag that white point over to the end of the mountain range is what I'd suggest. I recommend you even take it in a little farther, so just a little bit into the foot of that mountain right there. I'm looking for a value, if you're following along with me, of 194.
So in that case, I'm saying anything with the luminance level of 194 or brighter becomes white inside of this image. What I just applied, by the way, is identical to an Auto Contrast adjustment. This is what Auto Contrast would do. It would go ahead and yank the black point over to the beginning of the Histogram and then yank the white point over to the end of the Histogram, and that's all it does. It doesn't do anything else. So what we're seeing here is our own handcrafted Auto Contrast adjustment, which may seem like a colossal waste of time, because we could have just chosen the Auto Contrast command.
Well, in the next exercise, you'll see how it's an ideal starting point as we further modify the brightness of the image using the gamma value.
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