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Using levels, to improve the contrast of an image, may have been one of the first things you learn to do in Photoshop and it's probably something you do frequently. But do you really know what's happening to the colors in your image when you move those sliders? Often the biggest improvement you can make to the colors in your image and thus the image overall is to boost the contrast. This process of darkening the shadows, lightening the highlights and adjusting the midtones, inevitably affects the colors in your image. Photoshop offers several tools that help you achieve good contrast in your images, some are arguably better than others.
To some extent, it's a matter of personal preference. If you haven't already, you'll probably find yourself picking favorites. I am going to begin with the tool that in my opinion offers the best combination of ease of use and functionality and that's the Levels adjustment. All of these color adjustments should be used in conjunction with the Histogram panel and the Info panel. So I am going to click on my Histogram panel and I am going to tear this off and position it over there as far out the way as I can, and then open my Info panel. Now, I have a problem here in that I'm looking with a low-resolution monitor, in order for the screen capture software to capture what I'm doing.
Hopefully, if you have a higher resolution, you'll be able to arrange your panels in a way that doesn't obscure the image itself. I am then going to come to my Levels adjustment layer. I could apply Levels as a static adjustment from up here, but I always prefer to do it as an adjustment layer, because adjustment layers are nondestructive and that's always a good way to work. So I see a histogram on my Levels adjustment layer and I see my Histogram panel. When I change this one, the appearance of this one is going to update.
What I am going to do is get my white point slider and move it to the left towards the center and I'm doing that because I have currently no highlight information in this image that's what the shape of the histogram is telling me and things are going to get a lot brighter when I move that white point slider towards the center. How much brighter, exactly what's going to happen? Well, for that I am going to put down three sample points, I am going to choose my Color Sampler tool which lives beneath the Eyedropper tool and I am going to put a sample point in the sky, one on the rock and one on the road.
So I now have three sample points. The numbers before and after are the same. When I move my white point slider towards the center, we can see that the numbers increase, reflecting the fact that the image is getting brighter. Of course, trust your eyes first and foremost and we see that the histogram on the Histogram panel has now changed its shape and the information is spread across our full tonal range. Exactly what's happening to the color? Well, I currently have my colors represented as RGB numbers, but we can also maybe switch to HSB numbers and we see that this particular change that I'm making is not really affecting the Hue of any of these colors.
It is only affecting the Brightness and in some cases the Saturation, but it's mainly affecting the Brightness. So the actual color for Hue is remaining the same and we are just affecting the Brightness values. In addition to working with the white point, I am also now going to get the black point and bring that towards the center. That does affect a slight shift in Hues especially on the road, but sample point number one, the blue of the sky that remains the same Hue at 260? on the color wheel.
If Levels has a disadvantage, it's that you don't have full independence of the tonal regions of an image. Where you need such control, you can use Curves and I'll be covering Curves in a later movie.
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