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Based on the device-independent CIE specification from 1976, Lab color is frequently misrepresented as a techy, labor-intensive color space. In fact, Lab color performs certain types of color modifications more quickly and with better results than RGB. In Photoshop CS3 Mastering Lab Color, Deke McClelland explores how to use Lab color "to make bad photographs great and great photographs even better." He demonstrates image manipulations that are best suited to Lab, and walks through a typical, non-destructive Lab correction. Deke also shows how to correct lighting, apply selective color modifications, and reverse the effects of color cast. Exercise files accompany the course.
Now that we have seen how to take some beautifully captured photographs and make them look even better with the help of the Lab Color mode. Let's see how to take a really bad photograph and make it look better. So, the idea is that you can dRAW forth colors where either you have very little color to work with in the first place or seemingly no color at all as in the case of this image right here. God light.tif, so called because we have the streaks of light raining down from the heaven. So, it's a typical God light shot here, with the exception of the fact that barely has any contrast and it doesn't seem to have really anything in the way of color saturation for all intensive and purposes like a grayscale photo.
But there are colors there, now this image is found inside the O2_what_it_can_do folder if you want to open it on up. We are going to take this image and we are going to dRAW forth this image right here and those are natural colors folks, these are not colors that I painted in, I didn't add the Photofiltre or anything like that, these are all colors that are actually extent inside of this image right there, believe it or not. Now, this correction was created in the Lab Color mode and you are going to be able to get much better result in Lab than you are RGB.
For example, here is what I'm able to accomplish in RGB, not bad but not this good either. So, let's go back to the image that hand here. Let's start things off by attempting a correction in RGB and this is an RGB image. I'm going to go ahead and Tab back my palette. You can see the Histogram palette up on screen here. So, we have just got a bunch of mid tones to work with, almost nothing in a way of highlights, nothing in the way of shadows. So, the first thing that we need to do is hit it with the Levels command in order to increase the contrast.
So, I'm going to go ahead and press the Alt or Option key and click the black/white icon and choose Levels and that will bring up the New Layer dialog box, I will call this guy Contrast and I will click OK and that brings up the Levels dialog box. Now, possibly the easiest thing to do here, just to get a sense of what kinds of shadows and highlights we have available to it. The easiest thing to do is to click on the Auto button, which invokes the Auto Levels function here inside the Levels dialog box. That goes ahead and corrects the image on a channel by channel basis.
So, notice that we don't have any values assigned here inside the RGB composite view. So, I have to press Ctrl+1 or Cmd+1 on the Mac in order to switch to the Red channel for example and then I can see that the black point and the white point had been altered. The Gamma value is not altered at all by Auto Levels and there is the Green value. So, you can see each one of the channels is altered independently, thanks to Auto Levels. The problem with working that route, it sometimes can be actually quite successful, but the problem, the downside, the potential downside is that you are going to introduce colors that are not really native to the photograph.
What if you would prefer to adjust all of the channels in kind? Why, then you would click on the Options button right here and instead of enhancing Per Channel Contrast, you would enhance the Monochromatic Contrast. So, go ahead and click on that item and now we will see this invokes the Auto contrast function as you can see there in parentheses inside of that hint. I will go ahead and click OK and what that does is it applies the exact same modifications inside each one of the channels. So, here I'm looking at the Green channel, 59, 217.
If I go back to the Red channel, 59, 217. Now, I don't want it to be quite that type. Notice that the black point is just sort of abutted right against that histogram, against the far edge of the histogram there. It's going into it, just ever so slightly and that means we are going to get a lot of contrast, but it also means that we have that potential for increasing the amount of noise in the image or for quite that type to the edge of the shadows there. Because we are going to be bringing out a ton of noise in this image no matter what we do, I suggest that we ease up on this value.
So, I'm going to take it down to 55 and then I'm going to Tab over to the white point value and I'm going to take it up to 230 and then I'm going to Shift+Tab back to the Gamma value, Shift+Up arrow to take it to 1.1. So, 55, 1.1 and 230 and I'm going to do the exact same thing for the Green channel, 55, I'm going to just enter those values, 1.1 and 230 and then for the blue channel, we are going to be operating pretty much the same, 55, 1.1 again. But rather than going with 230 which would retain the natural colors that were captured by the camera, I'm going to introduce the little bit of additional blue by taking this value down to 220.
So, we are emphasizing the blues by reducing the white point value. In other words we are making more of the colors blue inside the image. All right, then I'm going to click OK to accept that modification. So things look better, this is before, this is after still pretty nebulous, but we do have a little bit of contrast going on and we are spreading out the histogram as you can see here inside the histogram palette. It has got lot of gaps in it, so it is not a good histogram but it's a better looking image than it was before. Now let's bring out the color saturation by Alt or Option clicking on the black/white icon, choosing Hue/Saturation.
Go ahead and call this guy up sat, click OK. You can take the Saturation value as high as a 100 if you are crazy and you want to just completely damage the image beyond all possible recognition there. We do want to take it really ultrahigh, partially because we want to bring out those colors partially to see how raising the color saturation to this extent inside RGB doesn't work all that well but it really works pretty darn well inside of Lab. Anyway, so we are going to take it up to 85, +85 which is really super high, you would pretty much never do that in real life.
But we are going to the Mac for this image, click OK in order to accept that modification and go ahead and zoom in on the image if you care to and you will see that we have got all kinds of problems going on now. We are bringing out a lot of noise, we have a ton of banding going on now. We can get rid of some of that, we can limit that to an extent by focusing the Saturation value that we just applied on just the saturation. The weird thing about the Saturation function inside the Hue/Saturation command is that it effects luminance Levels and if you wanted to just effect color saturation, then you need to apply it to the Saturation values or you need to actually choose Saturation from a Blend Mode pop up menu and I am going to do that and notice how things calm down quite a bit.
When we apply that function now, we still have a lot of noise, if you have to zoom in some more, you can see all kinds of color noise going on. But we don't have the degree of luminance noise that we had just a moment ago. So, this is the color corrected version of the photograph, this is the original one, we just opened a moment ago. This is the corrected version here inside of the RGB mode. It's better, I won't go so far as to say it's best, you can see may I look over here in the upper right corner of the image, you can see that we have quite a bit of luminance noise going on over here and we are not going to get quite that much, we are going to get some in Lab Color mode, but not as much as we get here in RGB.
But there is one more thing we need to do and that is we need to sharpen this image, it's just too cloudy. We need to have more sharpness associated, more details associated with this God light. So, we are going to apply some sharpness in the next exercise.
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