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In order for adjustments made with the Eyedropper tool and Curves and Levels to work well, you will need to identify the lightest and darkest, or black and white, points in an image. Sometimes that's easy to do with the naked eye, but occasionally you may need a little help. Let's go over three quick ways to determine these points. The first we'll use is a Curves adjustment. So go down to the bottom of your Layers menu, select the Add a new fill or adjustment layer icon, and select Curves. I am going to grab the middle of our histogram and drag it up to our blackest point, and you'll see what's left here is a little bit of color and all this white-- these will be your darkest points.
You can either remember those points, or you can perhaps make a new blank layer above that, grab your Brush tool and mark those areas in some way. That's one way to do it, if you can't remember where they are. Let's get rid of that layer, and now let's take the histogram again and drag it down to the lightest area. And these bits of color, in this case it's red--may not always be-- these are your lightest points of the image.
Let's close the visibility of this layer, go back to our Background layer, and now we'll go back down to our Create a new fill or adjustment layer icon and this time select Levels. We'll begin by taking our white slider and moving it all the way over into our darkest area of the histogram. And again, here are your color areas that stay, and these are our darkest tones. Let's bring that back. And now we'll grab our black slider and bring it over, and here are our lightest tones.
That was fairly easy. And let's go over our final method. Close the visibility of that layer, back to our Create a new fill or adjustment layer icon, and this time select Threshold. This panel looks a bit different only having one slider at the bottom center of the histogram, but the principle is pretty much the same: move the slider all the way to the right and then slowly back for the highlights. This determines your lightest areas, and they'll be the first to show up. Now let's take the slider all the way over to the left, into the darkest point of the image, the shadows, and bring it slowly back towards the right, and there are your darkest areas.
Now let's close the visibility of this layer and click back on your Background layer. And I am going to show you a real quick trick to see if you can find the neutral tones, or the midtones, in an image, if it has them. First thing you want to do is create a new blank layer. Now go to Edit > Fill, and in the Use dropdown box, select 50% Gray and click OK. Next, go to the Layer Blend modes and select Difference.
Go back to the Create a new fill or adjustment layer icon and select Threshold, and move the slider all the way over to the left or solid white. Now bring it back slowly to the right, and the first areas to appear are going to be your neutral or midtone values. If your tonal values, the lights and darks, are very obvious in an image, you may need no help finding them, but in some cases, particularly in finding midtone values, these methods can come in very handy.
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