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Photoshop is one of the world’s most powerful image editors, and it can be daunting to try to use skillfully. Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Advanced, the second part of the popular and comprehensive series, follows internationally renowned Photoshop guru Deke McClelland as he dives into the workings of Photoshop. He explores such digital-age wonders as the Levels and Curves commands, edge-detection filters, advanced compositing techniques, vector-based text, the Liquify filter, and Camera Raw. Deke also teaches tried-and-true methods for sharpening details, smoothing over wrinkles and imperfections, and enhancing colors without harming the original image. Exercise files accompany the course.
Recommended prerequisite: Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts and color settings for Photoshop from the Exercise Files tab.
We are going to begin our look at Levels and Curves by examining neither. Instead, we are going to take a look at a trio of automated functions that are based on both Levels and Curves. And these commands when they work, work brilliantly as you will see, but first, I want to give you a sense of what kind of image is best suited to these commands. And then in the next exercise, I'll show you how to apply the commands, and what kind of results you can expect to achieve. And then in the exercise after that I'll show you how the commands work. So we've got a trio of exercises devoted to this trio of commands.
What commands am I talking about? Well, let me show you. I'm going to go up to the Image menu, and I'm going to go to Adjustments, and I'm going to show you first of all the commands that we will be discussing throughout this chapter, Levels and Curves. And notice both of these extraordinarily powerful commands which do an absolutely brilliant job of enhancing the colors inside of an image and balancing luminance levels and so on. Both of these commands end in little dot dots, those telltale ellipses that tell you that you are about to embark on a conversation with Photoshop.
So when you choose the Levels command, you are basically hailing Photoshop, you are saying levels, and then Photoshop is responding by saying "what?" with this dialog box right here. And then the two of you proceed to have a non-verbal dialog inside of a box. And if that doesn't sound like more fun, then you can imagine. Well, just stay tuned because you won't have to imagine, you will see the fun in action. But for now I'm just going to go ahead and cancel out of said dialog box. Let's go back to the Image menu, and let's take a look at the progeny. So the idea is if Levels and Curves were to get married, and then they had these three babies right here, these would be them, Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color.
Now the babies don't bring up dialog boxes. Notice that they have no dot dots, so they are just going to do their thing and each one of them is smart. They are conditional; it's really the better way to say it. They can take a look at the condition of the image and apply their algorithms accordingly in order to do what they consider to be the best job of correcting the image. So each one of them does a different thing, based on features that are found in both Levels and Curves. So they can't do quite as much as Levels or Curves, they are just babies after all, however they do it automatically without talking to you at all. They just do their things. So they are very easy to use.
Now before we apply them, let me introduce you to this sample image here, because it's very important. I want to give you a sense of what kind of image is best suited to these auto commands, because they don't work on every image by any means. It's very specific kinds of images. So we've got a bad image here, which really needs work obviously. It's called Pool deck.psd. I shot this image with just a great camera, it's an Olympus Stylus 1030 SW, and you might not think it's a great camera based on this lousy image that I captured, but here's what happened. There are two parts to it.
First of all, this was a very cloudy day, as were all the days on this cruise, and you can tell that's a case because I mean witness this pool deck, that's why we have a preponderance of blue inside of this image, because there is a lot of cloud covered but does not explain the preponderance of green. This is the image I ended up with. Now why is it perfectly suited to the auto functions, because for one thing, it kind of defies the other commands, right. I mean, it not only has low contrast as we can see, which is very important, if you are going to apply an auto function and expect the results from it, you want a low contrast image, that's essential. So that you don't have rich blacks and you don't have bright whites, you have sort of this murky in between, and also it's got a terrible color-cast, which two of the commands are suited to. These two commands right there, Auto Tone and Auto Color, will correct for color cast. This guy, as you will see in the next exercise, won't. Otherwise how would you go about by fixing this image, or you might try something like Brightness/Contrast, because it lacks contrast, right? So you'd raise the Contrast value there, and you would get this sort of nuclear image as if we're close to a source of radiation.
And I could increase the brightness if I really wanted to wipe everybody out, or I could decrease the brightness but that just makes the scene murkier. So we're really not getting the results we want out of Brightness/Contrast. Instead, I guess I cancel out of there. Presumably, I could go to the Image menu, choose Adjustments and try something like Variations down here. I have already been in this dialog box, let's go ahead and click on Original to reset it. I could say, well, you know what, it doesn't need More Green or More Cyan or More Blue, it needs in fact the opposites, we will try More Red a few times here. I'll just click three times in a row. I might try, that's about it, I guess, I could reduce this Fine/ Coarse slider and click on More Magenta or something along those lines, and then increase it back and say that I wanted to be lighter or darker, neither, really because those are midtone adjustments. I want to make the Highlights slider and the Shadows darker, and that's not something you can do using these options by default. With Midtones anyway I could grab Highlights right there, and I could say, let's make the Highlights brighter, and then I could click on Shadows, and I could say let's make the Shadows darker. And that still leaves a lot of room for changing the color of the Midtones, the color balance that is. So I went ahead and selected the Midtones and then clicked on More Red. I'm just fooling around inside this dialog box. Then I click OK and say hmm, this is before, Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac. This is after, Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac. So I was not able to correct this image satisfactorily at all. I'll go back to the Original here.
What in the world do we do? Well, after all that work, and after all that frustration, you are going to be amazed at how these little children right here, Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color, what an amazingly brilliant job they do. When you have a low contrast image, when you have color cast problems, they can absolutely correct an image in just one step. To see them in operation, to see those super-children at work, join me in the next exercise.
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