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Photoshop CS5 for Photographers provides comprehensive Photoshop training targeting the needs of photographers. In this course, author Chris Orwig demonstrates the fundamental skills used to enhance digital photos, including managing and correcting color, sharpening, making selections and adjustments, retouching, and printing from Photoshop. In addition to teaching the techniques that enable photographers to refine and publish their photos, the course includes live-action segments that encourage thinking photographically and shooting with Photoshop’s capabilities in mind. Exercise files are included with the course.
As we're starting to discover, Levels can really help us out in regards to making tonal adjustments, and also going to help us out with contrast and color. What I want to do here is begin to think about how contrast and color are related. We're going to start off by working on this photograph titled sayulita_painting.tif. So I'll go ahead and press the F key to go to the Full Screen View mode. Next, I'm going to click on the Levels icon, in the Adjustments panel, in order to open up a new Levels adjustment layer. Well here one of the things that you can see is that I don't really have a lot of bright whites.
We can see that by the Histogram. So I'm going to go ahead and bring this point down to where I have some relevant information. Now, let's say that we want to look at the before and after. We can do so either by clicking on the Eye icon right here - here's my before and then after - or by clicking on the Eye icon here. Now, at this point one of the things that we're noticing is that yes, the image is a little bit brighter. We have a little bit more color; yet, what would happen if we were to take this to the extreme? For example, let's say I bring in my black point even farther, and then I bring down my white point even more.
And one of the reasons why I want to do this to this extreme point here, perhaps not quite so exaggerated, is to begin to illustrate this idea that the more contrast we have, typically the brighter and more saturated the colors. Let's now look at the before and after. Click on the Eye icon. Here's before, and then here's after. The colors are almost glowing, and they are glowing because there's so much more density to the image. So one of the things that happens is that contrast affects color saturation.
The other thing that it affects which is kind of interesting is sharpness of an image. For example, let's compare these two. This one feels a little soft. It doesn't feel quite as sharp. When I turn this adjustment layer on, now it feels like those edges are just so sharp, and the image has a little bit more to it. And we'll talk more about sharpening later, but just keep in mind that contrast does affect an overall sharpness of a photograph. So many times, what we need to do is work on the Levels or the tonal values - we can do that with Curves or Levels - and then later we'll do the final sharpening near the end.
Let's go ahead and apply this to a different type of an image. Here we have a photograph of a painting, what about a picture of a person? To toggle to that other photograph that we have open, we can use a great shortcut. It's Ctrl+Tab. Ctrl+Tab will toggle or scroll through all of your open documents. Okay, well, I'll press the Spacebar key, and I'll click and drag to reposition this image. Let's go ahead and click on the Levels Adjustment Layer icon in order to create a new adjustment layer. Here, we're starting to deconstruct the Histogram, right? And let's expand this so we can see this even more.
We'll click on this Expand icon here. In this case, you can see I don't have any deep blacks. I also don't have any bright whites. Well, what I want to do is I want to bring up this black point. Yet this time, I want to do this with a little bit more logic. So far, we've simply been clicking and dragging. Well, we don't necessarily know where to stop. Well, what you can do is you can hold down the Option key on a Mac, or Alt key on a PC, and then click and drag, and as you reassign these darker values, you can see that it's showing me, by way of this highlight color, that there's some problems.
In other words, there's some clipping. What that means is that there's some loss of detail. So what I want to do is I want to click and drag this up until I just have a little bit of this clipping happening. And then let go of the Option key in order to see where the clipping is taking place. In this case, it's taking place in some of these deep, or dark trapped, shadows. So that's not going to be that big of a deal. On the other hand, let's exaggerate this for a bit and go ahead and increase this. Well, now here you can see I have loss of detail everywhere, and of course the image looks bad.
But I've exaggerated that to point out that sometimes what will happen is you may bring this slider up, and it may look good, let's say to right here. You're really kind of mucking up your shadows. You're losing too much information. So again, Option+Click+Drag on a Mac, or Alt+Click+Drag and then let go of the Option or Alt key to find the sweet spot for that adjustment. Next, we'll do the same thing with our highlights. Again, I will Option+Click+Drag and here you can see that I've a little bit of a loss of detail there in some of the highlights. But for the most part, that will be okay.
And then I can, of course, modify my overall brightness with my midtones. Now, when I work on the midtones, it's not going to affect the deepest tones or the brightest tones very much, because it's really focusing in on this middle area. Okay, well, let's go ahead and collapse this view here. Go back to the smaller view. Double-click the Layers tab so I can see my layers adjustment. Here we have our before and then our after. We've gained a little bit of sharpness. We've gained some contrast, and we've gained some color saturation, and the images look so much stronger.
The colors are more accurate to how this image was captured. Now, in this case, I have pushed the contrast pretty far. I have some pretty deep blacks. Now, if you don't want to go that far, you can always just find the sweet spot for how you know the image will be recreated; for example, if this is going to be printed on a glossy paper - well, I can get away with a little more contrast. If it's on a matte paper, perhaps I'm going to have a little bit different amount. So again, you want to modify these sliders in a way that works for your own preference and taste, while at the same time paying attention to any clipping or loss of detail that may happen so that the image looks its best, and so that it can be reproduced.
Now, the last thing I want to say about all of this is that let's say that this image is intended to be reproduced on the Web. Well, in that case, it doesn't really matter how deep or black my blacks are. It's not really a problem when displaying this image via light. Yet, if this image were recreated with ink on a print, that would be problematic. All right. Well, we have talked quite a bit about that and hopefully that's helped out a little bit in regards to understanding how Levels works, and how we can apply these adjustments in some different contexts.
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