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The Brightness/Contrast adjustment is the simplest, most direct way to make an image brighter or darker or to change its contrast. Granted if you're making a serious adjustment to an image, you're going to want to use Curves or even Levels to adjust Brightness and Contrast. But sometimes all you're doing is working with a snapshot or preparing an image for the web, or to attach to an email, and you just want a quick easy way to adjust its brightness or its contrast, and that's when this adjustment comes in handy. You can apply a Brightness/Contrast adjustment either as a direct adjustment from the Image menu, or as an adjustment layer. I'm going to add it as an adjustment layer to this image by going to the Adjustments panel; I'm going to Double-click its tab here, and clicking the first icon in the Adjustments panel, the Brightness/Contrast icon.
Now in the Layers panel which I'll Double-click, you can see that there is a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, and I'll go back to the Adjustments panel by Double-clicking its tab to show you the simple controls for the Brightness/Contrast adjustment. I usually start in this dialog box with the Contrast slider. Many images need a boost to contrast, which you can get by dragging the Contrast slider to the right. And in this case I have already got a pretty contrast-y image. So I'm going to try reducing the contrast by dragging the slider over to the left, and then I'll go up to the Brightness slider and I'll use that to make the entire image a little bit lighter.
So I'll drag the Brightness slider over to the right. If I go down to the eye icon at the bottom of the Adjustments panel, I can see a before and after view, so I'll click the icon, and this is where I started and this is where I am. So just these two simple adjustments have opened up this image and revealed a lot more of the detail in the books. It's also important that in the Histogram, I don't see any clipping, either on the right or on the left, meaning that I'm not losing any shadow or highlight detail. That's because a couple of versions of Photoshop ago, Adobe improved the Brightness/Contrast adjustment, so that it works just on the mid-tones of the image rather than clipping the highlights or the shadows.
Now there's one thing to be careful of when you're using these adjustment, and that is not to check Use Legacy, because that sends the Brightness/Contrast adjustment back to its former behavior, when it really didn't work very well. So for example, if I do check Use Legacy, and then I come in and move the Brightness slider over to where it was just a moment ago at about 80. The result really isn't what I want. What's happened is that instead of extending the mid-tones across the total range, the legacy behavior of this adjustment just pushes the entire histogram over to the right when I brightened the image, and sends the brightest values off to the edge losing detail in the highlights, as you can tell by this spike over here.
So it's important to keep Use Legacy unchecked, when you're using this adjustment. Granted you don't have lots of control over Contrast or Brightness with just these two simple sliders. Certainly not as much as you have with the Curves adjustment or even a Levels adjustment but if you've made a photo that's too dark or light or that's flat and needs more contrast, you can quickly save it from your reject pile, by applying a Basic Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer.
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