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The tonal adjustments we've covered in this chapter are critical to getting good prints. Now, hopefully the before and after examples we've shown and the surrounding conversation have helped you understand what good tone in a print looks like. A big part of good printing is simply learning the aesthetics of what makes one print work better than another. 90% of what I do to fix an image before printing is exactly what you've seen in this chapter. I analyze different areas of the scene to determine if the tone in those areas is correct, and then I use localized adjustments to fix those areas.
Usually, I simply follow the light in the scene. If one area is lit differently than another, then I edit each of those differently lit bits, applying whatever corrections are necessary. I use Levels Adjustment layers and layer masks for my edits, both because they give me histograms specific to my masked area and because they're nondestructive. If I adjust an image, make a test print, and then find that the adjustment isn't quite right, I can easily alter it and reprint. Your eye works to constantly correct tones so that white always looks white, and that means it is often difficult to recognize onscreen that a print has an overall gray cast to it, or an overall color cast if you're working in color.
But as you print more, your eye will become more tuned to true black, true white, and a broad range of mid-gray tones. You'll get much quicker at recognizing when a particular area could be brightened, darkened, or made more contrasty or distinct. But even then, the histogram will remain your guide to good editing. At this point, we're through the first part of our printing workflow. We've made our initial edits on screen and then we've added an additional set of edits specifically for print. Now I've been cheating a little bit by cranking out some test prints without showing you the other steps in the workflow.
So we're going to move on to those now. After making your edits, the next step is to properly size your image, and we'll cover that in detail in the next chapter.
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