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Using Levels adjustment layers


Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography

with Ben Long

Video: Using Levels adjustment layers

So far, in your work in Camera Raw, you've been working completely nondestructively, meaning that you can go back later and change any of your adjustments. For obvious reasons, editing nondestructively is a better way to work, and you can continue to employ nondestructive techniques in Photoshop. I am going to open the ApproachingStorm image in Photoshop, from Camera RAW. So the RAW file is processing and here are my results in Photoshop. Hitting Command+0 to make this large as possible on my screen. There are a lot of things that I would like to do to this image.
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  1. 3m 14s
    1. Welcome
      1m 44s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 30s
  2. 46m 35s
    1. Defining landscape photography
      2m 23s
    2. Considering cameras and gear
      10m 41s
    3. Shooting and composition tips
      6m 39s
    4. Why you should shoot raw instead of JPEG
      4m 25s
    5. Making selects
      10m 42s
    6. Understanding the histogram
      6m 53s
    7. A little color theory
      4m 52s
  3. 1h 14m
    1. Opening an image
      4m 42s
    2. Cropping and straightening
      9m 56s
    3. Nondestructive editing
      6m 23s
    4. Spotting and cleanup
      3m 53s
    5. Cleaning the camera sensor
      11m 17s
    6. Lens correction
      6m 26s
    7. Correcting overexposed highlights
      7m 29s
    8. Basic tonal correction
      5m 45s
    9. Correcting blacks
      11m 54s
    10. Correcting white balance
      6m 35s
  4. 21m 34s
    1. Performing localized edits with the Gradient Filter tool
      7m 24s
    2. Performing localized edits with the Adjustment brush
      7m 54s
    3. Controlling brush and gradient edits
      6m 16s
  5. 16m 34s
    1. Working with noise reduction
      5m 33s
    2. Clarity and sharpening
      5m 23s
    3. Exiting Camera Raw
      5m 38s
  6. 58m 5s
    1. Retouching
      8m 23s
    2. Using Levels adjustment layers
      10m 59s
    3. Saving images with adjustment layers
      4m 18s
    4. Advanced Levels adjustment layers
      9m 36s
    5. Guiding the viewer's eye with Levels
      8m 48s
    6. Using gradient masks for multiple adjustments
      5m 32s
    7. Correcting color in JPEG images
      3m 15s
    8. Adding a vignette
      3m 25s
    9. Knowing when edits have gone too far
      3m 49s
  7. 33m 24s
    1. Preparing to stitch
      5m 59s
    2. Stitching
      7m 39s
    3. Panoramic touchup
      7m 17s
    4. Shooting a panorama
      4m 58s
    5. Stitching a panorama
      7m 31s
  8. 27m 18s
    1. Shooting an HDR Image
      7m 53s
    2. Merging with HDR Pro
      11m 52s
    3. Adjusting and retouching
      7m 33s
  9. 24m 4s
    1. Why use black and white for images?
      2m 26s
    2. Black-and-white conversion
      7m 13s
    3. Correcting tone in black-and-white images
      7m 38s
    4. Adding highlights to black-and-white images
      6m 47s
  10. 49m 32s
    1. Painting light and shadow pt. 1
      11m 22s
    2. Painting light and shadow pt. 2
      12m 42s
    3. Painting light and shadow pt. 3
      9m 19s
    4. HDR + LDR
      5m 7s
    5. Reviewing sample images for inspiration
      11m 2s
  11. 48m 2s
    1. Sizing
      9m 8s
    2. Enlarging and reducing
      5m 3s
    3. Saving
      1m 24s
    4. Sharpening
      8m 23s
    5. Outputting an electronic file
      9m 4s
    6. Making a web gallery
      4m 17s
    7. Printing
      10m 43s
  12. 20s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography
6h 43m Intermediate Jul 13, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography, Ben Long outlines a full, shooting-to-output workflow geared specifically toward the needs of landscape photographers, with a special emphasis on composition, exposure enhancement, and retouching. This course also covers converting to black and white, using high-dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques to capture an image that’s closer to what your eye sees, and preparing images for large-format printing. Learn to bring back the impact of the original scene with some simple post-processing in Photoshop. Exercise files are included with the course.

Topics include:
  • Getting the shot: landscape-specific shooting tips and tricks
  • Choosing the right equipment
  • Cropping and straightening images
  • Making localized color and tonal adjustments
  • Reducing noise
  • Guiding the viewer’s eye with localized adjustments
  • Adding a vignette
  • Using gradient masks to create seamless edits
  • Approaching adjustments like a painter–thinking in light and shadow
  • HDR imaging
  • Creating panoramas: shooting and post-processing techniques
Ben Long

Using Levels adjustment layers

So far, in your work in Camera Raw, you've been working completely nondestructively, meaning that you can go back later and change any of your adjustments. For obvious reasons, editing nondestructively is a better way to work, and you can continue to employ nondestructive techniques in Photoshop. I am going to open the ApproachingStorm image in Photoshop, from Camera RAW. So the RAW file is processing and here are my results in Photoshop. Hitting Command+0 to make this large as possible on my screen. There are a lot of things that I would like to do to this image.

We got it close in Camera RAW, but there is still more than we could to do. It'd be nice to bring out some contrast, more in some of these texture-y parts of the clouds, and the foreground still looks a little flat to me. It'd be nice to do something to give it a little more something or other. That's not like a real technical term, "a little more something or other." I just honestly I am not sure yet what it is, and that's okay. Very often you feel your way through image-editing cycle. You find your way through the changes that an edit needs. I think I am going to start with these big fluffy parts of the clouds here.

I would like to increase the contrast on this area and on this area, possibly on these little bits. As you can see, I am pulling out the real chunky fractal-y parts of the clouds. I don't want to increase the contrast on any of this dark stuff back here for two reasons; one, it's already very dark, and I don't want to push it any darker, and two, if I keep it where it is and change this, I will create more distinction between the two, and that might give me even a little more depth in the image. Because this image does have such an overall red cast, it's being a little bit flattened out by that overall color tone.

The Layers palette in Photoshop is where we're going to be driving our nondestructive image-editing efforts. If you don't see the Layers palette, you can open it up from the Window menu. If you want to have your windows displayed or your palettes displayed exactly as I do, you can go to Workspace and choose Essentials. That's the workspace that I am using right now. Above the Layers palette is this Adjustment palette, which gives you a shortcut to creating what are called adjustment layers. Adjustment layers are also available from this Adjustment layer pop-up menu down here.

I'm going to choose a Levels adjustment layer, which is right here. If I click it, Photoshop adds a levels adjustment layer to my Layers palette. I could also have created that by opening this up and choosing Levels. If you've have never used Levels before, it's very simple. It's going to be very much like what we were doing in Camera RAW. The Levels Adjustment shows a histogram. Here is black on the left, white on the right. Here is my midpoint. What's cool about Levels is these points are moveable. So in Camera RAW when I would move the black slider to the right, that's exactly the same as doing this, and you can see my image gets darker, and moving the white point slider to the left is the same as dragging the Exposure slider in Camera RAW to the right to brighten everything up.

I am basically taking this point right here, and turning it into the white point by dragging the white point over to it. So it's kind of a backwards from what we were doing in Camera RAW, but it still works. I am going to increase the contrast in the image. Now I said that I didn't want to increase the contrast in these areas, but I am not worrying about that right now. I am going to go back and mask them out later, but as you can see I was right. These areas got too dark. By dragging the black point to the right, now look what's happened to these clouds. They've just got a little bit of extra texture and feel to them. I like it a lot more.

I want to brighten them up a little bit, so I am going to do a midpoint adjustment there. Now, the problem is this levels adjustment is affecting my entire image. I want to constrain it to only the clouds. This thing right here in the Layers palette represents my levels adjustment layer. I can turn it off by clicking of the eyeball, and there is my image without the levels adjustment. There it is with a back on. I can of course go in and adjust the settings of my levels adjustment layer up here, and then I got this white thing over here. This is a mask.

This lets me control which parts of the image are affected by the adjustment layer. You can think of this adjustment layer as some kind of magic spray that you are spraying on to your image, and that spray is producing contrast. You can think of this as a stencil that you are spraying through, and in this case, the stencil is all white, meaning the entire image is being exposed to this contrast-producing levels adjustment that I am going to spray on. So, if I grab a paint brush and select black paint, these are my color pickers down here.

I currently have white paint selected with black in the foreground. I am going to swap those with this little thing right here. I am going to select a bigger brush, and now where I paint the image is getting lighter, and the reason it's getting lighter is that part of the image is now being protected from my levels adjustment layer. So this is a way that I can constrain where the levels adjustment layer goes. What I would like to do is have only these bits of the cloud affected. The easiest way to do that is to set my background color to black, choose Select All, which I can also do by hitting Command +A and Ctrl+A. That's selects the entire image.

Now if I hit Command+Delete, that will fill my image with the current background color. In this case, because the adjustment layer is selected, that's filling the layer mask with black. So again if you think of this as a stencil, the stencil is now completely opaque; no part of my image is getting the effect of this adjustment layer. I am going to go up to Select and choose Deselect. Now with my brush and some white paint and a nice big brush with a soft edge, which is what I have up here, again, I am going to use Left and Right bracket to change brush size, I can start painting, and where I paint, I am painting in that contrast increase. If you look here, there is now a white hole in my mask, in this little stencil.

So now the adjustment is going through. I am going to now crank that up a little more. This may be getting a little too color saturated, but I will worry about that later. I am going to paint on some contrast in a couple of other areas. I am kind of following the tones that are already in the image. The areas that are a little bit dark, I am hitting, and maybe I'll even get that bit of cloud there. Again, before and after.

Let's turn this Adjustment layer off. That's what the image looked like before. That's what it looks like now. A little more drama in the sky, and I am feeling more or like this big chunk of cloud here does look a little more separate from this stuff behind it now, which I like. There is a little more depth in the image. Something that's bugging me is when I brushed over this, I had darkened up a little bit of the cloud behind it. And remember, I am brushing with white paint to punch a hole in the stencil. If I just switch back to black paint, I can fill that back in. In other words, I can make sure that that adjustment does not take there.

So I can go back and forth, painting with black and white to add or remove my adjustment. Let's do another one. I am going to add another levels adjustment layer. I'm going to add this one from this menu down here now. No difference between using that or the adjustment panel, and I am going to brighten. I am going to take the white point. I am going to drag it over here. That's brightening the whole image. I am not worried about that yet. I am also not worried about getting my adjustment set precisely where I need it, because I can go back and address that later, because I am going to mask this again. This brightening has blown out some parts of my sky.

I don't like that, but again, I don't care. I am going to put black in my background color. With this layer mask selected here, I am going to select all, and again, Command+Delete. If you can't remember that, you can go up to the Edit menu and choose Fill and instead of Content Aware, make that Black or Background Color, because right now my Background Color is set to black. Okay, now the brightening is gone from my image because the mask is completely full. Deselect.

Now if you're not sure what's going to happen - if I paint with white, my image will get brighter. Just to test that, I am going to draw a stroke across there. Sure enough, my image got brighter, and you can see why; I punched a hole in my mask. So now I have the ability to paint brighter into my image. I can basically paint bits of light into my image wherever I want. So what can I do with what? Well, what I am thinking what I am going to do with that is I am going to in here to all of these little flowers, or all of these little bushes here, and I am going to brighten up the tops of them, so that they look like they're getting hit by the light that's bouncing off of these clouds.

As we discussed earlier, the sun is setting over here. It's shining onto these clouds, and the reason the ground is so pink is because the light is reflecting off of these clouds onto the ground. So let's just exaggerate that reflection little bit by saying, I want the top of that bush a little bit brighter. Where should you paint? It's very easy. This is like the easiest paint by number set in the world. Just look for areas on the plants that are already brighter than other areas and paint over them, and you will just exaggerate that brightening that they've already got.

I missed there. So I am just going to work my way through, find these areas to brighten. Now what I am serving to do here is get my eyes something else to look at when I am finding my way through the image, but also I am breaking up that kind of dull, overly-red foreground that we had, and to a degree, adding still even more depth to the image, because now these elements stand out of the foreground a little bit.

So I will just quickly go through, hit the rest of these. I am using a mouse at the moment. For a lot of this work, I typically use a pressure-sensitive tablet. I prefer Wacom tablets. If you're not familiar with a pressure-sensitive tablet, it's a little tablet you plug into your computer, and you have a stylus that you paint on it with, and you can program the pressure of the stylus to do different things, so that if you press harder, your brush gets bigger, or changes color, or things like that. If you do a lot of painting and retouching, it can be a really great thing, not only because it can save you from repetitive stress injuries, or save you from exaggerating repetitive stress injuries that you already have, but there are also painting effects that are just really hard to do with a mouse. With the tablet, you can get very subtle shading effects.

All right, there we go. I am going to turn that off. So that's before, and that's after. It's a somewhat subtle effect, but it is adding a little more depth to my scene, and I think I am going to go maybe a little bit farther and brighten up some of this, a little of that, and one of those. So these are adjustment layers, levels adjustment layers, specifically. They allow you to paint light and shadow into your scene wherever you want it. This is a technique that we are going to be using extensively for the rest of this course because it allows us to control the lighting in our scene, make it more interesting, change the depth in our image, and have a lot to do with controlling the viewer's eye.

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