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Photoshop is the world’s most powerful image editor, and it’s arguably the most complex, as well. Fortunately, nobody knows the program like award-winning book and video author Deke McClelland. Join Deke as he explores such indispensable Photoshop features as resolution, cropping, color correction, retouching, and layers. Gain expertise with real-world projects that make sense. Exercise files accompany the course.
Download Deke's free dekeKeys and color settings from the Exercise Files tab.
In this exercise, I am going to show you how to use the Histogram panel in order to gauge the quality of your Brightness/Contrast modifications. I have gone ahead and saved off my progress to this particular image, it's The masked butterfly.psd, found inside the 07_basic_correct folder. Now, before we move onto the Histogram panel, I want you to see a problem in this particular composition. I will go ahead and zoom in, nice and close below the right-hand wing. You can see that we have some very choppy transitions here. I will go ahead and zoom in one click farther, so you can see all of those little jagged edges.
That's completely a function of that layer Mask we created. If I Shift+Click on the layer Mask thumbnail here inside the layers panel, you will see that those choppy transitions go away. The reason we have those choppy transitions is because we relied on a couple of primitive tools, the Quick Selection tool, and as you may recall, here under the Select menu, the Similar command. They are decent functions, they are very easy to use, but they don't necessarily produce great results, and they definitely did not in our case. So I am going to Shift+Click again on this layer Mask thumbnail inside the layers panel in order to turn the layer Mask back on.
How do we solve this problem? Well, make sure the layer Mask thumbnail is active, so that you are editing the layer Mask. Then go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and choose this great command right here, Gaussian Blur. That will bring up the Gaussian Blur dialog box, which just basically by default, with its 1.0 Radius, just slightly blurs the detail inside of this mask. So if you look closely onscreen, you will see this is before, some very squarish rectangular transitions, and this is after.
Now it's just slightly blurred. But you can still see a bunch of gunk going on in that shadow. We don't want that. I am going to raise this value to 20 pixels, like so, and that more than blurs away the transitions. Click OK in order to make that modification. Now let's zoom out so that we can see the entire butterfly. This is the before version, just FYI. This is the after version. So I am pressing Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac in order to apply those changes. We are still getting the full benefit of this low-density mask, because we are bringing out some of the darkness in the body and other brown details.
However, we have a smoother looking image as well. All right. Now let's check out the Histogram panel. I am going to go ahead and click on the Background layer for a moment here. Here is the Histogram panel. You can also get to it by going to the Window menu and choosing the Histogram command. But tell you what. It's not going to stay up, the way we have things arranged, histogram is not going to stay up at the same time the Adjustments panel is up onscreen. So I need to move Histogram over into this stack. I am going to do that by dragging from this dark gray area, this empty area next to Info.
I am going to drag both of these panels together, since they are grouped. I am going to drop it right there between my existing panels, that is Color and layers. I see a blue horizontal line. Go ahead and drop and now I can keep an eye on my Histogram panel. I am also going to make it bigger. Notice that by default you are either going to see a single color black histogram, with various overlapping parts or you are going to see a colorful histogram like this. I don't want either of those. So I am going to go over to the flyout menu, click on it, and I am going to switch to the Expanded View, so that I have a wider view of my panel, which is 256 pixels wide, one pixel for every Luminance Level and an 8-bit per channel image, as I was telling you in the previous exercise.
Now, currently we are seeing the Channels and Color. That's sometimes interesting, but for our purposes it's not very useful. I am going to switchover to Luminosity, just so that we are seeing the luminance information by itself. In order to update the Histogram so it's absolutely accurate, you can either click on this little Caution icon, which tells you that we have got some uncached data, or you can click on this Uncached Refresh icon. Either one is going to work. That will just go ahead and regenerate that Histogram for you, so it's as accurate as humanly possible.
Now, we are currently seeing a source of entire image. That means all of the layers merge together. If I were to go ahead and switch to Selected layer, then I would see what this Histogram looked like originally. That is just for the old dark version of the insect. I went ahead and turned off the Adjustment layer for a moment. You can see in that case, all we had was a bunch of Shadow information, not much in the way of Midtones dropping off, nothing in the way of Highlights. So a very badly balanced Histogram. Not surprisingly, the original image looked way too dark.
I am going to go ahead and turn that Adjustment layer back on, and I am going to switch from Selected layer to Entire Image. We have a much better Histogram now. But even so, things are pretty much bunched up in the middle of the histogram. We have got a lot of Midtones, great, but we are dropping off on the Highlights, nothing super light. And we are dropping off on the Shadows and nothing super dark. So when we go to print this image, we may still have a problem with it looking washed out or low contrast. That means that we still have a lot of room to increase the contrast inside of this composition.
So I am going to go ahead and double- click on the Adjustment layer thumbnail to bring up my Adjustments panel. Notice as I increase that Contrast value, I am spreading out this Histogram, so that it's starting to slide into the Shadow and Highlight region. Now, it may appear to grow sort of shallower, that is not as tall. That's not anything you need to worry about. The fact that we have spikes in specific locations well within the luminance range is not something that terribly concerns us. So I could go ahead and crank this Contrast value all the way up to 100% and that's going to give me more vibrant shadow detail, more vibrant highlight detail as well, without clipping any of the colors.
Compare that to, if I were to go ahead and turn Use Legacy on for just a moment here. I will increase the Contrast like crazy. Let's also go ahead and increase the Brightness value a little bit here. You can see that we have all kinds of clipped information. That is the Histogram is smashed over to the left and right sides, and we have crazy gaps inside the Histogram as well, which is leading to these terrible transitions. Let's go ahead and Undo that modification by pressing Ctrl+Z, Command+Z on the Mac. It goes ahead and restores my original settings, as well as turn off Use Legacy.
And now I will turn on Contrast again. Once again let's go ahead and update that Histogram by clicking on that little button. We have a well-balanced Histogram and a great looking vibrant image, thanks to the very simple brightness and contrast and the fairly demanding histogram working together inside Photoshop.
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