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Photoshop is one of the world’s most powerful image editors, and it can be daunting to try to use skillfully. Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Advanced, the second part of the popular and comprehensive series, follows internationally renowned Photoshop guru Deke McClelland as he dives into the workings of Photoshop. He explores such digital-age wonders as the Levels and Curves commands, edge-detection filters, advanced compositing techniques, vector-based text, the Liquify filter, and Camera Raw. Deke also teaches tried-and-true methods for sharpening details, smoothing over wrinkles and imperfections, and enhancing colors without harming the original image. Exercise files accompany the course.
Recommended prerequisite: Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts and color settings for Photoshop from the Exercise Files tab.
In this exercise I'm going to introduce you to the Levels command and I'm going to show you how to apply all of the Auto adjustments we have seen so far from inside the Levels dialog box, and control the behavior of those Auto adjustments. Pretty cool stuff, and then we will move on from there, we will be applying our own manual Levels and Curves modifications over the course of this chapter. Let's start off by opening this image. It's called Max at computer.jpg and this is a photograph of my elder son Max. Even though I'm very happy with the composition, and gee whiz, my son looks great here. I'm not so crazy about the color cast and the Luminance levels and blah, blah, blah, and so I could go up to the Image menu and I could say, you know, one of these Auto commands should do me pretty nicely because after all this is a low contrast image and it's got a color cast. So that's perfect, right? So let's go ahead and try Auto Color and see what happens. Not very satisfying, didn't really work very well there. So I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to undo that operation. Go back up to the Image menu right there and try Auto Tone this time. And that's different but qualitatively I'd say it's the same, it's still bad. So I'm going to go ahead and press Ctrl+Z, Command+Z on the Mac.
So that's the thing about the Auto commands. You try them sometimes and they work beautifully, you try them other times and they don't do nearly what you hope they would do. And that's when you go ahead and choose either Levels or Curves. I'm going to go to the Image menu, choose Adjustments and I'm going to show you Levels and Curves here. Levels is the command you want to try first, generally speaking. And notice that Photoshop is even telling you as much because it went ahead and gave Ctrl+L or Command+L, that just wonderful simple keyboard shortcut to Levels. It didn't give Ctrl or Command+C to Curves because that's use my copy obviously under the Edit menu. But instead it gave Ctrl+M or Command+M. Why? Because it's letter after L. So if Levels doesn't work for you, this is Photoshop talking.
Swear to you. If Levels doesn't work for you, then that's when you bring up the big guns and you try out Curves. And I'll show you how that works, but for this image Levels is going to work nicely. Basically Levels gives us three points of control per color channel, so you have control over the shadows, the highlights and the midtones as you will see. And you have access to all those Auto functions as you do inside Curves as well. All right, so let's go ahead and choose Levels, and then in the next exercise we are going to apply Levels as an adjustment layer. But let's try it as a static adjustment for starters. So go ahead and choose the Levels command or press Ctrl+L, but of course Command+L on the Mac. And here is our histogram and all of its glory going from black over here on the left to white over here on the right. And we are seeing the composite histogram right here in the center of the dialog. So we have got very little in the way of shadows and we have got next to nothing in the way of highlights. So why in the world didn't the Auto commands go ahead and get rid of all this bad highlight information and expand the highlights to fill in so we had a brighter image? Well, the reason is we have this big spike of highlights of whites actually right here on the right side of the histogram and that prevented the Auto commands from doing their thing. You may notice though that there is an Auto button right there inside of the Levels dialog box, and if you click on it, guess what you apply? You apply what used to be called Auto levels, which is now called Auto Tone for whatever reason. But you apply the Auto Tone variation, which is to say it goes ahead and adjust the histogram for each one of the R, G and B channels independently of each other. So that the darkest color is black and lightest color is white.
But that didn't really do much because we already had a very light highlight; we are ahead of white in most of these channels. And we have something very close to a black in each of the channels as well. So it actually made the image a little darker, which is not what we wanted. But if you go over here to Options, then you can access the whole shebang here, all of the Auto functions. This is like Auto Control Central right here, this weird dialog box that most people never go to but it can be actually quite illuminating, quite helpful.
And notice here that we have these three options, Enhance Monochromatic Contrast, Enhance Per Channel Contrast and Find Dark & Light Colors. Well, there are three of them. And guess what, there are three Auto functions, and guess what else, each one of these corresponds to one of the Auto functions. So if I hover over Enhance Per Channel Contrast right there, I can see this tip that says Clip color channels independently to increase contrast and alter color casts (Auto Tone). Did you see that? I'll hover again. That final item in the tip, in parenthesis says Auto Tone, to show you that this is the Auto Tone function right there.
And if I were to select this first one, and I'll hover over it. Notice it says blah, blah, blah, blah, Auto Contrast, that's the Auto Contrast function right there. So if I click on it, I'll get the Auto Contrast effect instead. And then if I hover over this guy, Find Dark & Light Colors, that is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Auto Color. So I'll go ahead and select it and that gives me the Auto Color function. Not looking so good. Well, there is one other feature that's associated with Auto Color. So far what we've done is we've gone ahead and expanded the shadows and the highlights to the extent that it could, which wasn't very much where the highlights are concerned. As I was saying before for the same reason because we have this big shock of white right there. That's in this lamp in the background up there by the way. So it's gone ahead and neutralized those shadows and those highlights such as it found them. But it did not neutralize the midtones. You have to turn on this checkbox as well. And notice if I hover over the checkbox, it says blah, blah, blah, Auto Color. It's another Auto Color function. The nifty thing is however, not only can you combine it with this piece of Auto Color, you can also combine it with this piece of Auto Levels or this piece of Auto Contrast if you want to. So we have further control.
Now it's not actually doing anything that we wanted to do so far but we can make it do something that we wanted to do so far. Am I talking properly yet using these clipping functions down here? And I'm going to show you how these clipping functions work in the next exercise. So for now I'm just going to cancel out. Goodbye, goodbye. You are not doing me any good so far. In the next exercise we are going to go over here to Layers palette and the Adjustments palette. We are going to apply the Levels command as an adjustments layer and then we are really going to get into it folks. So join me, won't you?
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