Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video Brightness and contrast, part of Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
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We are going to start things off with a couple of similar looking butterflies that possess similar problems. The first one is this guy right here Dark butterfly.jpg and the other one is Light butterfly.jpg. They are both found inside the 07_basic_correct folder. And they were both captured by me, for what that's worth. Now at first glance you may think that these images are pretty different in terms of the problems they possess, after all this guy is incredibly washed out, way too bright, low contrast. The other image Dark butterfly. jpg is obviously far too dark.
It too however does not have enough contrast even though that may not be apparent at first glance. And when you want to correct these kinds of brightness and contrast problems your best bet is this simplest color correction command that Photoshop has to offer. It's under the Image menu, go to Adjustments and then go to Brightness/Contrast. Now a lot of folks steer clear of this command, especially they've been using the software for a long time. Because in Photoshop CS2 and earlier it was notorious for clipping highlights and shadows. Meaning that it would take large bright regions of the image and make them white and then take large dark areas of the image and make them black.
That is no longer a problem. So the old problems have been rectified. This is actually a really great command. It's not the most powerful color correction function in Photoshop's arsenal, but it does provide possibly the biggest bang for the buck. I am going to go ahead and choose the command, I invite you too as well and you'll see that all you have are two sliders, Brightness and Contrast. Make sure that the Preview check box is turned on so that you can see what you are doing and you'll get a real-time live preview here inside the image window. Also make sure that Use Legacy is turned off, because what that does is that turns this command back into it's bad old self, and I'll show you what that looks like in just a moment.
Now in our case obviously we need to increase the Brightness value. I'm going to go ahead and take it up to somewhere around 100, works pretty nicely for this image. You can play around, notice that it goes all the way up to 150 if you like, but at that point we are starting to lose some of the highlight detail, highlights being the brightest colors inside the image. So as I say I'll take that value down to 100. Now it's obvious that we need more contrast in this image. You can of course decrease the Contrast. It's rare that you are going to need this feature, although sometimes it comes in handy.
I'm going to go ahead and increase the Contrast until I get it to about 50 here, which works out pretty nicely. And if you want to get a sense for before and after, just turn off the Preview check box. So this is the before version of the image with Preview off and this is the after version with Preview back on. Now remember those values for a moment, 100 and 50. I want to show you just how bad this command used to be so that in the event somebody tell you, Oh no, Brightness/ Contrast you do not want to be using that command. That is a bad command inside of Photoshop.
It used to be that way and this is why they say it. I'll turn on the Use Legacy check box that resets my values. I'll change Brightness to 100. Notice what happens, we totally lose the shadow detail that is the darkest colors inside the image. And then if I tab over to Contrast and raise it to 50 to try to correct that problem, my goodness, this image is totally shot. That just gives you a sense of why this used to be a hated command and deservedly so. These days so as I say not the case, a much better command. Tell all your friends. I am going to change those values to 100 and 50 respectively and click OK in order to essentially correct this butterfly and you could see that there is all sorts of rich colors inside this image that a moment ago we weren't really seeing it.
It used to look quite drab. All right, and I am just switching before the before and after views now by pressing Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to invoke the Undo command. Now I am going to switchover to Light butterfly. Let's go ahead and choose that same command again. I'll go up to the Image menu, choose Adjustments, choose Brightness/Contrast. I want you to see how it works on overly bright images as well. We'll take the Brightness value down to -50 in this case. You of course can play around with that slider as much as you like to experiment. And I am going to take the Contrast value up to 80 and this is the before version of the image and this is the after version.
Very simple command to use, very effective as well, Brightness/Contrast here inside Photoshop.
Download Deke's free dekeKeys and color settings from the Exercise Files tab.
- Assembling photorealistic compositions
- Understanding image size and resolution
- Correcting the brightness and color of images
- Creating accurate selection outlines
- Retouching and healing photos
- Mastering layers and effects
- Printing and exporting to the web