Photoshop Tutorials
The Design Center, DT&G / Photoshop / Elements / Color Correction / Adjusting Lighting and Contrast  

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Adjusting Lighting and Contrast

Photoshop Elements The Lighting palette lets you make very sophisticated adjustments to the brightness and contrast of your photo. Sometimes problems that you thought stemmed from exposure or even focus may right themselves with these commands.


If you want to understand how Levels really works, you're in for a long technical ride. On the other hand, if you just want to know what it can do for your photos, the short answer is that it adjusts the brightness of your photo by redistributing the color information; Levels changes (hopefully fixes!) both brightness and color at the same time.

If you've never used any photo-editing software before, this may sound rather mysterious, but photo-editing pros can tell you that Levels is one of the most powerful commands for fixing and polishing up your pictures. To find out if its magic works for you, click the Auto Levels button. This comparison shows what a big difference it can make to your photo. lighting and levels
A quick click of the Auto Levels button can make a very dramatic difference in how vivid your photo is.
Left: The original photo of the squirrel isn't bad, and you may not realize how much better the colors could be.
Right: This image shows how much more effective your photo is once Auto Levels has balanced the colors.

What Levels does is very complex. The Missing Manual contains loads more details about what's going on behind the scenes and how you can apply this command much more precisely.


The main alternative to Auto Levels in Quick Fix is Auto Contrast. Most people find that their images tend to benefit from one or the other of these options. Contrast adjusts the relative darkness and lightness of your image without changing the color, so if Levels made your colors go all goofy, try adjusting the contrast instead. You activate Contrast the same way you do the Levels tool: just click the Auto button next to its name.

Shadows and Highlights

The Shadows and Highlights tools do an amazing job of bringing out the details that are lost in the shadows or bright areas of your photo. Figure 4-8 shows what a difference these tools can make. The Shadows and Highlights tools are a collection of three sliders, each of which controls a different aspect of your image:
NOTE Lighten Shadows. Nudge the slider to the right and you'll see details emerge from murky black shadows.
NOTE Darken Highlights. Use this slider to dim the brightness of overexposed areas.
NOTE Midtone Contrast. After you've adjusted your photo's shadows and highlights, your photo may be very flat looking with not enough contrast between the dark and light areas. This slider helps you bring a more realistic look back to your photo.

Top: This photo shows a classic vacation picture problem: the day is bright, the scenery's beautiful, but everyone's faces are hidden in the dark shadows cast by their hats.
Bottom: The Shadows and Highlights tools brought back everyone's faces, but now they look a bit jaundiced. Use the color sliders to make them look healthy again.

NOTE TIP You may think you only need to lighten shadows in a photo, but sometimes just a smidgen of Darken Highlights may help, too. Don't be afraid to experiment by using this slider even if you've got a relatively dark photo.

Go easy. Getting overenthusiastic with these sliders can give your photos a very washed-out, flat look.


The Color palette lets you -- surprise, surprise -- play around with the colors in your image. In many cases, if you've been successful with Auto Levels or Auto Contrast, you won't need to do anything here.

Auto Color

Once again, there's another one-click fix available: Auto Color. Actually, in some ways Auto Color should be up in the Lighting section. Like Levels, it simultaneously adjusts color and brightness, but it looks at different information in your photos to decide what to do with them. When you're first learning to use Quick Fix, you may want to try all three -- Levels, Contrast, and Auto Color to see which generally works best for your photos. Undo between each change and compare your results. Most people find that they like one of the three most of the time, but you usually don't need to apply all three to the same photo.

Auto Color may be just the ticket for your photos, but you may also find that it shifts your colors in strange ways. Give it a click and see what you think. Does your photo look better or worse? If it's worse, just click Reset or Ctrl+Z to undo it, and go back to Auto Levels or Auto Contrast. If they all make your colors look a little wrong, or if you want to tweak the colors in your photo, move on to the Color sliders, which are explained in the next section.

Calibrating Your Monitor
      Why do my photos look awful when I open them in Elements? Do you find that when you open your photos in Elements they look really terrible, even though they look decent in other programs? Maybe your photos are all washed-out looking, or reddish or greenish, or even black and white? If that's the case, you need to calibrate your monitor, as explained in the book. It's easy to do and it makes a big difference.
      Elements is what is known as a color-managed application. You can read all about color management in the book. For now, you just need to understand that colormanaged programs pay much more attention to the settings for your monitor than regular programs like word processors.
      Color-managed programs like Elements are a little more trouble to set up initially, but the advantage is that you can get truly wonderful results if you invest a little time and effort when you're getting started. Also, if you don't calibrate your monitor, Elements can show its displeasure in odd ways that don't seem to have anything to do directly with color.

CONTINUES WITH : Adjusting Color using the Color sliders


cover Photoshop Elements 4: The Missing Manual
      by Barbara Brundage -- Author Barbara Brundage has written the perfect digital photography guide. In a clear, easy-to-read format, the author provides step-by-step instruction so readers can learn what they need to do to edit their photos successfully and manage their collection. This new edition also includes more than a dozen downloadable images so readers can practice using the editing tools. Readers will master useful editing techniques--from the most common to the advanced

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coverMost everything else is basically the same with a few new menu items or keystrokes here and there. The big news is the latest

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      This book includes a CD that has the 100 tools from the Hidden Power set that can save you 100 steps at a click. The book organization has been overhauled to reflect the elements workflow so you can follow along to take an image from RAW to finished. The book is longer, contains more tools, and the price has dropped more than $10. Get it for only $19.99 on Amazon

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