5 edits you NEED to know in Photoshop | Institute of Digital Photography

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know my stance on Photoshop. If you are new to this blog, let me explain what I mean…

Photoshop is a critical part of the image making process and learning to use it properly is important. Photoshop is not an excuse to make bad images  in the hopes of trying to fix them up afterwards, thats a bad way to make photographs. In a nutshell, Photoshop is there to make your good images (made properly in camera) look spectacular. So, this not a going to be a “cheat sheet” of how to fix blown out skies or change colours that are messed up because of bad exposure, this post is about getting some basics right in Photoshop.

Obviously, there are far more than 5 techniques to edit your images, far far more. I believe that these 5 techniques will help you to build up your repertoire of Photoshop skills. Yes, 5 may seem simplistic, but in many ways they are a foundation. So, come along with me on this first step.

This post will be done over 5 posts, so I can go into some details about each tool. We will do this in a specific order as follows:

1. Levels
2. Curves
3. White Balance
4. Noise/Sharpening
5. Crop

Here goes…

Levels tool

Your levels tool in Photoshop is an invaluable tool in getting your exposure spot on. Yes, you want to get this right in camera, but sometimes you can really make the image “pop” by using the Levels too. Levels is a great way to adjust the general lighting in your image, to brighten things up or to darken some areas. When you adjust Levels, you will also notice that this affects the colour in your image, so be aware of the changes being made in your image as you make adjustments. Levels is based on a histogram. The histogram looks like this.

Basically the histogram is a representation of the pixels in you image. It reprints the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows.

The Histogram gives an indication of the tonality of an image. There is no “perfect” histogram. Some photographers say that perfect tonality will be represented by a “bell curve” shape to the histogram. This is not true as each image captured is individual as is the light in which an image is captured.

How to read a histogram:

Levels Dialogue Box - Histogram

The histogram is broken up into 3 areas:

Darks – Far left of graph

Midtones – Middle of graph

Lights or highlights – Far right of graph

The height of the graph represents how many of the pixels are in that space, so in the above histogram, we can see that much of the image is mid tones, with very few highlights and very few shadows. To adjust the exposure in your image, you have few different options, and watch the histogram as you make these changes. Now, just to be clear, there is no perfect histogram, the histogram needs to represent the light in your scene. If your scene is dark and you look at your histogram and there are lots of shadows, then make sure that you have not underexposed the scene. The same is true if your histogram is too far to the right, check that you are not overexposed the scene. Underexposed simply means that there is not enough detail in the shadows and an overexposed image means that there is not enough details in the highlights. Both of these are not a problem if thats what you want, but if you are looking for a well exposed image, you will want to check the histogram.

This is the image that is represented by the histogram above:

Gastown - Before levels adjustments made

Gastown – Before levels adjustments made

Now, to make this image more correct from an exposure point of view, all I am going to do, is bring in the sliders from the left and the right. I will slide them in to the edge of the histogram and the image now look like this

Gastown - after the shadows and highlights have been adjusted

Gastown – after the shadows and highlights have been adjusted

Looking a little better, but still not enough contrast in the image. Lastly, I adjust the middle slider (mid tones) to make sure that I have added some contrast to the scene. Watch how the colour changes too. Levels is a great way to adjust your image for exposure and for colour, but be careful not to overdo it.

Gastown - After mid tones have been adjusted and made darker

Gastown – After mid tones have been adjusted and made darker

The levels tool is a perfect way to start seeing whats possible with your image. Experiment with it too, you could make an image that lacks contrast even more “misty” or you you could pull it down and make it really contrasty. You may be able to add some darkness to shadows that are just a little too grey, it really is up to you. Spend time with this technique, make it work for you and understand its limitations. Once you do, you will be able to make quick adjustments easily and by doing that you will speed up your editing time!

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