Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part 1

Although it’s the last “basic skills” chapter in How to Cheat in Photoshop by Steve Caplin, “Chapter 4 – Image Adjustment” introduces some key techniques are used extensively in photosynthesis. I learned so many new skills in this chapter that I’m splitting it into two blog posts to cover them all.

Another example of a technique that was available in CS3, but not covered in my CS3 class, is the Shadow/Highlight Adjustment dialog box. It can be found under Image>Adjustments. Below, I only used the default setting to considerably brighten the background without washing out the statue:86-Shadows-Highlights-1Example-1024x462

However, images often need further adjusting, such as in the next series. In the original image the sky was so bright that the camera compensated by making the rest of the image too dark to keep the sky from washing out. In the second image, the default Shadow/Highlight Adjustment setting lightened the other elements but not quite enough. For the third image, the picture is greatly improved by increasing the amount and tonal width:86-Shadows-Highlights-2-Example-1024x650

Now let’s consider the opposite problem. In the original image, below, the woman’s face is fine but her white coat is too bright and looks washed out.  The default settings take care of the coat but also darkens the woman’s face too much. Finally, reducing the tonal width in the Highlight section a balance between skin tones and coat can be achieved and the picture vastly improved:86-Shadows-Highlights-3Example-1024x653Throwing Some Curves
A far more powerful tool is Curves. This is yet another tool that was not covered in my CS3 course even though it was available all along. Curves are tricky to master and I’d wanted to learn to do so ever I saw an Adobe demonstration video on the technique in the spring of 2011. I purchased How to Cheat, in part because I could see Caplin covered Curves extensively. If you don’t know how to use Curves, it’s worth purchasing the book to learn this technique alone.

One attribute of Curves, unlike the Shadow/Highlight Adjustment, is that the technique can be used as a Layer Mask. This means that the original pixels are not changed or lost. If necessary the original image can be recovered.While HotChiPs (How to Cheat in Photoshop) devotes two tutorials to Curves in Chapter 4, almost all the following lessons use Curves as one of the steps. The first tutorial demonstrates how, in nine steps, Curves can be used to take a dull image and make it into a bright one. Here is the original and the result:88-CurvesExample

The second tutorial demonstrates how the Curves technique can be used on a problem that commonly occurs when combining two or more separate images: Variations in tone and color cause the completed image to look like it was composed of separate elements. Here’s an example. In the original image on the left, the man’s hand is the correct size for his face. But, the face and hand clearly don’t belong to the same body. The right-hand image demonstrates how to use Curves in five steps to change the tone, contrast and brightness of  the hand to make it more closely match the man’s face:That’s enough of Chapter 4 for now. Tune in next week when a drab Mini Cooper gets a flashy 90-Matching-colors-with-CurvesExapmlesnewmulticolor paint job!Next: Throwing Some Curves with Image Adjustments – Part II

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