Monday, March 31, 2008
Tame The Contrast Monster
Control the light in your photo with the Shadows/Highlights adjustment
We simply could expose for the bright areas and let the darker areas get dark and dramatic. The results can be interesting if appropriate for the subject matter. Most subjects don't call for this, however, and when the subject doesn't work, the picture just looks harsh. Or we could just decide that the lighting is impossible to deal with and not take the picture at all. But sometimes there's a subject that's important for us to photograph. So we take the photograph and have to live with the results.
Both Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements include a useful tool that can help us get a better final image when the total range of the scene is challenging for our cameras: the Shadows/Highlights adjustment.
You can find the Shadows/Highlights tool in Photoshop under Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. In Photoshop Elements, go to Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights.
The dialog box includes one slider for shadows and one for highlights; both adjust the amount. There's an extra check box in the Photoshop dialog box that says Show More Options. Click on that, and you'll get a much bigger dialog box with eight sliders instead of two. This gives the Shadows/Highlights control in Photoshop more flexibility, but also makes it more complex to use. The control in Photoshop Elements is limited to the two basic sliders.
Let's look at the complete dialog box in Photoshop. A good place to start is Shadows. I recommend that you immediately reset the Amount and Tonal Width in Shadows to 30 percent in each. The default is too high. While a high Amount like 50 percent is sometimes needed for individual images, such an Amount usually makes your photos look Photoshopped. Reduce Radius to 20 to 25 pixels.
Change Tonal Width in Highlights to 30 percent, too. Change the Radius there to 20 to 25 pixels. You always can reset these for individual images.
You can leave the adjustments area at the defaults. If you want to play with this later, you can experiment with Color Correction to see how it affects color and play with Midtone Contrast to see if you like its effects, as well. Black Clip and White Clip each affects where pure black and white appear in a photograph.
Once you've done this, click on the button at the bottom that says Save As Defaults. This will save your settings for future use. In Photoshop Elements, you can leave the default settings as they are.
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