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Basic Adujustments

Just about every image can benefit from some adjustment. Most images that come out of the camera suffer from contrast and lighting problems which are easily (assuming the the capture isn't too far off the farm) corrected inside most image editing software, even high-end photographers for magazines have to edit their photos to really make them pop.

Automatic Settings

I encourage you to try the automatic settings, they can save lots of time, and quite often do a good job. Most software can make automatic changes to these settings however the results can vary widely from one application to the next. If you're not happy with the result of the automatic settings, you can always go back and play with the sliders manually.

The Image

Our cameras make determinations on what they see based on what the programmer has input into the tables that control contrast color and brightness.
With the use of the computer, we can adjust the photos to resemble what we saw when we took the photo.
Let's take a sample photo and go through the steps to make this image pop. You can download a sample image here. For this tutorial I will be using Photoshop, though your software choice may be different, the steps are basically the same for any software.

Extract (in Windows right-click and choose extract archive, Mac command click and choose extract.) the Z IP file to open the image and bring it into your image editing software. Notice this image is rather flat and underexposed. First let's start with the most obvious problem. In this case, the image is very underexposed. An image that is improperly exposed will have many other hidden problems changing the exposure will change contrast color and brightness.


Here we have boosted exposure (over all brightness) by one f-stop.

Notice how this corrected most of the problems in this picture. Contrast and saturation have both come closer into line with just the increase in exposure.
Next, we'll just boost the contrast a little by maybe 10 or 15%.

This adjustment mainly just brightens up the lights and darkens the shadows (make the lights lighter makes the darks darker).
Now let's adjust the color saturation and double check to make sure that there is no color cast problems from mixed lighting or the wrong white balance settings. We'll add about 5% saturation of the image to make the colors really pop. There doesn't seem to be any color cast in this image so we'll skip that step.

The last step is to adjust the black point. We need to darken the blacks a little to bring the dynamic range back to the image. Be careful, you can go too far and lose all the details in the shadows we just want to make a very small correction just to bring back some of the completely black areas natural to the image. Black adjustment is accomplished by adjusting the curves or the levels in the black range of your image. Be careful not to disturb the mid-tones or the high-tones while making this adjustment.

Raw file format

Let me add a special note about raw images here. If your camera shoots raw images it only records exactly what the sensor sees. No adjustment is made to contrast or color in camera. All these settings must be handled in post, in the computer.

Next Steps

The next tutorial we will talk about sharpening and getting the image ready for final display either in print or on the web.

Here is the photo before we begin to edit.

Here is the final image.

Michael S Richter © 2000 - 2008 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED