Using Levels in Photo Editing to Adjust Tonal Contrast

One of the simplest yet most useful adjustment tools in photo editing is levels. Using levels to adjust the tonal range of an image will give you much more control compared to using the brightness/contrast adjustment. To be honest, I used brightness/contrast for years, totally ignorant of the existence of levels. When I discovered the dramatic impact of levels adjustment, I wanted to re-edit every single picture I had post-processed. What really gets to me is that it only takes a few seconds to change a dull and drab photo into a more attractive image. 

boat levels2 Using Levels in Photo Editing to Adjust Tonal Contrast

We have discussed the histogram in a previous article and here we will apply what we’ve learned.

 Open the image.

  1. Open the levels screen. The location varies depending on what photo editing program you use. For Adobe Photoshop, it can be found under Image, then Adjustments.
  2. The levels screen will show the histogram, which is a graph that shows the brightness of an image.
  3. Using the histogram as a guide, you can gauge whether the image is evenly lighted or over or underexposed.
  4. To adjust the levels, slide the triangles toward the center, the distance depending on how dark or light you want the image to become. The left black slider will darken the overall image while the right white slider will brighten it. Usually the sliders are moved to the edges of the histogram. The closer the sliders are moved to the center, the more severe the contrast.  
  5. The middle gray slider adjusts the level of brightness or darkness of the midtones of the image.

 boat comparison Using Levels in Photo Editing to Adjust Tonal Contrast

The photo comparison above shows the difference in tonal contrast between the original image and the edited copy using the levels adjustment tool. The reds have become more vivid and bright and the reflection of the trees in the water appears darker.

The levels adjustment can also be used to lessen contrast in case your image appears to have too much. This is done by tweaking the output levels (that bar below the histogram). 


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iPhoneography, The Fresh Medium of Expression

 

When the iPhone came out in 2007, most people ignored its camera feature in favor of tinkering with the more exciting capabilities such as podcasts and internet surfing through Wi-Fi. It was difficult to get animated over a 2MP camera that hardly had any adjustment settings. Then along came the camera apps which opened up a world of potential and the new hobby dubbed as ‘iPhoneography’ was born.

house1 iPhoneography, The Fresh Medium of ExpressionThe concept is very simple. iPhoneography is taking pictures using your iPhone. Some people choose to also post process the image in the iPhone using photo apps while others prefer to upload the image files in their PC or laptop and post process using photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop. The rest don’t bother post processing at all and just upload them directly into the internet. Purists believe that once the image has been processed outside of the iPhone, that it can no longer be considered iPhoneography. Others maintain that one should strive for image quality and intended result which may need to be achieved using PC programs instead of iPhone apps. It all boils down to personal preference and I say just do whatever works for you.

One major appeal of taking pictures with the iPhone is that as long as you have Wi-Fi connection, you can upload your images straight into the internet (right after you take them!) without having to pass through a computer. You can add them to your online photo album or share them in your social networking site with a few flicks of the finger. How much more convenient or quicker can it get? Another asset is being able to edit those pictures straight from the iPhone through the use of photo editing apps. Also, since the phone camera is very limited in its built-in adjustment settings, it forces you to become more imaginative in creating the image to make it look more than just a regular snapshot. Add all these to the attraction of cellular photography in general, which are portability of device, discreet and unobtrusive capturing of everyday life, and easy access, and you get a very powerful photographic tool.

With all these advantages, it is easy to ignore the fact that these cameras have a low megapixel count. The 2G and 3G iPhones have 2MP cameras while the 3GS has a 3MP camera. The latest version, the iPhone 4, has a camera with 5MP. The difference in quality between 2MP and 5MP is astounding but that doesn’t mean you can’t create great photos with an iPhone 2G.

Of course, a major part of the fun for iPhoneography is to take advantage of the many photo apps that are available in the App Store. A lot of them could be improved, but there are also apps which can inject a good dose of WOW! into a dull shot with just a flick of your index finger.  If, like me, you are just discovering the world of iPhone camera apps and what they can do for your shots, you might find out there are so many of them! You might feel overwhelmed with the number of apps that you might get confused as to which to choose. There are free apps and usually the paid ones range from 99 cents to $4.99. A lot of the camera apps have very similar functions. My advice is to read the reviews first before buying the app.There are sites devoted to iPhoneography. Flickr, for example has huge groups at http://www.flickr.com/groups/takenwithiphone/ and http://www.flickr.com/groups/iphoneography/. They have group pools where members share their photos and also discussions where members can share their latest app finds or tips. One of the leading blog sites is http://www.iphoneography.com/ which is a treasure trove of informative reviews about the latest apps. Time to time, it also includes write ups about people who have become dedicated to this medium (called ‘iPhoneographers’).

If you have an iPhone and haven’t yet experimented with its camera capabilities, try doing so now and don’t be surprised if you get hooked faster than your finger can tap on the upload button.


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Maximizing Foregrounds

We often talk about the background of an image, focusing on its importance in the overall composition of the image. There is another area, however, which we don’t often pay notice to, but which can elevate the effect of an image. This is the foreground, or the portion of the frame that is closer to the camera than the subject. There are quite a few ways to bring attention to the foreground:

palm sunday Maximizing ForegroundsUse a low viewpoint – try placing your camera lower than eye level and slightly tilted upwards. This perspective will give the foreground some emphasis since the camera is literally closer to the ground. With this viewpoint comes the impression of being small because the subject might appear to loom over the camera. You can experiment with using the foreground to show notions of dominance, strength, formidability or weakness.

Elevate horizon line – if your image has a horizon, place the horizon line on the upper third of the frame to emphasize the ground instead of the lower third which would emphasize the sky. Of course, there should be something for the viewer to look at if 2/3 of the frame is the foreground. This brings me to the next point which is foreground interest.

Add foreground interest – this will draw the viewer’s eye towards the subject. It will also fill the empty sections in the frame. Don’t make the foreground too interesting, though, or it will steal attention away from the subject and it might end up becoming the main point of interest.

Adjust your aperture – a small aperture will allow more of the scene to be in focus so that a bigger area (such as from foreground to background) will appear clear in the shot. On the other hand, you can also fix your lens opening to make the foreground blurry but still show recognizable shapes to support the subject. For instance, a foreground filled with red roses can be a little out of focus while the young lady smelling the flowers is sharp and clear. The flowers will not steal attention from the subject but rather provide support to the subject’s activity, plus they can also act as a natural frame.

Include leading lines – these will help draw the viewer’s eyes from the foreground upwards or inwards toward the subject. They don’t have to be straight lines, curves or winding lines are perfectly fine. They don’t even have to be lines, a set of objects or shapes that will lead you to look at the subject will do.

 

 


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5 Super Easy To Do Tips to Improve Studio Shots

1. Use a white card or paper as reflectors for small subjects. Use bed sheets, foam boards or other large flat surfaces as reflectors for large subjects. Mirrors may also be used to lighten dark areas. These reflectors can act as fill light or as additional light if you have only one light source. They can also diffuse the light that hits the subject, therefore lessening the appearance of hard shadows. Best of all, reflectors are easy to acquire since you most probably already have them in your house.

shell 5 Super Easy To Do Tips to Improve Studio Shots2.  Show the object’s best profile.  If your subjects have shapes or details that stand out, use these as the focus of your shot. Subjects can appear more attractive when positioned in a certain angle. A mug positioned to show the quirky shape of the handle might be a better composition compared to one that hides it. Flowers that are drooping sideways and showing the curve of the stem will look more appealing than those drooping towards the back.

3. Clean your subject beforehand, especially if it is glass.  Glassware and other reflective surfaces have this nasty habit of showing off every grain of dirt and grime in the image. Unless you are prepared to spend time doing major photo editing to heal or clone out those thousands of tiny specks of dirt, the easiest solution is to just thoroughly scrub them off first before the shoot.

4. Move your lights around – don’t be afraid to experiment with the angles of your light. If you do not like how the light illuminates your subject, position the lamp or lamps in different locations. Try placing the light source under the subject or right behind it. By lighting the subject in an uncommon way, the impact becomes more dramatic and you will have a more creative interpretation.

5. Arrange and rearrange your subjects – composition is essential in studio shots because things can look very messy otherwise. Arrange your subjects in visually pleasing ways and if an element seems off or doesn’t seem to complement the rest of the setup, either discard it or rearrange the subjects to make them more enticing. 


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A General Guide to Street Photography

The objective of street photography is to capture subjects doing regular and candid activities in public settings. This style has two, rather opposite, approaches. The first is that photographs taken this way present society in an aloof way. It follows the concept of straight photography where the photographer tries to be as objective as possible in documenting the subject in the scene, using no in-camera effects or manipulation that might affect its reality. The other approach is very personal in the presentation of the subject. The photographer tries to show through the street1 A General Guide to Street Photographyimage his or her impression of the culture of society, and an interpretation of moments of interaction or disconnection between people in their environment.

It is one thing to take photographs of subjects in a studio or at home where you are comfortable and where all the elements are controlled by you, and quite a different experience to be out in the street among strangers in an environment where you do not have much control. Practicing street photography, where you have little control over the surroundings and the people, can be both a nerve wracking and an exhilarating experience for the beginner photographer.

As you walk the streets looking for subjects, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Be inconspicuous – do not go out and stand in the middle of the sidewalk to shoot pictures of people. Aside from obstructing traffic, majority of people will not like their picture taken, especially not without warning and permission. Instead, try to blend in with the scene. You do not have to try to hide behind a tree or a telephone post. That is just as bad because people will still notice you and think you are crazy.

Know your light sources – sunlight is usually the main light source in street photography. The light changes depending on the hour so the same scene can appear different. The area you might want to shoot might be very well lighted in the morning but might appear very dark in the afternoon when it is hidden in the shadow of the nearby huge building. At night, there are a lot of light sources that can create mood and tension such as a bright moon, lamplights, street signs, and lighted windows.

Know the effect of time of day – as mentioned earlier, the light changes at various hours. But aside from that, the street scene itself may also change. The surroundings will look different in the early morning when only a few people are up and about compared to lunch time when it is rush hour and there are crowds of people milling and resting in the shade.

Ask permission to shoot – some people appear so interesting that you really want to take a closer shot of them. If you ask nicely enough, some people might consent to having their pictures taken. This solves the problem of you trying to get a good shot without letting yourself be noticed. Be relaxed and friendly when you approach them, and be genuine and sincere in your intent. Strike a conversation to make them (and you) relax. Listen to their answers and stories as you take your shots, do not pretend to be interested by nodding your head every few seconds at everything they say.

street2byardelfinmorgue A General Guide to Street PhotographyTravel light – bring as little gear as possible so you can move more flexibly as you roam around taking photographs. Aside from weighing you down, they will draw more attention to you.

Enter the side streets – there is much to be seen in the less travelled areas where tourists rarely enter. This is your chance to show what goes on behind the main thoroughfare.

Use different angles – break away from your usual viewpoint when you shoot the scene. Climb one floor of a commercial building and shoot the scene from the high vantage point, or sit on a bench and tilt the camera upwards.

Attend street events – parades, street performances, rallies, and the like would make great points of interest. The everyday street scene transforms into a stage and these occasions are a splendid opportunity to capture the richness of society’s culture.

Get a model or property release if needed – if you are planning to use your photos commercially by selling them, you will need model releases for recognizable faces and property release for structures showing in the images. Some places have anti-photography laws prohibiting you to take pictures. Know the legalities of the area to avoid any issues that might occur.

Black & white or color? – the impact of an image changes when presented in monochrome as compared to colored. Some scenes convey more meaning in black and white and there are others that are more striking when in full color. The advantage of digital photography is you can always shoot in color and convert to monochrome in post processing. 


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Photographing Black and White Macro

 

Macro photography can have many themes such as nature macro, super macro, abstract macro and such. We’ve touched on nature macro and explored how to capture the intricate details that only nature can create. Now let’s have a closer look at black and white macro, where the image is still presented really close up but where it is devoid of color. In black and white images, the patterns, shapes and textures become more prominent. To top this off, by using macro, we are presenting the subject in an uncommon perspective and showing off details that we ordinarily would not notice.

fantail 1024x691 Photographing Black and White MacroSince you are dealing with two techniques, macro and also black and white, you might find it challenging to shoot, especially if you are just starting out. Here are some suggestions you might find helpful:

Choose black or white subjects – since the objects you will be shooting are already black or white (or both), it can be easier to compose. You can already see the details of the object without the distractions color can cause.

Look at objects from various angles – an object may look different at certain angles, especially if the focus is very close to it. Find out what is the main attraction of the object; is it its shape and form? Does it have distinctive patterns? Once you’ve answered that, shoot the object at the angle that best shows off the asset.

Think out of the box – Aside from documentation, photographs can also be used to tell a story or to make a statement. Flex your imagination by creating the photo, not just taking it. Instead of taking pictures of objects that are already there and shooting them as is, create something by having a hand in how they will look in the shot. See if you can do something to the subject so it shows your creative touch. Since the image will be black and white, experiment with how the blacks relate to eggshell 768x1024 Photographing Black and White Macrothe whites, how the lighting will create or remove shadows, and how the subject can look unique.

Notice what’s around you – we’re so used to ignoring the things around us. Either they are too small to be obvious, or we look at them so often that we don’t really see them anymore. It might also be that some objects, such as black or white items, are not as obvious as colored ones so they hardly catch our attention. Holding a camera poised to take a picture can make you suddenly more observant, and ordinary things strewn around the surroundings begin to seem more eye-catching. 

Convert to black and white in post processing – most digital cameras nowadays have a black and white mode but it is advisable to convert photos to monochrome during post processing instead. This way, not only will you still have a colored photo if you changed your mind, but you will also have more options to play with in controlling tonal contrast.


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What to Prepare on Your First Wedding Photo Shoot

 

Wedding photography is a lucrative business and you might have felt it is time to be in on the action. In shooting weddings, the photographer has a huge responsibility to make sure all the special moments are recorded. Since it’s your first time to shoot a wedding event, there could be butterflies in your stomach and stress as well, as excitement might start to bridal rice by betacam What to Prepare on Your First Wedding Photo Shootmount up. You might start to think you’re more nervous than the bride to be as the wedding date looms closer. There’s one thing that can lessen those jitters and that is knowing that you’re prepared.

Make a shot list– you can take dozens of various photos of the whole event but there are some that you just must take. Photos of the wedding cake, the bride and groom at the altar, the wedding dance and so on are just a few of the ‘must shoot’ subjects. Also ask the bride and groom what or who they want you to include in a photo since there could be special people you might not know about and might overlook when taking photos.

Bring an assistant if you can – someone who can help carry your equipment for you and do some crowd control will make it easier for you to concentrate on getting the shots. Not only that, the assistant could be your friend or relative who will provide moral support, even indirectly, just by being with you. Better yet, bring someone who can also take photographs. There could be a big gathering of people in a large area and having another photographer in a strategic location means you don’t have to cover the entire area and event yourself.

Bring extras of your camera gear – extra batteries, extra memory cards, especially an extra camera. It’s always good to have extra gear since you never know when one of them could suddenly stop working. It would be a disaster to have your weddinghands by buzzybee What to Prepare on Your First Wedding Photo Shootcamera conk out and not have a back up right in the middle of the ceremony. If you don’t have extras, rent the equipment or borrow them since this is one time when it is essential to be prepared.

Check out the site beforehand – it is best to be at the location at the same time of day that the wedding will happen so you have a good idea of what settings you’ll be using. Scout the ideal locations for group shots and also check out the light conditions.

Be discreet – in wanting to get great shots, it is possible to forget that there is a ceremony going on and people can become bothered by you constantly moving around. One way to lessen being disruptive is to take shots less often and to time your picture taking during sermons and hymns Also make sure your camera doesn’t make sounds such as beeps since this can be distracting for others.

Be aware of your surroundings – you might find yourself in the middle of a crowd during the reception and could bump into people holding wine glasses or that delicate tall ornament that you didn’t notice since you were too busy looking through the lens.

This list is by no means finished since there are dozens more tips to help you prepare for shooting the big event. Stay tuned for more tips in forthcoming articles!


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Shooting Reflections

 

Reflections are often seen in photographs, whether as the main subject or to support the point of interest.  There is something about reflections that draw the viewer’s eye to look more closely. Objects or scenes that are reflected can be subtly different from the real thing and this slight distortion can make us do a double take. They can also doubly enhance the beauty of a subject, such as with nature where the mountains and trees are reflected in the lakes or seas. You can even use them as a tool to capture creative self-portraits.

There are many kinds of reflective surfaces which you can make full use of to spice up your shot:

calamansi Shooting ReflectionsMirrors – these are fun to play with when you want to do some experimenting with your composition.  Certain angles of the mirror can make the subject appear different as well. Try using more than one mirror in your setup and see where it will take you. They say that mirrors do not lie but I believe they can. Some mirrors are not perfectly flat and the reflections they capture will look stretched out or askew in some portions. These are the kind you see in fun houses, carnivals or horror movies.  Shots showing these reflections can really spark interest since they offer such a distorted view of reality.  Just be aware of the angle of your lens since your camera or you might inadvertently be reflected in the mirror and captured in the shot.

Metal – chrome bumpers, spoons, toasters, Christmas balls, anything shiny and metallic can be very reflective. Those that have imperfections such as tarnish or dirt and grime can add mood and interest to the reflection.

Water – probably the most used reflective surface in photography, water is so versatile that it can come in different forms. Here are just a few:

  •  Droplets – images of water droplets with reflections caught in them seem to be the rage these days. Have you seen those images of dew drops lined in a row on a leaf with the reflection of a tiny flower in each one? The droplets themselves can already appear pretty, and then to add interesting reflections is double the visual pleasure. 
  • puddle Shooting Reflections Puddles – these can show the surroundings in an imaginative and uncommon way. After the rain, puddles usually accumulate on city streets and sidewalks. Buildings, crowds, or light posts can become reflected in these puddles and images of tall structures in a puddle on the ground can provide one a fresh sense of perspective.
  •  Large bodies of water – only nature can provide a reflective surface worthy of the grandeur it can present to us humble humans. Seas, oceans, or lakes can reflect snowcapped mountains, the setting sun, or towering trees.  They can also mirror those that float on them such as ships, ducks or fallen leaves. These bodies of water offer a sense of balance and symmetry to the image since they provide a horizon line which bisects the frame.

Uncommon surfaces – there are quite a lot of other surfaces that are less used in photographs because they are hardly noticed. Reflections caught in someone’s eyes, doorknobs, shiny buttons, bubbles, and the like can present stunning images. You just need to be observant of the ordinary things around you that can show reflections. The less predictable they are, the more creative your shot will be.

Reflections can be fascinating in themselves but you can also mix and match them with other styles you might already be familiar with, such as silhouettes or abstraction. Also, partially reflected subjects can give the impression of mystery while double reflections, such as with two mirrors facing each other, can add a sense of surrealism and quirkiness. The more you practice shooting reflections, the more tricks and effects you will discover.

 


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Transforming Ordinary Objects into Extraordinary Subjects

 

Have you ever gotten that feeling that you seem to have taken all possible angles of the objects lying around your house? Your still life photos begin to look the same. If you’re starting to get frustrated, it might be time to do something more than the usual. Here are some tested ‘experiments’ you can do to the object to give it more appeal.

Freeze it – frozen objects will usually be encrusted with ice crystals that can make them look eye catching. If you submerge the object underwater then freeze it, it will appear unusual under all that ice. The colors and shapes of the object become distorted under the ice layer. Try freezing a flower head or a stuffed toy (I once saw a picture of a teddy bear all soggy and covered in melting ice and I just wanted to hug it) or a vegetable. Whatever can fit in your freezer will do fine. Try freezing objects that you would never find in a freezer such as a mobile phone. An image of a frozen camera will surely induce a shock response.

smash Transforming Ordinary Objects into Extraordinary SubjectsSmash it – this can be so much fun to do, not to mention therapeutic. If your object is disposable, try smashing it with a hammer or a rock. Objects will not only appear different, but they will also grab the viewer’s attention.  Glassware, beer bottles, ceramics, fruit, plastic figurines; anything you can afford to break can be a potential subject. If your equipment is capable of high speed photography, you can even take fantastic shots of the object in the moment of being smashed. Some objects break into pieces when smashed while others just become dented and mangled. You can play around with the strength of your smash since the outcome will also vary.

Burn it – this can also be a fun activity as long as you are careful when playing with fire. An image of a household object can look very mundane. Burn this same object and you will suddenly be presenting it in a whole new light. Try to capture images at various times of burning, from the start when the object has just caught fire until the time when it has burned to a crisp. Needless to say the camera should be a safe distance away from the flame. It is entirely possible that you can get so engrossed in getting the shot that you might not notice when something else is burning, like the camera or your hair. Some objects don’t burn out. Rather, they melt, which leads me to my next suggestion.

Melt it – when an object melts, its details start to run and deform, making it appear unrecognizable at times. Plastic, rubber and wax objects are ideally perfect subjects. See if you can get a multicolored object which you can melt and take a picture of. All those colors will start to blend and warp and you just might end up with a very interesting shot.

greentwist Transforming Ordinary Objects into Extraordinary SubjectsTwist it – some objects are flexible and can be bent and twisted. Twisting an object changes its shape and contours, and you can show a new take on the old boring image. The photo to the left is a close up of the twisted section of a green balloon (the kind used to make balloon animals).

Paint it – go crazy with paint by dunking the object in the paint can and shoot it dripping wet, or paint only portions while leaving other parts alone, spray paint it, paint it with nail polish, airbrush it, paint patterns on it. Okay, this is sounding more like a multimedia project but won’t it be fun? Plus your subject will certainly have that extra thing going in your shot.

Create unusual pairings – aside from your subject, include another object in your shot. The more creative you are with the match, the more impact the image will have. Instead of showing objects that ordinarily go together, use a secondary object that you wouldn’t normally think of using with your subject. For example, instead of showing a cupcake with a paper napkin beside it, why not stick some push pins on the pastry instead. This might look weird but when you’re experimenting, weird is very much welcome. 

 

 

 


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5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots

 

If you are in a hurry to edit your pictures, or just want a quick fix to make your photos come alive, here are some Photoshop tips that will spice up your shot in a jiffy. All these quick fixes are just autolevels1 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotsthat, fast and sometimes imperfect since you are not fully controlling the adjustment settings. However, you can do any of these in the space of a few seconds and with just a few clicks of the mouse, and you can also get a glimpse of what editing can do for your shot.

1.  Auto Levels – the levels adjustment is used to fine-tune the brightness of an image. You can manually control how dark or light the picture will appear but Photoshop also offers ‘auto levels’ wherein the program will do it for you. It doesn’t mean that the outcome will be perfect all the time. But clicking on auto levels can quickly show you how your shot can brighten up with the use of levels.

autocolor1 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots2.  Auto color – color can also either be manually or automatically adjusted. If you want full control of shades and hues, you can use a variety of adjustment options such as Color Balance or Hue/Saturation. However, clicking on ‘auto color’ might be all you need to remove a color cast.

3.  Add a border – aside from providing visual enhancement to an image, a border can also frame it by delineating the image from the background page, especially if the shot has large white or very light areas. To add a simple border, click on Image border 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots> Canvas Size, then under the drop down menu (under New Size), choose ‘pixels’ and input a number (preferably divisible by two) in the width and height boxes. The numbers will be divided by two and will be the size of the pixels that will border the image on each side. For example, if you choose a 2 pixel horizontal canvas size, it means the left side will have a 1 pixel borderline and the right side will also have the same. To choose the border color, click on the black square beside Canvas extension color and it will open a screen where you can choose any color you want. If you want the border to match with a certain color in the image (like what I did for my photo example), after clicking the black square, move your cursor to the desired color in your image. Your shadowhighlight 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shotscursor will look like an eyedropper as you do this. After clicking on the color you want in your shot, press OK and this will be your border’s color.

4.  Shadow/highlight – removing a percentage of shadows can bring out details in the dark spots that were previously hidden. Clicking on this adjustment will decrease the dark areas of the shot by 50%. It will also open up a screen where you can then slide the markers for shadows or highlights and adjust them to your liking.

5.  Gradient Map – if you want to convert your colored picture to black and white, Photoshop again has many options you can use to get this result; from using desaturation, to tinkering with channel mixers, to clicking on the gradient map. The gradient map changes the image to grayscale and also provides a higher contrast between black and white compared to desaturation.gradient 5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots


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