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Make a Better Picture through Image Processing Adjustments

In the past, image processing was a tedious ritual using chemical baths in a dark and temperature controlled room. It could only be done by professional photographers and film developing companies. However, with digital film all you need is a decent computer and photo editing software. There is no more need for dye couplers or chemicals since every processing tool can be accessed with the click of a button.

If you have ever uploaded pictures to Photoshop, you should be familiar with the levels tool. This is the box that pops up with your image that contains a graph, called a histogram, and several sliders. Think of this histogram as a distribution chart. It explains where the white point, mid-tones and black point are leveled at. For example, if you have a picture that is too dark, the area relegated to the white point in the far left will be low or non-existent.
The levels tool gives you the ability to adjust the tonal range, brightness and contrast of your pictures. To make the picture brighter, you can choose the slider in the far left and move it along the histogram until it reaches the foot of the mid-tone spikes. Conversely, if it is too bright, you will want to move it away from the peaks.

In a normal photograph, you want to see a histogram that stretches all the way from one side to the other. Most pictures look best when their contrast allows them to express the full range of brightness. If the spikes in your histogram are cut short, you can move both sliders to the edges of the screen to create the highest contrast. Do not make this a habit though because if you have pictures taken in soft light or fog, higher contrast will play havoc with your highlights and shadows.

The slider in the middle is used for brightening and darkening the mid tones This focuses on either lightening the shadows or making the highlights more pronounced depending on which way you slide. For example, you have a picture that stretches all the way to the edge of the black point, but not to the white. If you move the white point slider to the edge it makes the picture too bright. By using the mid-tone slider along with the white point, you can increase the contrast while maintaining the brightness.

If you are having trouble balancing the levels of your picture, there is one other tool that can be very useful. In the bottom right-hand corner of the levels window you will see three icons that look like droppers. By activating the dropper tool, you can click on an area of the picture that should be black or white and it will automatically set the histogram. The grey dropper in the middle can be used to remove colour tinting that you do not want. The dropper tool is a good reference point, but it is not as precise as the sliders.

Image processing has come a long way in the past decade. Digital photography has given both professionals and amateurs the ability to develop pictures at their own pace.


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