Learn how to enhance the brightness and color and improve the quality of your images in Adobe Photoshop.
When you shoot with a camera or a phone, you don't always get a perfect exposure. A photo may come out too dark or too light. Or it may lack contrast and look dull. Or it may be too contrasty and have really dark darks and bright brights. The simplest way to correct exposure problems like those is with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment. Let's try it out on this image from the practice files for this tutorial, or on a slightly dark, slightly dull photograph of your own. First, take a quick look at the Layers panel and make sure that you have the layer with the photograph selected. When you are working with photographs, often you'll have only one layer. Then go up to the Image menu at the top of the screen. And from there, go to the Adjustments category. We're going to try the first adjustment: Brightness/Contrast... That opens this Brightness/Contrast dialog box which I've moved over to the side, so we can see the image. The fastest way to make a change here, is to click the Auto button. That would move the Brightness and Contrast sliders here to where Photoshop thinks they should be. But if you want more control, you can move the sliders yourself. The Brightness slider is sometimes all you need. It controls the overall lightness or darkness of an image. For example, if I drag it to the right, notice that the photo is getting brighter. If I would go to the left, the photo would be darker. I'm going to take it to the right of where we started which was 0, brightening up the photo quite a bit. By the way, don't feel that you have to use the same values I'm using, either in this video or anywhere in this tutorial. The right amount is up to you and your taste. Sometimes, as I said, increasing or decreasing brightness is all you have to do to improve a dark or light photo. But there's another slider here too, the Contrast slider. This slider controls the range of light and dark tones in an image. If you increase contrast, I'll drag the Contrast slider way over, so you can see what it does. The dark tones in the image get darker, and the bright tones get brighter. Too much contrast like this, can make it difficult to see detail in the shadow areas, like in these flowers here or over here, and can cause a loss of detail in bright highlight areas. Like up here in the background. So that's what high contrast looks like. Let's go to the other extreme and pull this slider, all the way to the left. And now you can see what a low contrast image might look like. A little bit flat, a little bit dull. I'm going to put Contrast back where I started, at 0 by typing 0 into the value field for the Contrast slider. So, I think this image could use a little more pop. Therefore, I'm going to drag the Contrast slider just slightly to the right. And that will often do the trick. One way to help you evaluate whether your changes have really improved the image, is to see it before and after view. And you can do that by clicking the Check box next to Preview in this dialog. So, there's how the image started. And here's how it looks, with the increased brightness and contrast that we applied. When you're satisfied, click OK. And that applies your changes directly to the selected layer, in this case to the photograph. If you don't like them, you still have a chance to undo or step backwards as we learned to do earlier in this series. But just to make sure you can always get back to the original, I suggest that when you save an image you've adjusted, like this, you choose Save As... rather than Save. And give the file a different name. And then click the Save button. Now a direct Brightness/Contrast adjustment, like the one we used, is not the only way to correct exposure problems. Later in this tutorial, we'll learn how to apply an adjustment more flexibly, as a readable adjustment layer. And there are other ways to tackle exposure too. Like levels and curves adjustments, that you'll explore as you get more experienced with Photoshop. But the Brightness/Contrast adjustment is a relatively simple solution, that can often improve the look of your photos.
What you learned: To adjust brightness and contrast
- In the menu bar, select Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.
- Adjust the Brightness slider to change the overall brightness of the image. Adjust the Contrast slider to increase or decrease image contrast.
- Click OK. The adjustments will appear only on the selected layer.
Adjust vibrance of colors.
Adjusting the intensity of color in a photograph can have a big impact. In this video, we'll explore how to do that with a Vibrance adjustment. You can follow along with this image from the practice files for this tutorial. First, whenever you're applying a direct adjustment to an image, you want to make sure that you have the layer selected that contains the image. Here we just have a single layer in this photograph, so it's not a problem. But if you have a multi-layer image, then you should check the Layers panel first. Now, let's say that we want to make the color of this weaver's sweater richer or more intense. But we don't want her skin to look too saturated. That's a perfect job for a Vibrance adjustment. To apply a Vibrance adjustment, I'll go up to the Image menu, choose Adjustments and here, there are 2 kinds of adjustments that would affect color intensity. There's Vibrance... and there's Hue/Saturation... When skin color is involved, or when you need a subtle enhancement to color intensity, then Vibrance... is the best choice. We'll cover a Hue/Saturation..., and talk about when it's most useful in another video in this tutorial. I'll select Vibrance... here, and that opens the Vibrance dialog box. In this dialogue box, you have 2 choices: Saturation or Vibrance. You can use them singly or you can use them together. Let's see what they do. If I drag the Saturation slider over to the right, you'll see right away that the intensity of all the colors is ramped up. Not only does the weaver's sweater become a richer, more intense purple, but the intensity of the flesh tones and of the loom increases too. And it really is too strong an effect in this photo. So, I'm going to put Saturation back to 0. I'll just type 0 in its value field. Instead, let's try dragging the Vibrance slider to the right. Vibrance does a more subtle job of intensifying color and it protects the flesh tones from over saturation. Let's compare a before-and-after view by clicking the Check box to the left of Preview. That's how the image looked without the Vibrance adjustment, and here's how it looks with the Vibrance adjustment. We've managed to make the sweater a stronger purple without overdoing the subject's face and the color of the wood. If you're happy with the result, click OK. And go to the File menu. Choose Save As..., and I suggest that you change the file name so you don't save over the original photo with this adjusted version. So that's how to subtly increase color intensity by applying a Vibrance adjustment. We applied this adjustment directly to the photo. But it could be applied as a flexible adjustment layer. That's a topic we'll cover in another video in this tutorial.
What you learned: To adjust vibrance
- In the menu bar, select Image > Adjustments > Vibrance.
- Experiment by adjusting the sliders. The Vibrance slider affects the intensity of colors. It has the strongest effect on muted colors in the image. The Saturation slider increases the color intensity of all colors in the image.
- Click OK when you’re done.
Adjust hue and saturation of colors.
The Hue/Saturation adjustment lets you adjust not only color saturation, but other properties of color too. And it gives you the option to adjust either particular colors or all the colors in an image. So, you get more control of your color with this adjustment, than with the Vibrance adjustment that we looked at earlier in this tutorial. If you're following along, open both of these images from the practice files for this tutorial. Let's start with this image of threads on a loom. If it's not showing, click its tab at the top of the Document window here. Now go up to the Image menu, and choose Adjustments, Hue/Saturation... That opens the Hue/Saturation dialog box. If it's covering your image, you can click its Title bar, and drag it out of the way. The dialog box has 3 main sliders. The Hue slider controls the overall color. So, if I drag Hue to the right, I get a different color way than if I drag it over here to the left. I'll put it back to 0. The Saturation slider controls the intensity of the color. Dragging to the right makes all the colors in the image more intense. Dragging to the left mutes all the colors in the image. I'll put that one back to 0 too, to show you the last slider, Lightness. Dragging this to the left, makes all the colors darker. Dragging to the right, makes all the colors lighter. I'll put that back to 0 too. When you use the sliders as we just did, they affect all the colors in an image. But the Hue/Saturation adjustment offers something more. The ability to adjust individual colors throughout an image. Let's switch to the other open image to see that. I'm going to click Cancel to close the Hue/Saturation dialog box, and go back to the Document window, and click on the tab of the other open document. Let's open that dialog box again by going to Image, Adjustments, Hue/Saturation... We've already seen that if I were to move the Saturation slider, that would affect the saturation of all the colors in the open image. But let's say, that I just want to affect the saturation of the yellows in this image. To do that, I'll go to the menu labeled Master, and I'll choose one of the color ranges from that menu. I'm going to choose Yellows. If I drag the Saturation slider all the way to the right, you'll see that it's affecting all the yellows throughout the image. Or if I were to go all the way to the left, you can see that I'm lowering the color intensity of all the yellows, not only the yellow flowers, but also some of the foliage too. Because some of that has yellow in it as well. I'd like to lower the color intensity of the yellows just a little. So, I'm going to take that Saturation slider and I'll put it just about here. You can experiment with changing the Hue and the Lightness of individual colors too. Now, what if I wanted to change the saturation of the orange flowers in the image? If I go up to the menu, I don't see orange there. So rather than just guess at what color range might cover the orange looking flowers, there's a tool that I can use right here, to automatically target whatever the orange is in the flowers, and change that color throughout the image. I'll activate this tool by clicking on it. And when there's a dark box around the icon, it's turned on. I'll move into the image and click on the orange in one of these flowers, keep my mouse held down, and as I drag to the left, I'm lowering the color intensity of the oranges, wherever they appear in the image. If I drag to the right, I'm increasing the intensity. And when I do that, you can see that there's some of that orange color. Not only in the flowers, but also in the wall, in the vase, and in the table. I'm going to drag just to the left of 0, maybe to about right there. If you look at the Hue/Saturation dialog box, you'll see that dragging in the image with that tool activated has moved the Saturation slider and it's chosen Reds as the color range. I'm going to click on that tool to deactivate it, and then I'll click OK to accept all these changes. And finally, I'll go to the File menu, and I'll choose Save As..., and I suggest that you change the name of this image, so that you don't save over your original with this version. So, the Hue/Saturation adjustment gives you lots of options for control and color in your photos. And it can be applied as a direct adjustment as we just did, or as an adjustment layer. A topic I'll cover next.
What you learned: To adjust hue and saturation
- In the menu bar, select Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.
- Experiment by adjusting the Hue, Saturation, and Lightness sliders. Your changes will affect all the colors in the image. The Hue slider changes the colors in an image. The Saturation slider affects the intensity of colors in an image. The Lightness slider affects the brightness of colors in an image.
- To affect only a specific color with these sliders, first go to the drop-down menu at the top left of the Hue/Saturation dialog box and choose a color range, like Yellows. Then adjust the Hue, Saturation, or Lightness sliders. These changes will only affect the selected color range, wherever that color appears in the image.
- Click OK when you’re done.
Work with adjustment layers.
If you're comfortable applying adjustments directly to an image, you may want to take things a step further, by applying similar adjustments in a more flexible way, as adjustment layers. You can use this image from the practice files for this tutorial to follow along. Over in the Layers panel, make sure you have the layer selected above which you want your adjustment layer. Keeping in mind that an adjustment layer will affect all layers beneath it by default. I've selected the top layer here, which contains this small photo of a bouquet. Now let's add an adjustment layer. One way to do that, is to go to the bottom of the Layers panel and click this icon. The one that looks like a half-black half-white circle. The menu that pops up, contains many of the same adjustments that you can apply as a direct adjustment from the Image menu at the top of the screen. But applying them from here as adjustment layers gives you more editing flexibility and protects your original photo from direct changes. I'm going to choose the Black & White... adjustment layer. That did 2 things: It automatically created a new layer in the Layers panel, above the selected layer, and it opened the Properties panel. The layer that was created is a special kind of layer, called an adjustment layer. It doesn't have any image content of its own. Instead it applies its adjustments to content on the layers below it. So, in this case, the content of all layers below this adjustment layer is now black and white in the image. In the Properties panel that opened, you'll find the controls for the adjustment layer. The controls change depending on what kind of adjustment layer is selected at the moment. For a black and white adjustment, you can use these controls to customize the color to black and white conversion. Each of these sliders will lighten or darken areas in the black and white, that were a particular color in the color version. For example, to make everything that was yellow in the color image brighter in the black and white, drag the Yellows slider to the right. And to make everything that was green in the color image, darker in the black and white, drag the Greens slider to the left. When you're happy with the way things look in the image, close the Properties panel, by clicking the double pointed arrow at the top right. The good news about an adjustment layer, is that you can access those controls again any time and make more changes. To do that, just make sure that the Black & White 1 adjustment layer is selected in the Layers panel, and click the Properties panel icon again. If you don't see that icon in this Collapse panel, go up to the Window menu at the top of the screen, and select Properties from there. You could just drag more sliders again or if you're not sure which of the color range sliders corresponds to which part of the black and white image, let Photoshop figure that out for you, by activating this Targeting tool and then clicking on something in the image that you want to lighten or darken. Like this flower. Drag to the left to darken, or to the right to lighten. Keep in mind that when you do that, you're changing not only the brightness of the object you clicked on, the flower, you're also changing everything that was the same color in the color version of the image. To close the Properties panel, click the double pointed arrows. Now an adjustment layer affects everything beneath it in the Layers panel. So, you can control what's affected by changing the stacking order of the adjustment layer in the Layers panel. For example, with the adjustment layer selected, click, hold, and drag it beneath the small bouquet layer. And now the small bouquet layer isn't affected by the black and white adjustment, and the small bouquet photo remains in color. When you save an image that has adjustment layers, open the Save As dialog box, make sure that Layers is checked, and double check that you're saving in the Photoshop - or PSD format. That's important because the Photoshop format retains layers so your adjustment layers will be there for further editing the next time you open the image. And that isn't true if you save only in the JPEG format. So that's an introduction to adjustment layers. The most important points to remember for now are that using adjustment layers will protect your original images from direct changes, and will help you to maximize your editing flexibility.
What you learned: To add an adjustment layer
Adjustment layers give you additional editing flexibility. They allow you to re-edit image adjustments you’ve made, and protect your original image from direct changes. Try out a Black & White adjustment layer to get a feel for how adjustment layers work.
- In the Layers panel, select an image layer that you want to affect with the adjustment.
- Go to the bottom of the Layers panel, click the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon, and select Black & White from the drop-down menu. A new adjustment layer will appear in the Layers panel above the image layer you selected. This adjustment layer will affect only the layers below it.
The Properties panel opens automatically, displaying the controls for this adjustment. Different kinds of adjustment layers present different controls in the Properties panel.
- With your Black & White adjustment layer selected in the Layers panel, customize the way your image is converted from color to black and white by adjusting the controls in the Properties panel.
- Experiment by adjusting the sliders. Click the double arrows at the top right of the Properties panel to close that panel when you’re done.