Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Color Secrets

Exploring with the wide end of the focal spectrum opens up a world of creative compositional possibilities

To get a nice adjustment of your midtones, you don't have to do anything fancy with Curves (Curve > Tone Curve in Camera Raw). Click on the middle of the curve and drag it up to lighten tones or down to darken. This applies the change most strongly to the point where you've clicked, then blends that change uniformly toward black (bottom) and white (top) without changing either.

If you lighten the photo and your shadow areas become too bright, click lower on the curve and drag that point back toward the original center line. If the adjustment makes your highlights too bright, click high on the curve and bend it back toward the center. The reverse is true if you move the curve to darken an image.

Camera Raw has pre-made curves that are accessible by clicking the arrow to the right of Tone Curve. You can click on any and use as is, or just start from Linear and follow what I described above.

Hue/Saturation And Color. At this point, you'll probably find your colors have a bit of snap and life to them. The problem with nature photography is that often colors aren't recorded the same way they appear in nature (this has always been a challenge with nature photography, from film to digital). Therefore, it helps to decide which colors are key to your image and work their saturation individually.

You do this with Hue/Saturation, and for the best control, use this as an adjustment layer. Go up to Edit > Master and click on the arrow for the drop-down menu. This gives you a set of colors based on the primary and secondary colors of light. Choose one that's closest to the colors you want to adjust. This limits Photoshop to adjusting these colors and not others. Take your cursor and move it over the photo. Click on the color you're working with, which refines the range of color that can be adjusted. One note for nature photographers: you'll often adjust green because it's a common color that's often recorded too yellow or too blue. If you now click on a green in the photo, Photoshop will sometimes change the name to Yellow 2. Ignore that. You're adjusting correctly.

You can also use the + and-eyedroppers in the Hue/Saturation dialog box to further refine the color range by clicking other spots of color in the photo. If you really want to restrict colors, try moving the markers in the color spectrum
bands at the bottom of the box, too.

That's it! Three secrets that are easily applied to give you better color in your nature photographs. As always, the great thing about Photoshop is that you can experiment and apply these ideas as much as you want. You can undo anything, and if you use adjustment layers, you make only "non-destructive" adjustments—you can adjust and readjust as much as you want without harming image quality. If you aren't sure about any of the adjustments I've described, just try it. You really can't damage your image as long as you don't save over your original file (and you're working on a copy of that file, of course!).

OP Rob Sheppard's latest book, Outdoor Photographer Landscape and Nature Photography with Photoshop CS2, is available in bookstores. His new Photoshop how-to program, Landscape Photography and Photoshop CS2, is available from his website at



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