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Monday, January 1, 2007

Common Digital Problems & Their Solutions

Make digital work for you with these easy-to-use tips that solve typical challenges faced in the digital darkroom

Common Digital Problems & Their SolutionsIsn't it about time you make digital work for you? Let's face it, there are so many pressures to consider today, from buying the "perfect" camera to using Photoshop the "right" way. There are a number of common digital challenges that I've seen in magazine submissions, contests and workshops—challenges that affect nearly everyone, from pro to amateur, working digitally. Get a handle on them and make digital work for you with the solutions outlined here.

Lack Of Blacks >> Blacks have a huge effect on color and tonality in a photograph. Weak blacks can be a serious problem with digital images and often will frustrate photographers accustomed to solid blacks from film. (Note: There's really only one black or white possible, but the plural, blacks and whites, is often used because it refers to the multiple areas of pure black or white in an image.)

There are many reasons why your digital image might not have the proper blacks and whites—for example, image flare and atmospheric effects—and certain cameras just don't capture a solid black.

Common Digital Problems & Their SolutionsConsistently, I find that digital photographers, from pros to photo enthusiasts, have weaker color than necessary because blacks and whites aren't set properly in the image. A caution, though: Some scenes, such as a foggy landscape, shouldn't have strong blacks.

Set your blacks in Levels by checking the black threshold.
Set blacks by holding down the Alt/Option key (all two-name references like this refer to Windows/Mac names) as you move the left black slider in Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) (all menu notations in parentheses are for Photoshop). This gives you a threshold screen that shows exactly what's black (colors are maxed-out areas of color channels).

Common Digital Problems & Their SolutionsThe setting of blacks is very subjective; you must decide what your photograph needs. Try different approaches to the blacks and see how the image changes. As blacks get stronger, the photo will get darker and will need some midtone adjustment (use the middle gray slider in Levels, or better, Curves).

Whites are set similarly by using the Alt/Option key with the right, white slider. In general, be cautious about making too many areas pure white.


Note On Adjustment Layers: It's worth learning to use adjustment layers for all of the adjustments described here rather than simply adjusting the photo pixels directly. The adjustments work the same, but you control them better with layers because you can adjust and readjust as needed without any quality issues, plus you can limit the adjustments on and off parts of a photo with the use of the associated layer masks



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