Make digital work for you with these easy-to-use tips that solve typical challenges faced in the digital darkroom
By Rob Sheppard
2Murky Midtones >> Midtones affect the brightness and luminosity of an image, which also control how the viewer sees colors in it. They're the next step in a digital image-processing workflow after setting blacks (and whites). If they aren't set properly, any other adjustment is just a band-aid approach to fix the image and won't give optimum color.
The midtone-adjusted shot really brings us to a new era for color—being able to open up colors and tones that we didn't always see clearly in a photo before. Some photographers say they're shooting "pure" and don't adjust their digital images, similar to how they shot slide film. In this case, however, "pure" doesn't mean accurate—a straight image from a digital camera is a camera engineer's interpretation of the scene. In fact, that "pure" shot may be worse than what slides offered (I often see this from photographers shooting for publications who are getting worse color from digital than they did from film).
Photoshop can be used to gain better photographer control over images so they more accurately reflect the scene or give a more dramatic interpretation. Either way, midtone adjustment is critical. Solution:Adjust your midtones as a new adjustment made specifically for them. You can use the middle slider of Levels to adjust midtones, though better tonal control is possible by using Curves (Image > Adjustments > Curves). Still, using either technique makes Photoshop work for you. It's important that you make your midtone adjustment after the blacks/whites and as a separate adjustment. You need to see your midtones changing separately from other adjustments.
An easy way to start using Curves is simply by opening the adjustment, then clicking on the center of the diagonal line and moving it up to lighten midtones, down to darken. If light areas get too bright, click up on the upper part of the line and pull it back toward the middle. If dark areas get too bright, click on the lower part of the line and pull it back toward the middle (or even past it).
How Much To Adjust: Be careful about making too strong adjustments, especially when working with images shot in JPEG (you have more flexibility in adjustments with RAW). Watch your histogram—if you get a lot of breakup in it (it looks like a comb), beware of banding in the photo. You may need to back off some adjustments if banding occurs.