This Photoshop tutorial (and I use that term as loosely as a low self-esteemed JV cheerleader on prom night) assumes you’ve opened once or twice and are brave enough to hear frightening terms such as “layer” and “channel” and/or love me enough to stick around and listen to me babble. Please stay? Please?
First, let’s talk about a layer. Hey, now, get back here! Let me at least try! Kthx.
Now, a lot of people think this a big, hard, kind of spooky concept and turn off their brain as soon as someone tries to explain what a layer is. But if I can understand it, anyone can understand it. So stick with me on this.
A layer is like those transparencies you put on an overhead projector. The layers palette is a visual stack of layers in the file.
Let’s pretend that you’re holding two sheets of transparencies. And that I’m rich and famous and wearing a lavender tutu. Draw a box with the red pen and a circle around it with the green pen. You’ve just created two layers. Now put one on top of the other (your choice; go wild!) and you’ve just created a layers palette with two layers in it! Yay, you!
Next, levels. The levels box uses a graphy-looking thingy called a histogram to show you occurrences of light and dark pixels in the image.
Ok, next character in our little story is channel. A channel is like separate jars for the paint before they’re mixed.
Don’t worry; we’ll get there. We’re gun. nah. make it. after alllllllll. (That was a Laverne & Shirley reference.)
This is SOOC (straight out of camera) with absolutely no tinkering at all.
It’s kinda, well, eh. Right? Right. It’s gonna be hawsum. Just wait and see.
I want to make a special kind of layer called an “adjustment layer”. No, it doesn’t ride a short bus; that just means you can change it later, like using a dry erase marker vs. a permanent marker. It’s a non-destructive way of working with your image and you can tinker with that adjustment layer later. Just take my word for it.
Ok, let’s go. Let’s make the adjustment layer.
This is the layers palette. See the bottom of the palette with all the little doodads there? Click on the circle that’s half black half white. This menu pops up for you to choose what kind of adjustment layer you want. We want Levels so click that.
As if t’were by magic, the Levels box pops up ready to do your bidding. Use your powers for the forces of Good.
First thing I’m’a do is correct the levels.
What’s levels again? The levels box shows you occurrences of light and dark pixels appear in the image. The graphy-looking thingy is called a histogram. If the image is darker, when you look at the histogram you’ll see more black on the left side. If the image is lighter, you’ll see more black on the right side. See how there’s not a whole lot of black on the right side? That’s because there’s not a high occurrence of light pixels in this image– it’s a darker image.
Take a big, deep breath. You’re doing great.
This box is showing us all three colors, RGB (red green blue) all mixed together, kind of like mixing three paints in one jar.
Now, you can look at R, G, and B separately. When you separate them, they each get their own channel. Why would you want to see R, G, and B separately? It gives you more control over each channel. You can adjust the R channel a lot, and the G channel a little, and leave the B channel alone.
What do the numbers mean? 0 is the darkest, pure dark. 255 is the lightest, pure white.
See where it says Channel: RGB and then a drop-down? Click there and choose the Red channel. Next click the little white triangle just below the graph, and scooch it over to where the black starts rising, because that’s where the light pixels start occurring. There are no pixels in 255, 254, 253, etc. and once you reach 196, there’s just a few, but they’re there. I’m telling PhotoShop that I’m changing the rules. (Yes, big surprise; I have a bossy streak.) I’m saying, ok, before we agreed that 255 is the lightest? Well, now I want 196 to be the lightest and redistribute all those pixels accordingly. This is what happens…
ACK! The sky is pink! WTH are you doing?!
Don’t worry. Just trust me.
Next change drop-down menu from Red to Green channel. Click the little white triangle just below the graph, and scooch it over to where the black starts rising, because that’s where the light pixels start occurring, about 205. This is what happens…
Next change drop-down menu from Green to Blue. Click the little white triangle just below the graph, and scooch it over to where the black starts rising, because that’s where the light pixels start occurring, about 227. This is what happens…
Now let’s take a look at our histogram after all our tinkering. Change drop-down menu from Blue to RGB.
See how the histogram shows the pixels now all across the box instead of scrunched up in a ball on one side? That’s a good thing!
I think this image will be much more striking in black and white. I have two different ways I can convert to black and white, and neither of them involve simply changing the color mode from RGB to Grayscale.
Look at your layers palette. Make sure your Levels layer is selected like this before you move on to the next step. If it’s not, just click on it. Ok, fine.
We’re going to make another adjustment layer. Remember how we made a levels layer? No? That’s ok, I’ll explain it again. See the bottom of the palette with all the little doodads there? Click on the circle that’s half black half white. This menu pops up for you to choose what kind of adjustment layer you want. Choose Gradient Map…
And the Gradient Map obediently pops up, unless your computer is possessed, which mine has been prone to do in the past.
Another way to convert to black and white is select Hue/Saturation instead of Gradient Map… and on the Saturation slider, slide that bad boy all the way to the left.
I usually try Hue/Saturation first, then Gradient Map and compare which I like better on that particular image. It can make a big difference. I almost always like Gradient Map better. But in this case, I liked H/S better. I love it when the underdog wins for a change.
The picture is definitely showing improvement, but it can be even better. Kinda like everyone halfway through The Biggest Loser.
Here’s another one of my favorite tools, Shadow/Highlight. On a Mac, he lives under Image -> Adjustments -> Shadow/Highlight. On a PC… well, I don’t know, because Macs are better.
What this does is lighten only shadows and tone down only highlights. It are so smrt. Since the image was on the dark side, I put Highlight bar at 0%, and then fiddled around between 10% and 40% and finally decided on 15%.
Yeah, baby! That’s the way uh huh uh huh I like it uh huh uh huh
Going back to the adjustment part of adjustment layer, the neat thing about that is if you wanted to go back and adjust your levels just a little tweak, you can easily double click on the little teeny tiny histogram icon on the Layers level and tinker to your heart’s content. If you had simply went Image -> Adjustments -> Levels… then you wouldn’t be able to do that. You would have to make another adjustment on top of an adjustment which is kind of, sort of like making a copy of a copy. An adjustment layer is non-destructive, which is what we graphic artists like to call it when we want to pretend we’re very clever and busy and important.
One last thing, the PeeAce Day Lah Reezeest-Ahnz (make sure the voice in your head reading this does a really bad French accent) is a coolio soft burn around the edges.
Back to the palette. Before we can put the groovy burn on the edges, we have to unlock the layer. PhotoShop just makes dumb little rules like that to be difficult. We have to take the little locky thingy off the Background layer. On a Mac, double click on Background Layer, click OK, done. On a PC… again with the Macs are better. Now, see the little italic lowercase “f” in the Doodad Row? Click that, then click Layer Style.
The Layer Style box pops up like a good little soldier. Here’s the settings I chose. Like making soup from a recipe, you can season to taste.
Well, thanks, folks… I’ve been great. Be sure to tip your waitstaff. They’re not above giving Sneezer Cocktails if you’re the tightfisted type.
And a good time was had by all.