I spent 20 years and thousands of dollars building my darkroom and perfecting my darkroom techniques. My darkroom was small, but pretty standard as home darkrooms go: 10′ x 12′. Like all darkrooms, mine was filled with smelly, expensive chemicals, many of which were dangerous to handle; red and green safety lights; extension cords; large trays and costly equipment. My PhotoShop darkroom is contained inside my computer, isn’t dangerous, doesn’t smell bad, never needs cleaning and doesn’t require dangerous, hard-to-dispose-of-properly chemicals.
Having spent hundreds of hours in a darkroom, I can very much appreciate PhotoShop. Here’s one example of why that is. In my darkroom, if I wanted to do a dodge and burn on a black and white photo, it would take between 8-10 tries to get it perfect. Each attempt required about 7-minutes to complete – not including drying time. Each failed attempt also meant throwing away a piece of photographic paper – a costly adventure, to be sure. In PhotoShop I can do dodge and burns to my heart’s content – in seconds, and with no waste at all.
I started using the very first version of PhotoShop when I was still using film photography. At that time, I had to invest in a quality scanner in order to get my photographs into the computer so I could work with them digitally. Today, because of digital photography, there is no need to scan photographs for further work in PhotoShop. With digital photography, one just takes the photographs, uploads them, throws out the bad ones and then starts tuning the keepers in PhotoShop.
PhotoShop is a monstrous and very complex program – especially the newer CS versions of PhotoShop. Fortunately, unless you’re a professional, you don’t need to have the top-of-the-line, most recent version of PhotoShop in order to perfect your digital photographs. I do most of my work in PhotoShop 7, in spite of the fact that I have CS3 (CS4 is now also available). I highly recommend PhotoShop 7, or any of the newer versions of Adobe PhotoShop Elements. These PhotoShop programs are quite inexpensive, powerful and will do the jobs you need most to enhance your digital photography.
Three Photoshop Steps That Every Digital Photograph Needs
These steps will produce the best results if done in this order. #1) Adjust the levels. Hit ^L (hold down the control key and type the letter L). A small box will appear with a graph, some sliders and three eye droppers. Make sure that the Preview box is checked, so you can see your results as you work. The three sliders directly under the graph will adjust the three ranges of light and dark. The left slider adjusts darks, the middle one is for mid-tones and the right one is for light tones. Play with those to see what each does to your photograph. Now to the eye droppers… Click the left eye dropper and your cursor turns into an eye dropper. Now click on something that is solid black. Click the right eye dropper and click on something white. Better? You can also click on the Auto button located on the right side of the box. Using the levels adjust command you can bring subjects out of the dark and into view, or rid the photograph of undesirable dark areas. When your photograph looks the way you way it to, close the box. TIP: If you want to reset the levels box and start again, hold down the ALT key and the Cancel button will turn to a Reset button. Click that and all the settings will go back to the way they started – and you can try again.
#2) Adjust the Hue & Saturation. Type ^U and a small box will open for you. There are three sliders, but we’ll only be using the top two: Hue and Saturation. The Hue slider will alter the colors in your photograph. By moving the slider left or right of center you will actually change colors – from green to red, for example. Chances are you won’t need to adjust this slider, but it’s there if you need it. The Saturation slider will increase or decrease the intensity of the colors in your photograph. Slide it left and it will eventually become black and white. Slide it right and it will ultimately become surrealistically intense. Moving this slider to somewhere between +8 and +20 will most usually make the colors jump the way you want. If you’ve checked the Preview button, you can watch and adjust saturation to exactly where you like the colors.
#3) Unsharp the mask. Click on Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. A small box will open, and you’ll need to make the following settings – for general use. Amount: 70% • Radius: 1.1 Pixels • Threshold: 0 levels. Click the Preview button and check out the new clarity of your photograph. If it is too sharp, then lower the percentage of Amount. If your photograph is not clear enough, raise the percentage of Amount. Avoid changing the Radius and Threshold! Use the Amount slider only to get your photograph as sharp as you desire.
Performing these three basic steps in PhotoShop will dramatically improve all of your digital photography. See how well these three steps work by viewing the before and after photographs attached to this article. Try it for yourself and see – you’ll be glad you did!