14 February 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Use Levels To Improve Your Photographs

Last year, I shared a lot of photographs of the memorabilia I've photographed. I have learned to play with ISO, white balance, focus, exposure bias, and more. I still am understanding how everything works together to make amazing photos. Yet, I am capturing great photos with what knowledge I do have. But, I had have one major frustration, until now.

One of the things that has bugged me is that when I take a photo, my camera's LCD monitor shows exactly what I want my photograph to look like on the computer. When I move the image file onto the computer, the image looks dull and lifeless. I've  tried to adjust my computer to reflect the colors on the LCD monitor but it has not helped. I couldn't understand why the photos, in a light box, were not as awesome as I hoped they would be.

I came across an article that not only showed me how to make a light box, but also what to do when the photo shoot is over. The author recommended using blue 'daylight' light bulbs. I was set to go buy these until I read further down her post. She began to discuss how to make your photographs come to life using a photo editing program and adjusting the levels. I thought I would give it a try.

Photographing heirlooms
Here is my grandfather's cuff link
 Aside from cropping this photo to reduce the extra white space, this photograph looks lifeless. I want the background to be white, not gray. I would highly recommend reading Ann's post to learn the particulars. I'm going to simply share my application of her tips.

Using levels to improve photos
First, I cropped out the extra white space.

Using levels to improve photos
Level Panel in PaintShop Pro
You can use just about any photo editing software. I'm currently using PaintShop Pro but will be switching to PhotoShop Elements. Which ever program you're using, you'll want to use the sliders under the graph that shows the light and dark colors in your photo. As you'll notice, this photo has a HUGE peak in the middle (the gray I don't want) and little to no light colors. I'll slight the white color adjuster over towards the peak.

Using levels to improve photos
Notice the sliders have moved
When I moved the white slider over, I noticed that the background looked nice and bright. However, the cuff link looked washed out. I moved the black slider toward the right and the cuff link regained natural coloration.

I highly recommend selecting the preview on image box in the upper right corner. You can see adjustments in the level pane, but the really have an impact when you see it on the original file. The adjustments won't take effect until you apply them. This allows you to keep playing with the black, gray, and white adjusters until you have the effect you want.

Every photograph will be different. Some will need the black and gray sliders moved and not the white. Others will only need the white and black adjusters pulled in slighting. Be warned. Not every photograph can be improved. However, knowing about levels has helped me improve numerous photos.

Using levels to improve photos
Final version of cuff link photo after levels are applied.

Here are two other artifacts with their before and after photographs. You can see how levels can improve your photographs.

Using levels to improve photos
Before applying levels
Using levels to improve photos
After applying levels
Using Levels to improve photos
Before applying levels
Using Levels to improve photos
After applying levels
So if you're disappointed in your photographs after using a light box, then play with the levels setting in a photo editor. It just might make all the difference in the world.

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