Adjust Contrast and Color

In general, it's important to have a basic understanding of visual art when pursuing a venture of any proportion in the graphic art realm. Whether you're designing a large-scale visual media project for a highly paying client or simply compiling a slide show of your sister's wedding photos, contrast and color are key factors in the overall quality and balance of the presentation. Developing an eye for the perfect balance of these elements in correspondence with its subject matter does not take four years at a dignified art institution. However it does require experimentation, patience and a willingness to trust that art, as a form of expression, is powerful and endless. This tutorial is written for both those who are new to the principles of visual art and for those who are already well-versed but would like to learn how to manipulate these elements in Adobe Photoshop. If you're really new to PS, I apologize if I move too quickly.

If you'd like to follow along with the same image I am using as an example, please click here to download the PNG version. (182 KB)

To start out, here is an image that is well composed spatially but otherwise unbalanced. This picture is too dark and too green. The brightest part of the picture should be pure white and the darkest part should be pure black. This achieves the widest spectrum of value. [value refers to the lightness and darkness of an object or image.] Overall, the entire image has a slight green hue. If you don't believe me, hold your hand up the screen and compare the color of your palm to the color of the woman's skin. If you're still not convinced, you may need to look into calibrating your monitor.

To begin, we'll adjust the contrast. In your layers palette, highlight the layer that needs brightness adjustments (in this case, it's the layer with my image of the girl). Now, on the menu, click Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast

A window will pop up asking you to give the new adjustment layer a name, mode, and opacity. Leave them all the default inputs and click OK.

A new layer has been created on top of the originally highlighted layer. This new adjustment layer is basically a filter, and all of the settings you select for the adjustment layer will affect all the layers below it. You should now see a new window like this:

Adjust the Brightness and Contrast sliders and notice the image on the canvas change. [If it’s not changing, make sure that your adjustment layer is on top of all other layers in the layer panel, its opacity is set to 100% and the Preview checkbox is marked.] Play with the sliders until the brightest part of the image (highlight) is nearly white, but not washed out. Additionally, the darkest part of the image (shadow) should be nearly black, but again not muddy and washed out, there should still be some detail. When you are finished, click OK. If you need to make further adjustments, double click the icon of the adjustment layer in the layer panel.

The contrast and composition of the image is now great but there is still a greenish hue. An easy solution is to create another adjustment layer called Color Balance...

Highlight the top layer in your layer panel and go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance... When the layer properties window pops up, just click OK for now and a new window will open with sliders.

Since the there seems to be an overall scan of green on the entire image, and not just the shadows or highlights, make sure that Midtones is selected in the Tone Balance portion of the window.

In the Color Balance portion of the window, click and hold the middle slider, and slide it away from the Green end and towards Magenta.

When you are done, click OK. You can double click the layer icon in the layer panel to bring the window back up if you need to make further changes.

The image should look much warmer and the flesh of this woman with the tattooed ankle should look healthy and full of warmth as compared to the original image. If you've made it here and have any questions or complaints, or I've made an error in the tutorial, please feel free to PM me.