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brown paper packages: {photography with lei} how to lighten an image

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

{photography with lei} how to lighten an image

Hello again!  I want to start a simple "how do you" series.  What do you think?  Possible topics would include popping color, covering blemishes, correcting color, using actions, adding a watermark, cropping, removing objects/swapping heads, etc.  You are welcome to send in your ideas, too!  Just email me at

Today's question is "How do you lighten an image?"

First of all, I always start my workflow with a little sharpening. So open your image in photoshop, click on Filter, then Sharpen, then Unsharp mask:

Then this window will pop up and you will set your settings like so:

Click OK.

Now on to lightening things up a bit.  I don't need much, but I do err on the side of a brighter image.  It really comes down to preference.

Step 1 - Click on Layer, then New Adjustment Layer (this may be looking familiar to those of you who read the post on brightening eyes), then Levels:

Click OK when this window pops up:

Then go down to this window, select the middle slider, and move it over to the left.  You'll see the whole image get lighter!  You might also notice that you lose some detail.  Don't worry about that, just get the image lightened to where you want the skin to be... it's totally a preference thing!

Flatten your image by clicking on Layer, then Flatten Image.

Now we're going to bring back some depth to the photo that was lost when we lightened it in levels.  Click on Layer, then New Adjustment Layer, then Curves:

Click OK again!

Back to the same window as where we adjusted levels, we're going to adjust curves.  I placed 3 dots along my diagonal line and formed an 'S' curve.  When you drag the area between the bottom 2 dots downward, you'll see some of the dark areas darken.  When you raise the area between the top 2 dots upward, you'll see the highlights pop.  It shouldn't take much... in fact I went back and lowered the opacity of mine after I placed my curve because it was overdone a tad (see the arrow):

You can play around with this a bit - sliding your curve higher or lower on the line to see how it affects your pictures.  It's fun to see the dramatic change you can make, but don't get overzealous!  Remember, less is more. :)

Here's my before and after (with a quick - and kinda sloppy - removal of a sibling from the background).  Much improved, don't you think?

Of course I would keep going with a few more things, like bring out the detail in her shirt (it looks a bit blown out now) and run an action or 2 to sweeten it up a bit, but this is a good basic edit that anyone can do!

Have fun with it!!!


Blogger Amanda P said...

Love all your tutorials! I am a total amateur photographer (I use that term VERY loosely!!). A question/suggestion though... I don't have photoshop. Are there any free editing sites you would recommend and if so, would you do any tutorials on them?

Thanks and keep 'em coming!

March 21, 2012 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Becks & Jex said...

I think that a "how to" series would be really fun. I love photography and I like to see all the different ways you can tweak the pictures :)

March 21, 2012 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Kellie said...

Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing. I am just starting to get my feet wet with photoshop, so i appreciate all your posts. :) Pinning it to my board.

March 21, 2012 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Laurel C. said...

How did you "remove the sibling?" I'd love to know how to do that!

PS. Have you tried out Adobe's Lightroom? In my opinion, it's easier (and cheaper) than Photoshop. I love Lightroom!

March 21, 2012 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Lei said...

Amanda P - try GIMP or Photoshop Elements. I haven't used GIMP but I started out on Elements, and know that there are "plug-ins" available for levels and curves. :)

Laurel - i can definitely include that in a future post! And I do have LR and am currently learning my way through it. But I'm finding it's hard to break away from PS - which is all I've ever known!

March 21, 2012 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Gabriele said...

Thanks a lot: I really enjoy the tutorials and want to improve my photography "skills". (I am a total newbie to this).

Want to add something about GIMP: I've been using it for aprox. 4 years now and it is really great: you can almost use any Photoshop tutorial as well for the GIMP (they are very similar) and another advantage is, that you also can use photoshop-files (brushes, images, patterns etc) with the gimp.

April 4, 2012 at 3:45 PM  

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