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Adjusting by Eye with Variations

The most obvious way to make a color adjustment is to compare before and after views of an image, and Photoshop offers you a tool for doing just this—Variations. The Variations command combines several image-adjustment tools into one easy-to-use dialog, complete with thumbnail images that show you variations on the original image. You simply click the thumbnail that looks best to you, and Photoshop applies the corresponding adjustment. You can choose variations of hue and brightness and then see the result (which Photoshop calls Current Pick) side by side with the original.

Figure 5.2 shows the Variations dialog box. When you first open it, the Current Pick is the same as the original; as you click thumbnails to apply changes, the Current Pick updates to show your changes. The slider ranges from Fine to Coarse and determines how much effect each click has on the original image. Moving the slider one tick mark in either direction doubles or halves the previously specified amount, with the finest setting making changes that are so slight that they’re almost undetectable. Use the coarsest setting only if you’re looking for a really extreme effect. Normally, you’ll want to stick with a setting somewhere in the middle.

Figure 5.2

Figure 5.2 The seven thumbnails at the lower left adjust hue, and the three on the right side adjust brightness.

Adjusting Shadows, Midtones, Highlights, and Saturation

With Variations, you can adjust a color image’s shadows, midtones, highlights, or overall color saturation. Shadows, midtones, and highlights are Photoshop’s terms for the darkest areas, the medium areas, and the lightest areas of the image, respectively; these are black, gray, and white in a grayscale picture. Depending on which you choose, your changes modify the color (hue) of the image’s shadows, midtones, or highlights. The Saturation setting affects all three brightness levels at once, increasing or decreasing the intensity of the color without changing it.

The advantage of restricting color changes to one part of the picture is that you can adjust the midtones one way and the highlights or shadows another way, if you want. Each setting is independent of the others, so you can, for example, set the midtones to be more blue, thus brightening the sky, yet still set the shadows to be more yellow to compensate for their inherent blue tinge.

If a highlight or shadow color is adjusted so much that it becomes pure white or pure black, that’s called clipping. If you check the Show Clipping box in the Variations dialog, you’ll see a neon-colored preview of areas in the image that will be clipped by the adjustment; you can change your settings to minimize the amount of clipping that takes place. Clipping occurs only when you adjust highlights and shadows; it’s not a problem when you’re working solely with midtones.

Remember, as you learned in Hour 4, “Specifying Color Modes and Color Models,” hue refers to the color of an object or selection. The Brightness value measures how much white or black is mixed into the color.

If you click the Saturation radio button instead of Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights, your changes affect the intensity of the color in the image; the thumbnails offer you only two choices: Less Saturation or More Saturation. Figure 5.3 shows what Variations looks like when you’re adjusting saturation. Remember that you can apply the same correction more than once. For instance, if less saturation still leaves more color in the image than you want, click the Less Saturation thumbnail again to reduce the color intensity even more.

Figure 5.3

Figure 5.3 My increases in saturation are resulting in clipping, shown in all three thumbnails.

Saving and Loading Corrections

Two other buttons appear in this dialog box and in each of the other adjustment dialog boxes: the Load and Save buttons. If you have a whole series of pictures that need the same kind of corrections, you can save yourself a lot of time by applying the same settings to each image. Perhaps you used your digital camera to shoot several outdoor pictures with the same lousy light conditions, or maybe your scanner tends to make everything a little more yellow than you want. After you determine the settings that correct one picture perfectly, you can save your settings for the first image and then load them again to apply to each of the remaining images.

When you click the Save button, you’ll see a typical dialog asking you to supply a name for your settings, such as foggy day fix or scanner correction. When you need to apply the same settings to another picture, click the Load button, and then locate and open the appropriate setting file. All the dialog settings instantly return to the values you applied to the original image, and clicking OK applies the correction.

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