Color correcting digital photos using Photoshop

No one and no camera’s auto AE program gets perfect exposure every time. In the film days, photographers were able to compensate for this imperfection in the development lab. During the film developing and print process, dodging, burning, and exposure duration can be used in combination to tweak the print. In digital, we don’t have development process. So it’s perfectly okay not to feel guilty using Photoshop to color correct your photos. Everyone, even pros use some digital manipulation (even when they don’t admit to it).

Underexposed, overexposed, or strange color cast can all be corrected in Photoshop in any format provided the picture itself isn’t totally crap. Here are some of the most basic color and exposure correction using Photoshop:

Adjust Levels to correct imperfect exposure. Play with white, black, and mid-tone triangles to find the sweet spot. I’d first give the Auto Level a first pass. It usually makes decent decisions for you. Not perfect, but decent. Also, it’s perfectly okay to fiddle with Levels on your own after running Auto Level. Auto Level follows set of predefined algorithm to calculate the results. But it’s not perfect. It will occasionally, give you totally out of whack results. You’ll know when you see it. Just undo when that happens.
Curves works in similar ways. It just gives you more control points so you can make finer adjustments.
Here is an example of overexposure corrected with Photoshop.

Below, I highlighted some of the tools you’ll most likely be using to color correct photos. Ones indicated by the arrows are probably the most frequently used. (Note the keyboard shortcuts and always try to use those. It will make you look more professional. =))
SATURATION (cmd+u) – you can use the Saturation slider to control the richness of the colors. This is similar to setting Picture Controls in your digital camera to Vivid.
COLOR BALANCE (cmd+b) – use this tool to correct off color casts. You can add or remove Red, Yellow or Blue values.

It’s always a good idea to make a copy or an adjustment layer to work on your corrections so that you’ll always have the original image to go back to if you screw up. There are lot more ways to color correct an image in Photoshop, but mastering Levels and Curves is essential before moving on to other advanced techniques.

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