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Thread: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

  1. #1

    S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Hi,

    After reading a tons of material about photography, photoshop I've got a mess in my head - of course I've learned a lot thanks to sites like this but there are still some unresolved problems I can't understand.

    First, all my questions are related to Photoshop CS4 to be specific and all photos I take are RAW.

    There go my doubts and questions

    1. As far I know Curves and Levels are very similar tool (of course Curves give us more control) - so it IS possible to recreate identical setting with both tools. In most of tutorials and guides they are recommended to adjust photo parameters. However there is also....

    2.Shadow/Highlights - that tool made my first doubt
    My questions here:
    - Is that just another interface with the same possibilities as Curves?
    - Is it possible to recreate exactly the same effect using S/H and Curves
    - Should it be used as alternative to Curves or as additional tool?

    3.Camera Raw - with all those sliders similar to S/H (but named differently - Blacks etc) I only got more confused so here i got a question too:

    - What is recommended workflow with Camera Raw?
    Edit Exposure, save an image and edit the rest in Photoshop (with Curves and/or H/S)
    OR
    Edit photo completely using Camera Raw and ONLY this tool - skipping Photoshop.

    As I am novice PS user from my point of view some settings are doubled thus making me hard to understand what should I use to make most of my photos.

  2. #2
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    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    Hi,

    After reading a tons of material about photography, photoshop I've got a mess in my head - of course I've learned a lot thanks to sites like this but there are still some unresolved problems I can't understand.
    Hi Duszolap,

    Firstly welcome to the CiC forums.
    Secondly, I can still remember "the mess" myself.

    I'll make a start and no doubt my partner in crime, I mean 'in moderation' Colin, will be along soon to give some definitive answers.

    The thing with the CS family is that there are many ways to achieve very similar looking effects on a picture, esepecially if all you look at is the image (and not a histogram) and further; some pictures just won't have any content that will/can show the differences between certain adjustments.
    I think they duplicate the control methods so you can use the one that is tailored more to what you want to do, but you don't need to use all of them.

    To take the oft' quoted toolshed analogy, just because a toolshed contains hundreds of tools doesn't mean you have to use them all on every picture. I could chisel with a screwdriver, especially if I sharpen it on the grindwheel, but using a chisel of the correct width is a much better idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    ~
    1. As far I know Curves and Levels are very similar tool (of course Curves give us more control) - so it IS possible to recreate identical setting with both tools. In most of tutorials and guides they are recommended to adjust photo parameters.
    I would say you can replicate Levels with Curves, but not the other way around due to the lack of finesse you can apply with levels. Levels work at three points only; black, grey and white, whereas Curves allows you to tweak things in between the three fixed points.

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    ~
    2.Shadow/Highlights - that tool made my first doubt
    My questions here:
    - Is that just another interface with the same possibilities as Curves?
    - Is it possible to recreate exactly the same effect using S/H and Curves
    - Should it be used as alternative to Curves or as additional tool?
    I would say this is more similar to Curves than Levels is, but still not as versatile, but will be perfectly adequate for some tasks and easier to use, especially for the less experienced.
    So I would say you are uinlikely to want to use S/H as well as Curves, although possibly you might on different bits of the picture on different layers when you become more proficient (and I'm nowhere near this yet myself).

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    ~
    3.Camera Raw - with all those sliders similar to S/H (but named differently - Blacks etc) I only got more confused so here i got a question too:

    - What is recommended workflow with Camera Raw?
    Edit Exposure, save an image and edit the rest in Photoshop (with Curves and/or H/S)
    OR
    Edit photo completely using Camera Raw and ONLY this tool - skipping Photoshop.
    You can (and should) do a lot of things in {Adobe} Camera RAW (ACR) if they need to be applied to the whole image rather wait until PS. You're right in as much as (I believe) that effectively many of the ACR controls are functionally replicated in PS too. Take your example of the Blacks fader in ACR, I'm sure there's no real difference in using this to using the Black fader in Levels in PS; both are setting the hard black clip point.

    Working in ACR has the advantage that the edits are non-destructive and liable to be applied on the maximum image bit range available.

    Basically, to get the best from ACR and PS, you need a few good books, Colin will recommend some, I'm sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    As I am novice PS user from my point of view some settings are doubled thus making me hard to understand what should I use to make most of my photos.
    Yup, we've all been there, and to be honest, many of us - myself included, are still there to an extent

    Cheers,

  3. #3

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    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Hi Duszolap,

    Welcome to CiC - it's great to have you with us

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    As far I know Curves and Levels are very similar tool (of course Curves give us more control) - so it IS possible to recreate identical setting with both tools.
    Yes - technically possible (as far as I know) - but - not always as easy to get the same result, depending on the circumstance. That's the beauty of Photoshop - many many tools - of which many have partially overlapping functions. Personally, I don't use curves much (unless it's to drive colours apart in LAB mode) - I usually just use a levels control to tweak the clipping points and adjust the midtones. Occasionally I'll use a curves control with promlem images. Perhaps a good way of looking at it is a levels control is simple to use, whereas a curves control is more versatile. I'd suggest not losing any sleep over them - just use whatever your most comfortable using

    2.Shadow/Highlights - that tool made my first doubt
    My questions here:
    - Is that just another interface with the same possibilities as Curves?
    - Is it possible to recreate exactly the same effect using S/H and Curves
    - Should it be used as alternative to Curves or as additional tool?
    The shadows / highlights controls work in narrowly defined areas of the tonal range - so you could think of it as being a bit like "a magnifying glass for their respective regions of the curves control"

    The 2nd and 3rd parts of your question are moot though as you'll get a far far far far better result using the respective contols in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) due (primarily) to the image still being in linear gamma; Fill light for the shadows and combinations of exposure & recovery (primarily) for highlights.

    3.Camera Raw - with all those sliders similar to S/H (but named differently - Blacks etc) I only got more confused so here i got a question too:

    - What is recommended workflow with Camera Raw?
    Edit Exposure, save an image and edit the rest in Photoshop (with Curves and/or H/S)
    OR
    Edit photo completely using Camera Raw and ONLY this tool - skipping Photoshop.
    As a general rule, anything you CAN do in ACR you SHOULD do in ACR. ACR works differently to Photoshop in that Photoshop edits the image whereas ACR uses the inputs you supply to TAILOR THE CONVERSION in one cumulative operation. Also - as I mentioned above - in ACR you're essentially working with an image in linear gamma - achieving the same result in Photoshop generally results in a LOT more destruction to image data.

    In terms of workflow it's pretty much a case of just working through the controls in the order that they appear - but - controls interact - so you really need to "rinse and repeat" until you're happy with the result. I would do at least 80% of my adjustment in ACR. In fact ACR legend (the late) Bruce Fraser used to joke that Photoshop has almost become a plugin for ACR (rather than the other way around).

    If you own Photoshop - and a PC to run it - and a camera - and lenses etc than you've already made a large investment, so do yourself a favour and add this book to your collection. I PROMISE that it'll tell you everything you'll ever need to know about RAW workflow in ACR, as well as give you an unprecidented base knowledge of RAW files. You'll go from the person asking these types of questions to the one answering them in a very short time.

    Does this help?

  4. #4

    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Does this help?
    Not at all

    Joking of course!

    Colin, Dave - thank you VERY much - you have just assured me that sharing my doubts here was a lot better step that googling madly in a search of answer. I am sure that your answer save me a lot of time of further searching and thinking I am an idiot unable to sort of this "mess" in my head.

    As a general rule, anything you CAN do in ACR you SHOULD do in ACR
    That's exactly what i wanted to know.

    My question din't come from nowhere - I don't remeber now where but I am sure that somebody suggested (Kelby?) using Camera raw just for exposure settings an do the rest in PS - of course with such wide variety of sliders in Camera Raw 5 it seemed to me very strange so I asked. Now I think that maybe those suggestions concerned older versions of Camera Raw (I started my PS experience with PSCS4 so I don't know difference with older versions)

    In terms of workflow it's pretty much a case of just working through the controls in the order that they appear - but - controls interact - so you really need to "rinse and repeat" until you're happy with the result
    I realize that - sad thing I am a type of perfectionist still searching for "pefrect settings" - you don't have idea how angry on myself I used to be sometimes trying almost endless combinations of sliders (higher exposure with lower brightness or maybe the opposite? no maybe more Blacks and not touch that exposure slider - noooo I gone mad

    BTW I don't know what influence on main page tutorials you have but maybe it is worth to make it more complete adding some tutorials for Camera RAW and putting emphasis that it should be used as primary tool - don't get me wrong - included tutorial set is stunning and very helpful but for an beginner user (as I am) it gives impression to jump into Photoshop for editing.

    Taking an opportunity to ask another question:

    I've noticed that most popular method for sharpening an image is Unsharp Mask however there are some other interesting possibilities like High-Pass method - what do you think about it as alternative to Unsharp Mask?

    Thanks for recommending me a book - I will surely use your advice.

    Thank you both again - such a quick and detailed answer was really even more I expected.

  5. #5

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    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    Colin, Dave - thank you VERY much - you have just assured me that sharing my doubts here was a lot better step that googling madly in a search of answer. I am sure that your answer save me a lot of time of further searching and thinking I am an idiot unable to sort of this "mess" in my head.
    No worries

    My question din't come from nowhere - I don't remeber now where but I am sure that somebody suggested (Kelby?) using Camera raw just for exposure settings an do the rest in PS - of course with such wide variety of sliders in Camera Raw 5 it seemed to me very strange so I asked. Now I think that maybe those suggestions concerned older versions of Camera Raw (I started my PS experience with PSCS4 so I don't know difference with older versions)
    Don't know - usually Scott is pretty much "on the money", but ACR has come a long way over the years. Fill light alone was worth the price of CS3.

    I realize that - sad thing I am a type of perfectionist still searching for "pefrect settings" - you don't have idea how angry on myself I used to be sometimes trying almost endless combinations of sliders (higher exposure with lower brightness or maybe the opposite? no maybe more Blacks and not touch that exposure slider - noooo I gone mad
    For many (myself included) I think that photography is all about the pursuit of perfection, and I honestly think that there's a touch of excessive/compulsive disorder in many (again, myself included). I say "a touch" because of my approach; just as the fire service would refuel a fire engine even if the last call had only been 1/2km down the road, I'll recharge a battery that's only taken a handful of test shots - or reprint a 44" canvas to change the tones slightly - but I don't think this is a bad thing. For me it's setting high-standards - sticking to a routine - aiming for perfection ...

    ... but at the same time being a realist and accepting that you have to call "time" on every image and release it to the world (or abandon it altogether). That's where feedback from the good folks here is so valuable - sometimes I won't be sure if an image is going to fly and a quick check here often makes all the difference.

    BTW I don't know what influence on main page tutorials you have but maybe it is worth to make it more complete adding some tutorials for Camera RAW and putting emphasis that it should be used as primary tool - don't get me wrong - included tutorial set is stunning and very helpful but for an beginner user (as I am) it gives impression to jump into Photoshop for editing.
    Sean (site owner) ("McQ") writes them - if Sean doesn't comment of this then pop the suggestion into the feedback forum (or remind me in a day or two) and I'll bring it to his attention

    Taking an opportunity to ask another question:
    Sorry, due to unprecidented demand, we currently have a limit of 1 question per person per day.

    I've noticed that most popular method for sharpening an image is Unsharp Mask however there are some other interesting possibilities like High-Pass method - what do you think about it as alternative to Unsharp Mask?
    Just kidding

    If you want to know all there is to know about sharpening, then grab a copy of this book whilst you're getting the previous one I recommended.

    But to answer the question, I pretty much just stick to USM for two reasons:

    My personal work gets printed exclusively on canvas - typically 22 x 44" - and although the high-pass method probably produces a slightly better result (or perhaps more accurately "is capable of producing a slightly better result"), the canvas texture tends to counter that anyway (or the canvas I use does), and (2) most of the other work I do is just 30-Second makeovers for people here - and usually I only have a very low-res image to work with anyway, so again, the extra effort just doesn't give a good return on investment.

  6. #6

    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Thanks again - I am really happy I found this forum - your help is really invaluable.

    ... but at the same time being a realist and accepting that you have to call "time" on every image and release it to the world (or abandon it altogether). That's where feedback from the good folks here is so valuable - sometimes I won't be sure if an image is going to fly and a quick check here often makes all the difference.
    I admit it is a hard to find a moment for saying STOP to myself - but in my case it is even more complex because I realize fact that half of my problems come out from lack of knowledge and deep understanding of terms like exposure, brightness and dependencies between them - that's why (probably) I find myself so often undecided of proper settings - I am sure I will extend my knowledge with books you have reccomended (I really hope)

    I would like to achieve the point when I fully understand what I am really doing when changin those parameters - now it's a process with more luck than control probably. Sometimes a wide variety of options while very useful can be also overwhelming - when for example one realize that there with different combinations of sliders in Camera Raw I can get similar effect (well - for not "trained" eye at least) - it is apparent when using Auto in Camera Raw - I am always surprised with proposed changes - computer tends to move brightness quite often while I stick to exposure adjustment mostly - that kind of dillemas.

    Well now I am going to buy those books

    ... and will keep track on this forum surely!

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    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    Hi,

    After reading a tons of material about photography, photoshop I've got a mess in my head - of course I've learned a lot thanks to sites like this but there are still some unresolved problems I can't understand.

    First, all my questions are related to Photoshop CS4 to be specific and all photos I take are RAW.

    There go my doubts and questions

    1. As far I know Curves and Levels are very similar tool (of course Curves give us more control) - so it IS possible to recreate identical setting with both tools. In most of tutorials and guides they are recommended to adjust photo parameters. However there is also....

    2.Shadow/Highlights - that tool made my first doubt
    My questions here:
    - Is that just another interface with the same possibilities as Curves?
    - Is it possible to recreate exactly the same effect using S/H and Curves
    - Should it be used as alternative to Curves or as additional tool?

    3.Camera Raw - with all those sliders similar to S/H (but named differently - Blacks etc) I only got more confused so here i got a question too:

    - What is recommended workflow with Camera Raw?
    Edit Exposure, save an image and edit the rest in Photoshop (with Curves and/or H/S)
    OR
    Edit photo completely using Camera Raw and ONLY this tool - skipping Photoshop.

    As I am novice PS user from my point of view some settings are doubled thus making me hard to understand what should I use to make most of my photos.
    Hi,

    May I suggest that before you go nuts about all the intricacies of Photoshop CS, that you first use Adobe Lightroom. I find this program to better handle 95% of all my image editing needs as well as providing the organization, backup and indexing of all my photos.

    In addition, Lightroom is a cinch to learn. There are excellent free videos on the Adobe site which will allow you to get up to speed in a few days or weeks.

    Moreover, you can move your edits into Photoshop, do a critical complex edit, and then go back into Lightroom with the edited file.

    And here is the best part of it all: Lightroom is totally non-destructive. You never alter your raw files...the program simply keeps track of all the edits in its catalog.

    Hope this helps. Since I purchased Lightroom I hardly ever require CS3.

    Barry

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    Re: S/H, Levels and Curves - some doubts

    Quote Originally Posted by Duszolap View Post
    I admit it is a hard to find a moment for saying STOP to myself - but in my case it is even more complex because I realize fact that half of my problems come out from lack of knowledge and deep understanding of terms like exposure, brightness and dependencies between them - that's why (probably) I find myself so often undecided of proper settings - I am sure I will extend my knowledge with books you have reccomended (I really hope)
    That's why we never throw away RAW files - often as better tools and knowledge come along we can breathe new life into old images

    Well now I am going to buy those books
    Be prepared for a bit of an eye-opener!

    ... and will keep track on this forum surely!
    That's what they all say - right before we never see them again!

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