Home Photoshop Variations Variations On A Common Theme in Photoshop 6
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Variations On A Common Theme in Photoshop 6

Have a digital snapshot thatís too dark or with an area white with glare? Does that old slide of Granddad you scanned look a touch too green? Improper lighting and color are common problems for amateur photographers.

Digital shutterbugs canít entirely escape problems with color and light either. Of course Photoshop has individual tools, such as the Variations command, to address these flaws. With Variations, you simply click thumbnail samples to adjust image color, contrast, and saturation-all in one window.

The Variations dialog box provides thumbnail views for editing contrast, color, and saturation.

To follow our tutorial, youíll need an imperfect digital image, perhaps an underexposed flash photo. If you donít have one handy, experiment with one of Photoshopís image samples. (From the File menu, select Open and browse to C:/PROGRAM FILES/ADOBE/PHOTOSHOP 6.0/Samples.)


Open Photoshop and the image you intend to work on. From the Image menu, select Adjust, Variations. In the Variations dialog box, there are four areas to consider. In the upper right are the controls. Radio buttons let you adjust specific components of the image: Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, or Saturation (color intensity). If you find yourself making the same edits again and again, you can save your changes with the Save button and apply them to other images using the Load button.

Sometimes itís tempting to over-edit. If you select the Show Clipping checkbox, Photoshop adds neon colors to the thumbnails, warning you when youíre distorting or clipping a portion of the image. For example, if you lighten one area too much, you might cause other areas to blow out, or turn white.

Photoshop also has a slider tool for controlling how subtle youíd like your edits to be. Select Fine for making incremental changes and Coarse for more sweeping edits. Each notch on the slider doubles the adjustment amount.

In the upper left of the Variations dialog box, you see two comparative thumbnails: Original and Current Pick, the image as youíve edited it so far. Keep an eye on this as you work.

In the middle of the dialog box, you see thumbnails showing the current pick and what the image will look like if you add any of the six possible colors. Finally, on the right side of the window, you see thumbnails representing the current pick and the image rendered darker or lighter.

Color Adjustments

First, click the Midtones radio button. On the slider tool, click the notch second from the left.

Now look at the color adjustment thumbnails. You may have thought your original image color was fine, but when you see it arrayed with thumbnails

Use the Original and Current Pick thumbnails to compare your edits to the original. If youíve over-edited, simply click the Original and start again.

adding green, cyan, red, blue and magenta, you may change your mind. (For example, in our picture, the white carpeting definitely displayed a pinkish tinge we hadnít noticed before.)

You donít need to know anything about color theory. Just click the thumbnail that returns a more natural hue to the picture. Experiment. Click more than one color to see what happens. Then compare the Original and Current Pick thumbnails. If you like what you see, wonderful. If not, just click the Original thumbnail and start again.

Once youíre finished editing, click OK and youíll return to your image. If youíre not sure you like the changes you made, you can double-check by selecting Undo Variations/Redo Variations from the Edit menu.

Light The Darkness

Arguably the most common problem with digital images is poor lighting, namely pictures that are too dark. To address this problem, return to the Variations dialog box. This time, click the Shadows radio button. On the slider tool, click the notch thatís third from the left. Now click the Lighter thumbnail. Compare the Original vs. Current Pick thumbnails. Lighten more if necessary.

But donít stop here. Depending on how dark the image is, you can lighten the midtones and the highlights in the same fashion; be careful not to fade it. You may be surprised how much you can improve an underexposed image.

Boost Color Saturation

Image saturation is color intensity. Boost saturation if the picture looks faded-a perfect fix for old color photos that have lost brilliance over time. Click the Saturation radio button. Be sure to click the Show Clipping checkbox. If youíre tempted to add too much color, thereby distorting (clipping) the image, Photoshop warns you with a bright splotch of color on the thumbnail.

We think youíll love the Variations command. Use it often enough and youíll begin to understand the color principles at work. For instance, by adding magenta to an image, you are in effect decreasing its opposite color, blue.

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