Levels and Curves in Black and White Photography

In the last post, I showed the most basic techniques of converting a colour image into black and white in Photoshop Elements. In this post, I will take things further with the use of the Levels and Curves functions.

If I take the doorway picture from the last post, we can see that it looks okay, but it could do with a bit more contrast.

channel_mixer

To start, I will use the Levels function to correct this. To access Levels, press Ctrl + L.

This will bring up a histogram, with three sliders that display the levels of shadow, mid-tone and highlights. As we can see from the histogram below, the black and white image has reasonable amounts of shadow and mid-tone colours, but lacking in highlights.

histogram

I can correct this by dragging the white slider to 214, ending where the levels of light are reasonable. Like this:

histogram2

You could probably go in a little further with the white slider, but I thought the results provided an adequate level of contrast.

Levels

We can take this a bit further using curves. The picture above could probably do with being a bit darker in the shadows to counteract the highlights and provide a better contrast.

Curves allows us to darken the whites, blacks and mid-tones in the picture. To access Curves in Elements 10, go to Enhance>Adjust Colour> Adjust Colour Curves.

curves_menu

By adjusting the curves so that the shadows are darker, I improve the contrast. However, when playing around with the Curves function, it is always a good idea to make sure that the curve you create does not have any kinks in it. Keep it smooth. In my case, this mean adjusting the highlights and mid-tones slightly, so that the graph doesn’t resemble a diagonal straight line that suddenly curves at the bottom.  The result is this:

Curves

To illustrate what would happen with a curve line that is not smooth, like this:

curves_wrong

The outcome of such a curve would be this:

curves_wrong2

This is the result of highlights, mid-tones and shadows being completely out of sync, and so you end up with a picture that is also out of sync.

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