Friday, December 9, 2011

Quick and Dirty Photoshop Levels for Toy Camera Pics

Flat, Boring, Underexposed Images?
You can fix that.

     Unless you've modified your Holga or Diana to be more precise with exposure, you're bound to have some shots that just don't make the grade when it comes to exposure. Even with properly exposed negatives, I find the scans from my Holga to be a bit flat and in need of some tweaking to get them to a place that I like. Usually I avoid any of the automatic color/contrast/levels corrections since they tend to do strange things to my Holga images. Same goes for the eyedropper feature for picking black points and white points (they'll shift your color).
     One of the nice things about using "Levels" in Photoshop is that it really hasn't changed across all of the updates and versions. We're not going to confuse anyone with layers today, so let's be easy and simple.

     First things first: Open your image. Go to "Image" -> "Adjustments" -> "Levels"

     You should now have something that looks like this (without the red circle and line)...

     What you are seeing when you open levels is called a histogram - it's basically a graph of all of the information in your file with the left hand side being all the dark stuff and the right hand side being all the light stuff. The reason I circled the peak in the histogram above is to point out what information it correlates to. The peak corresponds to the darkest of the dark area of your image, in this case it is the vignette caused by the natural fall off of the wide angle Holga lens. There is really nothing in that area of the image, so we'll do this...

     If you grab the little black arrow on the left and slide it to the right, you will see your image getting darker. What you are doing is telling Photoshop that everything to the left of the arrow is BLACK. I stopped just before the next rise in the histogram since it started to affect the look of the rest of the image. Next we'll brighten it up a bit...

     Now... take the white arrow on the right and slide it to the left, but don't go too far (you don't want this look like a digital camera pic)!

     Those two simple steps in Photoshop's levels will make almost every low contrast or underexposed shot look worlds better. Here's a before and after of this picture and one other that used the same method. If your image editing software has a "Histogram" feature, you can follow the same steps and it should yield the same results!

      Thank you to Michael Langlais for letting us use his images! is an awesome mail-order photo lab that still processes all kinds of film!

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