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How to Adjust the Tone in Wedding Photography Edits

In digital wedding photography, you'll very likely have to adjust the tone of your image(s). Tone deals with the range of the darkest to lightest parts of your picture and is one of the most crucial elements in the photo-editing process. Tone is how you can correct exposure, recover blown-out highlights (that is, darken bright areas that are way too light), make sure your whites are white and your blacks are black, and deepen the contrast of an image.

If you’ve ever noticed that an image looks a little gray straight out of the camera, adjusting tone is where you can fix that problem and turn a dull photo into a vibrant one. You can see the difference between an unedited picture and an edited picture.

[Credit: 36mm, 1/160 sec., f/2.8, 125]
Credit: 36mm, 1/160 sec., f/2.8, 125

When you’re ready to begin adjusting your tone, select the photo you want to adjust from the filmstrip at the bottom of your Photoshop CS6 screen or double-click on the thumbnail of the photo in the grid view. Then navigate to the Develop module at the top right-hand corner of your screen and click on the Basic editing panel on the right-hand side.

In that panel under Tone is a list of the following six features with a sliding bar beside it:

  • Exposure: As you may have guessed already, the Exposure bar controls the exposure, or the lightness or darkness of your photo. To brighten your image, move the slider to the right. If your image is too bright already, move the slider to the left to darken your photo.

  • Recovery: This function allows you to darken just the lightest areas of your image that are way too bright (blown-out highlights). To recover your highlights, move the slider to the right until the image looks right to you.

  • Fill Light: This feature is the exact opposite of recovery. It allows you to lighten the areas of your image that are way too dark (also known as lifting shadows).

    Keep in mind that the more you push that slider to the right, the more grain that’s added to the image.

  • Blacks: This feature allows you to darken blacks. Have you ever looked at a photo of a groom in his black tux but realized that the tux looked more like a dark gray than black? The Blacks slider is what you can use to make sure blacks in a photo appear just the way they should.

  • Brightness: The difference between the Exposure and Brightness functions is that Exposure brightens your image overall but puts an emphasis on brightening the lightest parts of the photo. Brightness, on the other hand, changes the light, medium, and dark tones equally. Most often, if you’ve used your Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, and Blacks sliders already, you don’t really need to use this function.

  • Contrast: This function allows you to make your darks darker and your lights lighter, thus deepening the contrast between those values in your image. Contrast can add a lot of depth to your photo and really make it pop.

As you adjust the tone of your image, if you’re unhappy with the way it looks, don’t panic! If you want to start over, click on the Reset button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. If, however, you only want to undo your last edit, you can press Command+Z (Mac) or Control+Z (Windows) to go back one step.

On the other hand, if you edit a photo and love the way it looks and would like to apply the same edits to other photos, Lightroom has a Sync feature that allows you to do just that. The Sync feature is wonderful because it saves so much time.

To sync edits, select your edited photo by clicking on it and then pressing Command (Mac) or Control (Windows) and clicking on the other photos in your filmstrip that you want to adjust. When you have the images selected, click on Sync at the bottom right-hand of your screen to apply all the edits from the first photo to the rest of the chosen photos.

If you apply the edits and decide that you don’t like them, simply use Command+Z or Control+Z to undo the sync.

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