Adjust the Contrast in Postproduction - dummies

By Thomas Clark

Getting the correct exposure is one of the first steps to creating a beautiful close-up photograph, as it ensures you have detail in your shadows and highlights. The next step is to enhance your exposures in postproduction, creating the perfect balance of contrast and tonal separation between those shadows and highlights.

Tonal contrast is the difference in appearance between shadows and highlights (or darks and lights) and is an important element of design. It determines the overall look and feel of an image.

Postproduction software offers various tools for altering contrast in photographs:

  • Exposure adjustment enables you to apply more or less exposure to an image by moving a slider to the right (or up) for more brightness, or to the left (or down) for less brightness. The adjustments you make with this tool are general, meaning they affect the entire image consistently.

  • The Brightness/Contrast tool provides two sliders to work with: one for brightness and one for contrast. The brightness slider affects the overall brightness of an image, making it darker or lighter. The contrast slider can increase or decrease the difference between highlight and shadow areas. By adding more contrast, the shadow areas become darker and the highlights become brighter.

  • Levels puts you in control of your black point and your white point by providing a scale with sliders on each side. Slide the black point slider inward, and you make your shadows darker. Slide the white point slider inward, and you make your highlights lighter. A third slider in the center of the scale enables you to control the brightness of your mid-tones.

  • Curves gives you maximum control to plot points in specific areas on a grid to control various tones in an image separately. By raising the curve in the highlight area and lowering it in the shadow area, you create more contrast in an image. By doing the opposite, you create less contrast.

  • Shadow/Highlight provides two sliders — one affects the brightness of your shadow areas and the other affects the brightness of your highlight areas.

  • Photo-effect filters enable you to apply specific looks to your photographs. These are sometimes included in package deals, or are available for purchase, and are great for the photographer who wishes to create certain looks — like enhancing fall foliage, increasing contrast, altering the colorization of an image, creating effects such as color halftone, solarization, brush strokes, or adding film grain — without spending much time at the computer.