Adjustment Tools Overview: Levels, Clarity, and HDR
Moving on to levels, HDR, and clarity, and such. Often a tool which is overlooked, which is the humble levels tool, as such. But it can do so much to an image with just a few tweaks. So this image here, later on we can see, if joining the advanced photo-editing class later, then we can look into doing some great stuff with black and white, for example. But this image, I believe, if we just reset, that's straight out of camera from a very nice guy, Martin Bailey in Japan. And if we look at the levels tool we can see that it's quite a flat looking image, because that was obviously the situation at the time. But there's very little information in the shadow part of the levels tool, and not so much information in the highlight part of the levels tool. Sorry, not shadows tool. And what's often overlooked is actually people adjusting the levels tool. Because you could look at this and think, you know what? It's a flat. I'm just gonna add some contrast. So let's just grab the contrast slider ...
and see if I can add a bit of contrast to it. But more often than not it makes sense to set the levels properly first, 'cause then that will give you more scope to a better contrast adjustment. And what I mean by that is actually bringing in the highlight points to the edge, and the shadow points to the edge, and then playing with the mid-tones to see what you want to do. And already, with just those three adjustments, if we Option + Click, we've gone from a flat image to a much more punchy image, which we could then tweak further with other contrast tools, and so on. So it's really a good idea to take a look at the levels tool. Then if we go to another example. This is one I shot in Utah back a few months ago, and that's after extensive falling around in Capture One, and that's straight out of camera. But again, it's pretty flat, and it's a bit dark and so on. So before thinking, oh, I need more contrast and so on, we should be looking at the levels tool, getting sort of more reasonable looking histogram, which should be at least sitting in the middle of the levels tool, if not spread all the way to the edges. And if you're wondering what all the numbers mean, also in the levels tool, what we're asking to do when we do this, is that take this value, 228, and stretch it out. If you imagine you physically grabbing those three little color lines and pulling them towards the edge, you can see that's what's happening in the histogram at the top. So we're asking Capture One to give us a nice histogram spread across the whole tonal range, as such. And then middle slider really adjusts the brightness or darkness of the mid-tones. So just with three simple adjustments like that, we can see before and after, before getting involved in any contrast tools, clarity, or anything like that. If you don't want to get involved in doing that manually, then you can simply press A for Auto, and Capture One does a pretty good job in the first place, and then you can just try with your mid-tone slider, and tweak them a bit more as well. So please, please, please don't forget to look at the levels tool. There is a case for playing around with the sliders at the top, (coughs) excuse me, because these sliders at the top actually allow you to set a limit of the highlights and the shadows. If you're working on a image and you want to limit the deepest shadow, and you want to limit the brightest highlight, and that can be useful if you're sending something to print, then you can just change the values at the top. So you'll see as I bring this in, if you watch the histogram, it's making the shadows lighter and lighter and lighter, and you can see what's happening to the image. If we move the highlight point in, it's making the highlights darker and darker and darker, like so. But generally these are set to zero and 255, and you bring these in to highlight and shadow points, and it can do an enormous amount of stuff to the image already. So let's grab another one of Martin's images, and say new variant. And we can see there's very little information. But then we can decide, really, how much do we want to play with, like so. So always start by looking at levels, and exposure is a good comparison together. If we then think about clarity, because it's often good to think about clarity in conjunction with contrast. Let's take all the clarity off. Another one of Martin's images. And let's zoom in a little bit. So contrast we saw just now briefly how that works. That's just an overall contrast boost on the whole image. If we push it too far, then you see what happens even with the great contrast slider in Capture One, is that the shadows can start to get a little bit too dark, the highlights can start to get a little bit too bright, and you see it's over-processed, it doesn't look particularly attractive. So there always has to be some kind of care associated with working with the contrast slider. But if you kind of run out of ideas with contrast, then it's always worth a good look at the clarity tool. And the clarity tool is a magic slider, as such, which also influences contrast. But if you think about the histogram, it's really only the central part of the histogram, the mid-tones. So it's not the shadows, it's not the highlights, it's just the mid-tones. So it gives you a contrast boost in the mid-tones, but doesn't block up our shadows, and doesn't ruin our highlights. So if we look at this shot, oops, not 100%, and increase our clarity, and you can push it quite hard, and you get a wonderfully increasing contrast. And if we Option + Click, but it doesn't get ugly. Now, there's four different methods of clarity, which might sound slightly excessive, but they all have a different job of influencing the clarity in some way. So if we go to, not quite 100. Let's zoom out a bit. So if we change to punch, we might see a tiny change. So that's natural, that's punch. It's slightly coarser, and the saturation goes up 5%, 10%, so it has a little extra punch to saturation. Neutral is very similar to natural. I think what you'll find with natural is that you can push it harder before the results maybe get too over-processed. And classic is actually a very old method from Capture One 6, which is from 2009, maybe, 2010, I think, which is a pretty old kind of mathematical algorithm now, which I think doesn't do nearly nice a job as the top three, but it's great for bumping up that mid-tone, the exposure, pretty much almost in any image, as such, without ruining your highlights and shadows. Structure is an interesting one, because it's not really a contrast adjustment, but it improves the clarity of an image. I think the reason why it's called clarity, 'cause it does kind of dehaze the image, makes it look clearer, gives it a nice pop off the screen, doesn't look over-processed and so on. If we zoom into 100% on this guy here, then this is what we can see structure is good for. And I think structure's a good name, because it improves the structure of the image, so tiny, little, fine details, the structure slider's really, really good for. So if we bump it up on this guy, especially animal fur. I'm gonna push it more than I normally would so you can see the difference. And if I click on structure to turn it on and off, that's before and after. If we push it even more, then you can really see what it's doing. So it's a good way of helping with edge definition, for example. It's really good for anything which has loads of fine detail like, again, feathers, for example. So if we bump up structure. I'll push it harder than normal, then you can see what it's doing. And also for landscapes. If we have any sort of good detail in the background with this, if we push up structure, then it helps to bring out that additional detail as well. So anywhere that you want to enhance fine detail, or edge detail is maybe a good way of saying it, structure is a really good one to push. It's not so good on people, because it will really emphasize any sort of facial wrinkles, features, spots, which can be good for like earthy, pretty portraits, but it's not super good at making someone more attractive, for example. But it's great for enhancing that sort of craggy look, if you want to do that. And the last thing that we're gonna look at is the HDR tool, high dynamic range. And we'll make a little comparison to Lightroom, again, with this. So let's take, let's take this image, for example. I'm gonna reset it back to zero. Tweak our levels, so let's bring our shadows in and the mid-tones. And then, really, high dynamic range tool, this is only a recovery tool in Capture One. So if you're a Lightroom user, you might be used to seeing the terminology blacks and whites. So there is no direct comparison in Capture One with like the black slider and the white slider. What the HDR tool does in Capture One, it's pure recovery, so it's improving detail, and exposure, and highlights, and opening up the shadows. So if I was to bring the highlight slider to the right, then you can see it's bringing back my highlights in the clouds quite nicely, like so. Now, if you're thinking, well, I want to go negative, I want to go in the other direction like I can in Lightroom, then that's your levels tool, 'cause that's then, if I excessively push that, that's brightening your whites. So that's why it's always good to set the levels first, because then it's unlikely that you're gonna need to brighten the highlights. 'Cause if you set your highlights correctly, then we can bring some more back with that, and if you want to brighten them further, you could either clip the data in the levels, which is maybe not a great idea, or, when we come to look at color tools in the wonderful color balance tool, we can actually use the highlight slider on the right to actually brighten and darken highlights as well. So if you want the closest thing to whites and blacks, you could use the highlight slider here, and you could use the shadow slider there to darken the shadows. But the high dynamic range tool in Capture One is a pure recovery tool. So if we go to something a bit grittier there, and I open up the shadows, then we can see the shadows opening up in the foreground quite nicely, equally if we do the highlights, they're pretty well recovered anyway. So it has a negligible effect in that case. But bringing up the shadows works wonderfully. I would certainly suggest that when you're playing with all the sort of various different tools in Capture One, if you see something that's sort of horribly underexposed or overexposed, I'm just gonna bring up a different folder of images. I'm looking in my folder, you'll see, for horribly underexposed or overexpose things. But never assume that there's not enough data in raw file. Like this image looks really super flat, and quite lifeless. But really, with quick auto levels, and a clarity adjustment, and bringing back the highlights, and maybe a bit of contrast, we can really do a lot to the image, like so. And that took, what, 20 seconds? And we've come a long way from where it used to be. Incidentally, if you're looking for a fast way to turn on and off all adjustments, then this button at the top is a reset button, but like the tools, if you Option + Click it you can preview before and after every single adjustment, like so. So don't toss away all your raw files. There's so much data in them. Even if it looks really flat, it's much easier to make flat image contrasty than a contrasty image flat. So think about that too.
We know that with HDR and with these things folks can take them much further, right? We're just going over the basics?
Yes, yes. We're lucky these days that modern cameras, modern sensors, in the past two, three, maybe even four years have enormous dynamic range in them. So when you're looking at your images in Capture One, and maybe you fluffed the exposure horribly one way or another, don't just toss it in the bin. Just quickly take the image and just have a quick grab of a slider, and see what's there, 'cause you'll probably be surprised how much data there really is that you can recover in an image. It's quite impressive. But yes, this is just, as you say, Jim, the sort of basic overview. If you really want to get into this sort of advanced photo editing, advanced color correction, the classes of those names, we're digging much deeper to that.