10 Steps To Optimizing Your Images
Stellar prints start with sharp, properly adjusted image files. Follow these steps to prepare your image files to make your best prints ever!

Keep your original file—as captured by the camera—untouched. That way, you can always go back to the original. Make a duplicate file as your first step, and you’ll never be stuck. Since you’ll be optimizing your file for printing at a particular size, consider including the size in the copy’s file name (i.e. “image-11×14”) for easy reference.

If you need to crop your photo, do this before making other adjustments. That way, your software doesn’t evaluate the unwanted pixels when you’re making color and tonal adjustments. It also reduces file size.

Before tweaking color, get the tonality of your image balanced, as this affects color, too.

Setting black and white levels

The extremes of the range—blacks and whites—are critical for contrast and color. The Levels adjustment tool is ideal for handling tonal adjustments of shadows and highlights.

Press Alt/Option while moving the left (black) slider in Levels, and the screen goes white (black threshold screen). As you move the slider to the right, you’ll begin to see colors and blacks show up. When they start to appear, release the Alt/Option key to see the effect you’re making on the photo. Usually, you’ll want a solid black somewhere (except for photos that don’t have much shadow, such as a foggy scene). For most photos, you’ll want the black slider to land somewhere near the left edge of the histogram.

Next, adjust the highlights, holding the Alt/Option key with the right (white) slider, using the same technique.

Curves default settings

Curves with anchors set

Curves after adjustment

To perfect the midtones and overall tonality of the image, try using Curves. Typically, a good “Curve” is a smooth “S” shape. The Curves control starts as a straight diagonal line. Start by placing the crosshair cursor at the intersection of the topmost and rightmost lines in the Curves grid and then clicking.

This places an anchor point on the diagonal line. Repeat this to create another anchor at the intersection of the leftmost and bottom lines in the Curves grid. Now, slowly drag the lower-left anchor down and the upper-right anchor up to create your “S” curve. Go easy on this adjustment. Be sure that the Preview option is checked, and keep your eye on the photo.

3a. QUICK TIP: Use Adjustment Layers In Photoshop

Add an Adjustment Layer

Adjustment Layers are one of the best features in Photoshop, especially when prepping an image for print. Since apparent sharpness, contrast and color are all affected by the size at which you’re printing, the ability to make changes to previous adjustments is invaluable.

Layers Palette showing Adjustment Layer

Adjustment Layers remain separate from your original image and always changeable, so you’re never “stuck” with earlier adjustments. Adjustment Layers are available for several of the more useful photo enhancements, including Levels, Curves and Hue/Saturation.

With your tonal range now set, you can perfect your color. First, make sure that your colors are neutral. An easy way to do this is to use Levels again (ideally as

Using Levels eyedropper for neutral color

another Adjustment Layer). Doing this as a separate step from the earlier Levels adjustment lets you undo this color correction without affecting your earlier adjustments. Using the gray (middle) eyedropper in the Levels control panel, click on an area of the photo that should be neutral—deepest shadows, specular highlights or something you know to be gray. If the colors in your photo look off, try clicking another spot until they look right.

Boost color with Hue/Saturation

Now that your photo is color-neutral, you can use Hue/Saturation adjustments to cool or warm the hues and punch up your colors, if necessary. Again, using an Adjustment Layer for this is preferable. The key to using this adjustment is to use it lightly. Be careful not to oversaturate. If you see areas of your photo that should be a smooth gradient start to block up
, pull back on the amount of Saturation and increase Lightness.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply