Welcome, boys and girls, to color correction part one. This is the post where Maggie takes a Crap Photo* and makes Maggic.
*Crap Photo in this case meaning something that looks like a black cat at night
I'm starting out with a photo instead of art because you can be a bit more free with a photo. With a photo the idea is to get it looking beautiful. With a print file the idea is to get it looking like the original piece of art. Not at all the same thing. Well, slightly the same thing.
Anyway, this is just a very fast correction of a very drastic example. The methods I'm using here, however, are some of the most common ones I use in my every-day artwork Photo-shopping. Uh, what else did I want to say before I began? Oh, don't try and make prints from this lousy of a photo. And now, without further ado . . . the Crap Photo.
Step One. The Crap Photo before alteration. I had my camera set on the wrong setting so it pretended like it was starved for light. There's information there -- I can sorta see the puppy -- so with my endless optimism, I decide I can probably do something with it.
I open up Adobe Photoshop. I have the whole thing (an older version - 6.0 I think?) but you can do most of this in Photoshop Elements as well, which is much cheaper.
Step Two. You're thinking - holy cow! What did she do!? Right? What I did was use PS's extremely useful "Adjust Auto-Levels" function. In my version, you can find it by going up to the Image heading, finding Adjust, and under that, Auto Levels. Adjust Auto Levels has significant drawbacks and is pretty tactless, but for a quick fix or to see if a photo even has enough information in it to fix, it's priceless.
Note on Auto Levels: if you have a photo with extreme brights and darks, Adjust Auto Levels won't work well for you. It works best if the photo is all mostly too light or all mostly too dark. You can isolate dark areas or remove a super bright area that is skewing the rest of the image's values to good effect, but that takes a bit more skill.
Step Three. In most dark photos, the color leaves a lot to be desired, so I headed straight for Color Balance. You can find that Image > Adjust > Color Balance. I nearly always adjust my photos' colors the same way - up the yellow and the red. This one is no exception. In this step I've done Blue -22 (though I think of it as Yellow +22 -- basically I'm warming it up).
Step Four. I'm not done with the color. Back to Color Balance. In real life, I would just drag the scroll buttons to where I wanted them all in one step, but I wanted you guys to see the difference each color modulation makes. In this one I increase the red by +27. I should note here that I know that my monitor and Photoshop in particular tends to make photos look a bit more green than they really are, so I always do a bit more red than I think I ought to.
Step Five. More Color Balance. The final slider - magenta/ green. I pull it to - 12 green. I'll probably tweak later after I'm done with other adjustments.
Step Six. I head to Image >Adjust > Brightness/ Contrast. I pull the contrast up to +14 and the brightness up +8. Be careful with contrast. It's a lovely toy but it can obliterate details in a moment. Brightness is useful for finding details, especially if it's for a commission photo and you need info, but you can also wash your photo out pretty quickly.
Step Seven. Now to one of my guilty favorites: Image > Adjust > Hue/ Saturation. I love bright, over-saturated photos. I'm just a sucker for that look! So I could probably get away without the crazy saturation, but I increase it +16 because I want to soooo bad.
Step Eight. Now I don't like the color anymore. I need more yellow, so I go back to Color Balance and slide it to Blue -11. Almost done. I'm nit picking. This isn't bad for such a Crap Photo.
Step Nine. I go to Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen and see what that does. It does crap; it just sharpens all the pixels and makes it look grainy. In a pretty good photo, you can get some nice effects with Sharpen, but with a photo that started out this bad, you tend to just get graininess. If I were playing for keeps with this photo, I'd ditch step nine and keep the version I got with Step Eight.