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Color Me Badd: color correction for phot... > Getting Better Automated Color Corre...

Getting Better Automated Color Correction

Photoshop has had two automated color-correction tools for some time now: Auto Levels and Auto Contrast. They’re both pretty lame. And back in Photoshop 7, Adobe introduced Auto Color, which is much better than either Auto Levels or Auto Contrast; but here, we show you how to tweak Auto Color to get even better results, all with just one click.

Step One.
Open a photo that needs correcting, but you don’t feel warrants taking your time for a full, manual color correction using Curves.


Step Two.
Go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose Auto Color to apply an auto correction to your photo. When you apply Auto Color, it just does its thing. It doesn’t ask you to input numbers or make decisions—basically, it’s a one-trick pony that tries to neutralize the highlight, midtone, and shadow areas of your photo. In some cases, it does a pretty darn decent job, in others, well...let’s just say it falls a bit short. But in this tutorial, you learn how to supercharge Auto Color to get dramatically better results, and transform it from a “toy” into a real color-correction tool.

Step Three.
After you apply Auto Color, one way you can tweak its effect on your photo is by going under the Edit menu and choosing Fade Auto Color. (Note: This is only available immediately after you apply Auto Color.) When the Fade dialog box appears (as shown), drag the Opacity slider to the left to reduce the effect of the Auto Color. Move the slider until the photo looks good to you. You can also change the Blend Mode (from the Mode pop-up menu) to further adjust your photo (Multiply makes it darker, Screen makes it lighter, etc.). When you click OK in the Fade dialog, your Fade is applied.

Step Four.
So now you know the “Apply-Auto-Color-and-Fade” technique, which is fine, but there’s something better: tweaking Auto Color’s options before you apply it. Believe it or not, there are hidden options for how Auto Color works. (They’re not really hidden, they’re just put someplace you’d probably never look.) To get to these Auto Color options, press Command-L (PC: Control-L) to bring up the Levels dialog. On the right side of the dialog, you see a button named Auto. That’s not it. Instead, click on the button just below it, named Options. This is where Adobe hid the Auto Color options (along with other options, as you’ll soon see).

Step Five.
At the top of this dialog, under the Algorithms section, you can determine what happens when you click the Auto button within the Levels or Curves dialogs. If you click the top-most choice, “Enhance Monochromatic Contrast,” clicking the Auto button now applies the somewhat lame Auto Levels auto correction. If you choose “Enhance Per Channel Contrast,” clicking the Auto button applies the equally lame Auto Contrast auto correction. What you want instead is to choose both “Find Dark & Light Colors” (sets your highlight and shadow points), and “Snap Neutral Midtones” (which sets your midtones). With these settings, Auto Color (the most powerful of the auto-correction tools) is now applied if you click the Auto button in either Levels or Curves.

Step Six.
In the Target Colors & Clipping section, you can click on each Target Color Swatch (Shadows, Midtones, Highlights) and enter the RGB values you’d prefer Auto Color to use, rather than the defaults, which are...well, a bit yucky! I use the same settings that we entered in our manual Curves correction (Shadows: R=20, G=20, B=20; Midtones: R=128, G=128, B=128; and Highlights: R=240, G=240, B=240).

Step Seven.
Weirdly enough, changing these option settings works only once. If you reopen these options later, you’ll find that they have all reverted to the original default settings. To keep that from happening, click the Save as Defaults check box at the bottom-left side of the dialog.

Step Eight.
When you click OK to close the options dialog and save the settings, you’ve done three very important things:

  1. You’ve majorly tweaked Auto Color’s settings to give you better results every time you use it.

  2. You’ve assigned Auto Color as the default auto correction when you click the Auto button in the Curves dialog.

  3. You’ve turned Auto Color into a useful tool that you’ll use way more than you’d think.

Before color correction.

After tweaking the Auto Color command.



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