This section provides handy shortcuts to some adjustment layers that alter the light and contrast in your image.
Each of these buttons adds an adjustment layer with some basic pre-selected settings, which you can use as-is, or you can tweak after adding them.
If you have a selection active when you use one of these buttons, that selection will be loaded directly into the layer mask of the resulting adjustment layer. Otherwise, the adjustment layer will come with the standard white layer mask, revealing all.
Contrast – Curves
The 2 Curves buttons under the contrast heading will create a Curves adjustment layer that has been pre-set with a typical “S-Curve” setting.
The difference between the two is that “2” creates a stronger curve than “1”.
Contrast – Levels
There are three Levels contrast buttons you can choose from and each makes a slightly different adjustment.
WARNING: These Levels adjustments are dynamic meaning their settings will be applied based on the images histogram. If you have a selection active at the time you use these effects, then the settings will be based on the histogram of the selection – this can produce very strange results in some cases.
TIP: Because of the above warning, the levels contrast buttons work best when used with either a mid-tone selection active, or no selection at all (when no selection used, mask the adjustment in or out afterwards).
Contrast Levels 1
This button creates a Levels adjustment layer that comes pre-set with a typical contrast-boosting effect.
The mid-point / gamma control point has been moved to the right a little, and the white-point control point has been moved to the left. See the example below:
The mid-point will always be set to 0.85. The white-point will be set to a dynamic value that will differ for each photo you use this effect on. In most cases it will clip the highlights a little bit in order to brighten the rest of the image, so you’ll want to mask the clipped areas out using a luminosity selection afterwards.
Contrast Levels 2
This button creates a Levels adjustment layer that is similar to Contrast Levels 1, except that it does not include the mid-point control point change.
This results in a brighter overall result than when using Contrast Levels 1.
Contrast Levels 3
This button creates a Levels adjustment layer that includes changes to all three control points.
First, the black-point control point is moved to the very beginning of the actual histogram. This makes the darkest pixel in your image a true black.
Then, the mid-point control point is moved to the left a bit (to 1.1) to slightly brighten the bottom half of the histogram whilst keeping the blacks black.
Lastly, the white-point control point is again moved to the left in the same way as in contrast levels 1 and 2.
When to use each Contrast Levels adjustment
Contrast Levels 1 is the go-to adjustment for increasing contrast in the highlights of an image.
Contrast Levels 2 technically only becomes a contrast adjustment when used in conjunction with a luminosity mask or other adjustment. It is best used when you want to brighten parts of an image selectively (when brightening selectively, the image contrast increases because you’re leaving other areas darker).
Contrast Levels 3 is best used when you want to increase contrast in the shadows of an image without making them too dark.
Curve 1 & Curve 2
These two buttons create simple curves adjustment layers where the curve has been nudged upwards to create a brightening effect. Curve 2 creates a brighter effect that Curve 1.
They work great on their own, or with a selection active so that the selection is loaded into the Curves’ mask.
This button creates a Curves adjustment layer where the curve has been nudged downwards to create a darkening effect.
This button creates an interesting darkening effect where instead of adjusting the actual curve of the curves adjustment layer, the layers blend mode has been set to Multiply and (because it’s usually too strong an effect at 100% opacity) the layers opacity has been set to 50%.