Photoshop tip: All natural baby! (sorta...)

I'll be honest, when it comes to photo editing, 'subtlety' isn't exactly my best practice. It's mainly a personal preference because I sometimes like the overly done, obvious filter applied, obnoxiously colorful photograph. So it's not everyone's cup of tea but it's just what appeals to me. But to be fair, whenever I'm working for someone else on their photographs, I can't simply edit the way 'I' want to edit them. Most people opt for the clean, subtle and 'natural' looking photographs because most people want their photographs to look genuine and not overly photoshopped. And when it comes to being 'natural', I rely on these FOUR photoshop tools: Brightness & Contrast, Levels, Exposure and Curves.
I will have to preface by saying that how your original photograph was taken will also play a part in how nice the photograph will come out. Anyone even remotely familiar with photography knows that lighting is pretty much everything, but many people who aren't familiar with cameras do not realize that a photograph isn't just post-processed to look good. If the original photograph has bad lighting to begin with, it will always be difficult to get it to look any better and 'naturally' better at that.

Take for example this photo above of my ZOYA nail polish remover. The image on the left is straight from the camera. The product was taken with natural lighting on a cloudy day, which according to some photographers, say is the best damn weather for lighting and I have to agree. The image on the right is post processed in photoshop with some light editing here and there. The difference is still very apparent.

Whether your photograph has great lighting or 'ok' lighting, you can still tweak it a bit to look better, naturally. Here's my PS tip using the mentioned tools.

I generally start with the Brightness/Contrast tool. It's all about subtlety here, so I generally boost the brightness and contrast up only by a bit (anywhere from 5-15 is okay). Brightness is as it sounds, however boosting the brightness setting too high can completely wash out your photograph so don't go overboard with it! Contrast sets your blacks blacker and your whites whiter. Again, generally avoid going too high with these settings so your image looks more natural.
LEVELS is all about the lighting. INPUT LEVELS changes the lighting on highlights, shadows and midtones, as indicated by the three arrow marks. You really need a light hand when playing around with these levels because too drastic of a change will make your photograph look unnatural.

OUTPUT LEVELS controls the 'overall' lighting in your image. This is a good tool to tweak your image with very small amounts to give it a little boost of light if it's too dark or vice versa if it's too bright.
CURVES is a tool I pretty much use all the time for basically everything I edit. Not only does it change your color inputs and outputs, it changes your lighting as well. Some may argue what the difference is between LEVELS and CURVES if you can change the lighting in CURVES as well as LEVELS but CURVES gives you a little more specificity in your lighting and is also used to control lighting in colors. I generally tweak these points only a very small amount to give my photos an extra bit of VIBRANCY. (Basically LEVELS + CURVES doubles up your lighting options)
The last lighting tool I use is EXPOSURE. Exposure is one of those tools that you will not use often and if you do you'll probably only use the bare minimum amount of editing with it. It's a super strong tool that in my opinion, is best used for scenic photographs (landscapes, outdoor, cities, etc.) This tool pretty much tries to emulate your camera's exposure settings. The main purpose of it is to try and fix those original settings. I know it's a bit confusing because all these tools seem like they are trying to do the same things but they all change different details of your photograph so trust me, they all have their purpose. But the main reason I use EXPOSURE is for the OFFSET option, which gives my image a bit of a MATTE finish which makes shadows (or blacks) softer and not too harsh.
This original photograph (left) was taken with automatic settings in my camera so the lighting wasn't that great to begin with. It's subtle, but you can see how the details really make a difference. The white part of Jax's fur looks much whiter and clearer. His eyes look more vibrant and his black looks more black. It's really about bring out the clarity in your images. I would like to think it's the difference between not having reading glasses and having reading glasses (if you need it). Although, I wouldn't know much about that since my eyes are terrrrrrribbbble so I need hardcore glasses and it would actually look like this instead.....

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this quick photoshop tip! (I promise it's QUICKER once you actually do it lol)

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