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magic mid-tones tutorial



Revisiting the Basic Mid-tones Mask

It's definitely worth revisiting the mid-tones masks as they are extremely useful in adjusting images. As explained in the Luminosity Masks tutorial, to make a Mid-tones-series mask, first select the entire canvas and then subtract off one of the Lights-series masks and one of the Darks-series masks, leaving just mid-tone values selected. The Basic Mid-tones mask, created this way by selecting the entire canvas and then subtracting the Lights mask and the Darks mask, continues to be one of my favorites. The first tutorial showed how creating a backwards Z-curve on a Curves adjustment layer filtered by the Basic Mid-tones mask had the ability create a very nice pop in contrast and saturation that often worked nicely in nature photographs. Of course, there are many possible curves besides the backwards Z. A Curves adjustment layer with Basic Mid-tones mask can take many different shapes, and the special filtering provided by the mask still works its magic.

Below are two examples from the rework project where the Basic Mid-tones mask provided the right selection to facilitate the desired tonal adjustment. The first image is shown in Figures 3. This is the original version. The rollover shows the revision. The adjustment here was a slight darkening of darker mid-tones while leaving the lighter mid-tones unaffected. This made the colors seem a little stronger overall since the darkening was accompanied by a slight increase in saturation. The contrast of the mid-tones was also slightly increased.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Figure 4 shows what the Basic Mid-tones mask looked like for this image.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Figure 5 is the Curves adjustment that was applied through the mask on an adjustment layer. It's actually a pretty gentle curve, but the image only needed a small tweak to increase its overall quality.

Figure 5
Figure 5

An example of a more vigorous adjustment with the Basic Mid-tones mask is shown below. This is an image that already required a significant amount of Photoshop to get it to its final form several years earlier. My ability and preferences have changed since then, and I wanted to update the image to better match how I now wanted it to look. Figure 6 is the original image and the rollover is the image after applying the adjustment.

Figure 6
Figure 6

The Basic Mid-tones mask for this adjustment is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7
Figure 7

The Curves adjustment that was used to create the effect is shown in Figure 8. This is a more severe adjustment than in the previous example. In fact, the dark mid-tones have been pulled to the same position as in the backwards Z while the light tones are locked in place. The original image had a lot of mid-tones that were poorly separated, and adjusting it through the Basic Mid-tones mask offered an easy way to open up these mid-tone values and create a stronger image. Mid-tone contrast was increased and the mid-tone colors have become darker and more saturated.

Figure 8
Figure 8

Summary: The Basic Mid-tones mask is a great starting place to experiment with adjusting the mid-tones. Small and large adjustments can be accomplished with this mask and the results are often very pleasing.