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Photoshop CS4: Introduction to Adjustments Menu

I’ve been teaching workshops on the new Adobe Photoshop CS4 for the last several months. The part of CS4 that has drawn the most comment and the highest response has been the addition of the new Adjustments panel. Individuals who are upgrading from the older CS, CS2, and CS3 find this the most positive part of the upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of other wonderfully positive changes, but Adjustments has seemed to be the one that draws the most positive responses. Newcomers to Photoshop CS4 simply accept that this is the way to do things- with adjustment layers created automatically- while the old hands love the new streamline workflow.

In my class "Intro to CS4", I distribute an overall explanation to Adjustments on a reference CD I put together for the students. I thought I’d make a simplified version available for new Photoshop CS4 users on DigitalAppleJuice.

Here’s the initial window you get when you select Adjustments from the Window menu and add Adjustments to any other menus you have already open. Remember, everything you choose to do from these menus will be applied to an Adjustment Layer rather than to the image itself.

It’s non-destructive adjustments.

Right on the front of the panel on the lower half are Presets that allow the instant selection of a possible answer with a repeatability that is locked in. As you saw above, the first Presets are all Levels Presets, and there are more available than just those that I am showing here.
Following the Levels Presets we have a series of Curves Presets that allow predictable repeatability.

Below the Curves Presets are
Exposure Presets in whole numbers.

Hue/Saturation Presets follow the Exposure Presets. I find that the Sepia Preset is particularly useful.
The Black and White Presets allow a number of choices. Of these, the Infrared Preset gives a good infrared look with adjustments easily performed with the sliders that become available once Infrared is chosen.
Channel Mixer Presets gives a different approach to Black and White Infrared with adjustable sliders to fine tune the results. The effects of blue and green filters can be produced. Remember, a filter lightens its own color and darkens its compliment.
Now, before we get to far along, let’s look at how we get back to the main panel. Look at the bottom of the particular adjustment you are using. A series of symbols allow you to (1) Return to the main Adjustment area, (2) Minimize the overall Adjustment panel, (3) switch back to the unmodified image permanently, (4) View the image before the adjustment, (5) Remove the adjustment, and (5) have available the trash can to delete layer masks or the adjustment layer itself..

Activating the Brightness/Contrast icon allows us to access the slider bars for each adjustment.

Having looked at the Presets, now let’s look at the adjustable choices that are defined by a series of symbols at the top of the frame.

As you mouse over each of the symbols, the appropriate title for the symbol appears at the upper left just under where I have indicated.

The second Adjustment Icon brings us to the Levels Adjustment.

Selecting the Levels Icon brings us to a conventional Levels toolset; just remember it is on an Adjustment Layer and it is a non-destructive Adjustment.

Curves Adjustments are one of the most used tools in the photographers’ toolbox, and while Preset curves are useful for repeatability, almost every image requires a unique set of adjustments.

By clicking on the finger icon on the upper left side, and then moving to the actual image and stroking upward in an area where you would like to lighten the tone, or stroking downward where you would like to darken a tone, it is possible to apply the curves adjustment directly on the image instead of guessing where the tone to be adjusted is to be found on the tone curve.

The next adjustment available is the Exposure adjustment. This resembles the adjustment possible when using a RAW image and allows you to adjust the exposure after the image is made.

After triggering the Exposure Adjustment you will be presented with this window. This is where you will be allowed to adjust Exposure, Offset, and Gamma within the image.


The Vibrance, or as I like to call it, the "punch or crispness" of the image is accessed from the first icon on the second row.

Vibrance is coupled with Saturation and the two together make it possible to increase the crispness of an image considerably.

The Hue and Saturation menu allows access to Hue, Saturation, and Lightness & Darkness controls.

It is also possible to Colorize an image from this menu and this is an easy way to produce an image with the look of a Cyanotype or Sepia-toned image.

Color Balance provides adjustments to color balance in Shadows, Midtowns, or Highlights


Choosing to shift the image into a Black and White image is simply done by clicking on the Black and White diagonally-opposed triangles in the next menu icon.

This allows the tones within the original colors in the Black and White image to be adjusted. Green leaves for instance can be made lighter or darker, blue sky can be lightened or darkened and other intermediate colors can likewise be adjusted in the Black and White tonal scale.

Photo Filter: Applying color filters such as warming or cooling filters allow the original image to be treated like film where filters such as the 81, LBA, or 85 can be applied for warming, and the 80, LBB, and 82 can be applied for cooling. A number of other color filters (fourteen to be exact) can be used to produce special effect. A repeatable Sepia tone is one of the available choices.

In addition to choosing the density of a pre-determined filter (such as a Warming 85) it is possible to use that as a base color and increase the density of that color with the slider bar.

The Channel Mixer adjustment should be no stranger to anyone who used that technique to produce Black and White images in any of the previous versions of Photoshop.

In addition to choosing Monochrome to produce a Black and White image, the tones within the image can be adjusted by lightening or darkening any particular color as it appears in the original color image. This is one of the easier methods of crisping a monochrome image where the intensities of reds and greens approximate one another such as in the traditional problem of the red apple amid green leaves when the image is converted to Black and White.

Like its name indicates, Invert reverses the colors and produces a negative image of the subject.

Invert is a one trick pony, that is all it does. There are no adjustments or modifications available to this adjustment.


The ability to Posterize an image by sub-dividing it into steps allows adjustments from 2 to 255 steps.

However, after 10-12 steps the image becomes a continuous tone image for all practical purposes.

The next adjustment is Threshold which among its many uses is to create Line Drawing effects.

Slider adjustment on the histogram allows you to determine the break point you want to use to create your line effect.

The next to last adjustment that you have to choose from is the Gradient Map.

The Gradient Map gives access to fifteen choices.

For example, choosing the Black to White gradient converts a color image into a high-contrast black and white image with considerable "snap" to the images. Experimentation will produce a number of special effects.

The final choice of adjustment is the Selective Color adjustment icon.

With its slider bars on Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black and the ability to choose to adjust within the Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, Magenta, White, Neutrals, and Blacks, considerable subtle adjustments are possible on the base image.


This has been a quick overview of the new Adjustment Menus in Photoshop CS4.

Remember that these are fundamentally the same adjustments that are available from the Image > Adjust menu in previous versions of Photoshop and are still available from the same menu choices in CS4— except when accessed from the adjustments panel, all these adjustments are automatically applied to an adjustment layer.

It is this distinction that allows the operator to skip the two steps of creating an Adjustment Layer and allows the automatic creating of non-destructive results. This, I think, is a major improvement in CS4, and seems to be the most admired everyday use set of tools in the new Photoshop CS4. While there are other "oh wow!" things that can be done with the new CS4, (and I will cover them in other tutorials), this appears to be the most appreciated of the new changes in Photoshop CS4.

By Dr. Michael N. Roach

Dr. Michael N. Roach is a retired Professor of Art from Stephen F. Austin State University. His 33 year teaching career spans the silver to digital age. His images have been shown throughout the American South, Russia, Ireland and France; some of them are in the permanent collection of the Combes Gallery at The American University of Paris in France. An avid Mac Computer advocate he teaches workshops on digital imaging and courses in Adobe Photoshop as well as digital printing for the Fine Arts.

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