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Photography and Photoshop Tutorials
Using the Photoshop Threshold adjustment layer to evaluate image density and contrast for digital printing.
This is an easy method to target a files density for printing. It requires a basic knowledge of Photoshop adjustment layers.

Take the file to be targeted and add a levels adjustment layer to the top of the stack in the Layers pane click OK without making any changes. This will be used to target the highlights and shadows.

Add a Threshold layer above the Levels layer. Your image will appear in high contrast black and white. Set the threshold to 245 and click ok.

Turn off the threshold layer and observe the image. This targeting method is easy in images that have white values present.

A detailed white value, Zone 7, should have a digital density of 245-249 and a white without detail, Zone 8, should have a density of 250-254.


First… Target the highlights:

  • Turn the Threshold layer on, it is set to 245.
  • If the image is all black it is too dark, open the levels layer and adjust the Input Levels:high slider downwards until you see some white dots appear in the thresholded image.
  • Close the levels layer and turn off the threshold.
  • Evaluate the highlight areas that are white in the thresholded version.
  • If you think these should be Zone 8 whites with no detail then reset the Threshold layer to 250 and readjust the levels layer.

If the image is too light then you will need to work on the underlying adjustment layers that are making the highlights too light.

I try to avoid having more then a few pixels of value 255 in an image. If you set the Threshold to 255 and see significant areas of white things will need to be done or that area will be blown out in the print.

In an image with sunlight clouds I have the highest highlights on the clouds between 250-254 with a few pixels of 255.

Then… Target the Shadows:

If you are looking for a full range image with nice whites and snappy blacks then you want a low value around 10-20. I find that if you go below 10 you may be killing important shadow details.

  • Adjust the Threshold layer to 10 and hit OK.
  • If you don’t see any black spots in the white field then your image is flat.
  • Open the levels control and adjust the Input Levels:Low slider upwards until black spots appear in the thresholded image.

Turn off the Threshold layer and you are now ready to make a print that will have good exposure and contrast.

By working with the threshold layer to positively identify values in your file you can map them to the proper digital output densities and get a well exposed print on the first try everytime.

This method will often help you to identify the pesty hot spots that are preventing you from getting more light into your image. If one small highlight pops right up and there are other similar values in the image that are not popping then you can make a mask for the one spot that is too hot to hold it back allowing you to make the image overall lighter.

Give it a try, I am sure you will save some time and money on paper and ink.


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Web Site by Cooksey-Talbott Studio

Fine art photography of California by master nature photographer Cooksey-Talbott. Hundreds of beautiful photographs are displayed for sale online as raw or ready to hang images.

Cooksey-Talbott Gallery is an online gallery of nature photographs. The collection includes pictures of the High Sierra, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Yosemite, Trinity Alps, Sonora Pass, Santa Barbara Hills, East Bay Hills and Garin Park as well as hundreds of different waterfalls. Legacy images are from medium and large format film taken with the Mamiya RB-67 and a variety of 4x5 view cameras. Some of the more recent work is shot with a Nikon D200, Canon 5D Mark II and the Sony A7r.

We offer archival quality prints in a wide range of sizes and media. We print on a heavy art papers and canvas using a Canon iPF8300 44 inch 12 color printer with pigmented inks. Our images are first party prints made directly by the artist. Prints are signed and numbered and include a Certificate of Authenticity.

Ralph Cooksey-Talbott Thomas has been working as a photographer since 1972 when he moved to California from Michigan. During the 1970’s he studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite. Ansel published one of his photographs in the portfolio section of his book "Polaroid Land Photography" Ansel and Orah Moore, another of Ansel’s students, suggested that he shorten his name to Cooksey-Talbott, and that is the name he has worked under since. Cooksey also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the San Francisco Academy of Art. He has lectured in photography at the U.C. Berkeley Extension, Studio One in Oakland and Santa Barbara City College. Cooksey is currently working as a photographer and facilitating which is a monthly photo walk that meets up in Niles California.