Studio Saturday with Brandi Hussey

Welcome to Studio Saturday! Each week one of our contributors gives you a sneak peek into their studio, creative process or inspirations. We ask a related question of our readers and hope you’ll leave comments! As an incentive we offer a free prize each week to bribe you to use that keyboard.

The following week we choose a random winner. 

This week’s winner is Shelley Graham Turner of Tori Sophia Designs! Congratulations, Cheri! You have won the Dream Catcher Pendant Kit from Erin Siegel! Send Erin an email with your address and she will get your prize out to you soon! 
This week we visit the studio of 
Brandi Hussey of Brandi Girl Blog

Hey ABSers! It’s strange to think that I’ve been a contributor for over a year now, but that this is the first Studio Saturday I’m hosting. I’m excited for the chance, though a little nervous, too.

Why? Because I’m kind of the oddball contributor, in that I don’t sell jewelry anymore. My focus these days is on blogging, color theory, and photography, so I’m in a slightly different position from other contributors – I’m more of an art bead lover, versus maker. This means my studio isn’t so much a room in the house, but programs on my computer. If that’s the case, then what can I share with you?

How about a quick and easy editing tip to make your photos look good?

After taking thousands of photos over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that every photo needs a little help. No matter how perfect I may have gotten the shot in-camera, 99.99% of the photos need a boost.

Maybe you’ve had the same experience, where you’re a little disappointed at how your photos look once you’ve uploaded them onto your computer. This doesn’t mean your camera isn’t good; even basic point-and-shoots nowadays are vastly better than the cameras from just a few years ago, so the camera isn’t the issue. The issue is that just taking the photo is only half of the equation; the missing half is editing. Getting a perfect photo you don’t have to edit straight of the camera is like winning the lottery; it’s possible, but not necessarily probable. To give you an idea, out of the thousands of photos I’ve taken, there have been only four I felt didn’t need any work.

There’s a lot of cool tips and tricks you can learn to make your photos pop, but let me share one quick thing you can do today to improve your photos. It’s subtle, but really effective: adjust the levels for your photo. What are levels? The levels of your photo refers to the mix of your highlights, shadows, and midtones. When you adjust those levels, you’re changing the way your photos appear.

To do this editing trick, you’re going to need a program like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, GIMP, or an online-based editor (I like Pixlr.com’s Editor best – it functions in a similar way to Photoshop). I tend to shy away from the editing programs that come with a camera because they don’t allow me to edit the way I want to. If you don’t have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, try either GIMP or Pixlr.com, both of which are free (GIMP is a program you download, Pixlr works in your web browser).

Step 1: Go ahead and open up a photo whatever program you’re working in, then locate the levels menu in that program.

For Photoshop Elements, you can find the levels menu by going up to Editing on the top Program Bar, then down to Adjust Lighting, then over to Levels. For Photoshop, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. For Pixlr, make sure you’re under the Advanced Editor, then go up to Adjustment > Levels.

The menus, when they come up, will look like this:

Step 2: Adjust the levels by moving the toggles underneath the graph.

Once the levels menu is open, take a minute to look at it. You’ll notice a section called Input Levels that holds a graph. That graph is your photo broken down into highlights, shadows, and midtones. The spikes or hills you see on that graph correspond to information in that photo. If you see a large hill on the right hand side, your photo has a lot of lighter tones. If there’s a large hill on the left, your photo has a lot of darks in it.

Each photo will translate into a graph like this, but keep in mind each graph will vary in appearance because each photo will have slightly different amounts of highlights, shadows, and midtones in them. So if your graph looks different than the example, it’s suppose to.

Underneath that graph are three toggles. The black one controls the shadows of your photo, the gray one the midtones, and the white one the highlights.

Click and drag the white and black toggles to right next to the graph. What you’re doing here is cutting out the parts you don’t need, the flat parts of the graph. Those flat areas don’t contain any information vital to your photo, only the spikes do. So by moving the toggles next to the graph, you’re readjusting the range for the shadows and highlights.

The closer to the graph you move with your white toggle, the brighter the highlights become. The closer you move your black toggle, the darker the shadows become (and the richer the colors become, too). As for the gray toggle, you can move it a little left of center to brighten up everything, or a little right of center to darken up everything.

Be careful when moving the toggles. You can cut off a little bit of each hill’s ends, but you don’t want to go too far.For example, if your graph touches one of the edges, like it does near the white toggle on my graph, you don’t have to move it at all. Remember, that’s information, so if you eliminate too much, you can blow out your highlights and shadows. Same goes for the gray toggle in the middle; moving it too far left or right will give you dramatic, not subtle, results. Instead, use the graph as a guide, and move the toggles right next to the hills.

Step 3: Save!

Easy, right? And it only takes a minute. With just this one trick, you’ve improved a bunch of things: you’ve made the dark areas richer, the brights brighter, and improved the tones and colors in your photo. It’s subtle, but really powerful.

Photoshop/Photoshop Elements Tip:

If you’re working in either Elements or Photoshop, consider using an adjustment Levels layer instead of going through the levels menu directly. Instead of going up to Enhance/Image, locate the adjustment layers button on your Layers Panel – it’s a circle that is half black, half white. Click that and choose Levels from the dropdown menu.

The benefit is to doing it this way is that you can adjust the levels over and over without touching the main photo. By going through the Levels Panel directly, you’re permanently changing the levels. If you’d like to adjust that later, you’d have to undo everything you did up to that point or start over. With the adjustment levels layer, you have the freedom to come back later and tweak over and over.


This week, I’m giving away a set of actions for use in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. These are actions that I’ve made for myself to simplify my editing workflow, and include quick shortcuts for resizing, brightening a photo, and a few fun actions, too. They aren’t for sale, but one lucky commenter will get a set they can use to help them edit, too!

What if you don’t have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements? I’ll send you two Palette Club prints instead, your choice.

To enter, answer one of these questions: What’s your favorite editing/photo trick? What do you struggle with the most when taking or editing a photo? What look are you going for with your shop photos – a more subtle, natural look, or something more drastic?

For more photo tips, take a look at the Tip Share page on my blog!

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22 Comment

  1. Kathy Lindemer
    March 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I struggle the most with lighting when taking or editing a photo. I try to take photos of my jewelry in the best light that I can. I have tried both a light box and natural light. Right now I am using natural light. I finally figured out that I want to take the photo with as few shadows as I can and I have a location and time of day that work. I agree that no matter how good the photo I can improve it my usually boosting the light and getting rid of shadows. I use the software built into the MAC iphoto and have pretty good results but I am always looking for better!

  2. Divya N
    March 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    My three favourite photoshop options are auto color, curves and levels. I htink that If your photo is decent in the first place, these three are more than enough to give it a boost.I like jewelry photos with interesting backgrounds rather than keeping it plain white

  3. A Polymer Penchant
    March 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Great post! One thing I keep doing and I can't seem to remember not to is I take photos too close. I like a tightly cropped photo and I keep taking them too darn cropped for starters! So it's been a little mantra of late. – take a wider shot

  4. Karen M
    March 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Good info. I blame it all on the camera because I don't want to beat the user. I struggle and then post what I have and hope that others can see the beauty in the work/designs. However the level of detail in quilts and jewelry is sometimes lost (I know that).

    Thanks for sharing.

    Karen @ fairiesmarket.blogspot.com

  5. Cheryl Roe
    March 2, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I have elements but use it the same way every time, crop and auto adjust. Found you post very interesting. I need to take the time to learn about the program more.

  6. cccrafts
    March 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I like to edit my pictures so they look natural. I have a haed time making sure they don't look too unnatural.

  7. Michelle Tucker
    March 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Great post! My favorite editing trick is strategic cropping. It's amazing what repositioning a focal point will do to a photo.

  8. Michelle
    March 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Great post, informative for every level of computer speciality. I especially thank you for showing us how to "read" the levels graph – I kind-of-sort-of knew how to use it, but now I can much more effectively. What I struggle with most when photographing is simply waiting for the right kind of light … what is best in your experience … sunny, cloudy, or somewhere in between?

  9. Must Create
    March 3, 2013 at 5:39 am

    I like the photo to enhance the subject and that can mean many different settings. I use PSPX5 and do you have any tips for that? It looks like Photoshop in many ways. thanks, judy

  10. sue
    March 3, 2013 at 9:01 am

    My fav editing tip is to use a mask or adjustment layer, so you can go back and fix what you missed first time.
    Thanks for these great tips.

  11. Darma
    March 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    These are great tips, thank you. I've been trying to learn Photoshop for a couple years now, I can do the basics but a problem I have is enlarging a photo without it getting grainy. I can't wait to try your tips, love the idea of a layer with adjustments instead of reinventing the wheel when I mess up!

  12. Linda
    March 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    My favorite editing action is increasing the midtones. It brightens up the whole picture and makes the colors sing. I usually increase the contrast a bit, too. This was a great post, Brandi. Thanks.

  13. Shel
    March 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Great Post Brandi! My favorite editing is sharpening – sometimes I go a bit over board w/that one once I've adjusted the levels you suggested here and it doesn't look as natural. I struggle w/getting too close and my pics coming out blurry in areas I want to focus on. The look I try to go for is clean/crisp, but natural – no matter the background.

  14. Carol D.
    March 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for the post! Lighting is almost always my issue. I can't seem to get enough light and still eliminate shadows I don't want.

  15. Jen Judd
    March 3, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you, Brandi, for the fabulous post! You really know how to make something really overwhelming look simple. I want to make thinks look more drastic or dramatic. I love taking the shapes and tones and trying to make them into something really unique and interesting. I haven't played with PSE for a while…maybe it's time to get out there and work it! Thanks!

  16. CraftyHope
    March 4, 2013 at 2:57 am

    With my professional photos, I struggle with getting a crisp, clear look that shows all the details. At the same time though, I'd love for them to have a little bit of a romantic/shabby feel. Seeeee. . . a struggle to the max! Thank you for the fabulous trick. I've been wanting to up my Photoshop skills for some time and this was a great one. I really appreciate it!

  17. Elaine
    March 4, 2013 at 4:41 am

    I always struggle with focus, clarity in my shop pictures. It's hard to get an interesting shot for thirty sets of beads in a row while keeping non competing backgrounds (white or simple textured)

    At the same time, beads are simple to shoot – they fit easily in my photo box. I have a few dozen larger items I'll be fighting with soon to shoot.

  18. BackstoryBeads
    March 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for a very informative post, Brandi. I use Levels, but never really understood the graph until now. My favorite Photoshop editing tip is to open my photo in Camera Raw and do my initial editing there.

  19. Meadowland Designs
    March 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Bravo Brandi!
    You wrote a fabulous post on one of my favorite photography tricks; the lighting is the first thing that I adjust of my pictures, followed by straightening & creative cropping!

    I will admit that its only recently that I have found my style of photography for jewelry & that deciding the background & lighting was hard.
    Thank you!

    ~ Catherine

  20. Shaiha
    March 6, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I don't really have any tips as I am just now learning. I have been using PicMonkey but I do have elements. Sounds like I need to learn to use it.

  21. Laura
    March 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    My favorite editing trick is adjusting the higlughts, midtones, and shadows.

  22. spawnofflame
    March 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    One of my favorite Photoshop editing techniques is to use screen to brighten a dull image.

    Make a levels adjustment layer, click ok to make no adjustment to the histogram. Change the overlay type to "screen". If the effect is too much, change the opacity of the layer lower.

    Doing this same thing with "multiply" instead of screen will darken an image.

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