A primary goal with photography and photo editing is to add drama to an existing scene. This is why so many of us look to lighting and position to make things look so much better when we’re in the field. When we’re in front of the computer editing the shots we’ve taken, it’s all about adding or subtracting contrast, color and sharpness or blur. Basically, we want to make our photos pop and we’ll do what we need to do to make that happen.
In today’s post, I’m going to demonstrate how to add some additional drama to an already great shot. To start out, we know that converting a color photo to black and white completely changes the feel of the image. Then, if we can add some focal points in the photo by blurring other, no so important, areas, so much the better. Finally, adding some grain to a photo oftentimes gives it a certain feel. The end result should be totally different in many respects. The image will have gone from an accurate flat representation of what exists in reality to something with much more depth and more of what’s in someone’s imagination. That’s the look we want.
The Original Photo
This is the original photo. It’s looks pretty good, in my opinion. The issue with it is that it’s somewhat boring. There’s no feeling to it. As I mentioned above, it’s really just a picture of what’s going on; an antique piece of machinery in an empty factory. It doesn’t tell a story. I’d like to change that.
In the next few steps, I’ll see if I can add some life to this photo.
Converting to a Smart Object
Since I’ll be using Camera Raw to perform some edits to this photo, I’ll need to convert the image to a Smart Object. I already have this image opened up in Photoshop, so making the conversion is very simple. All I need to do is to right-click on the photo layer in the Layers panel and, from the menu that appears, click on Convert to Smart Object.
Once I click this menu item, I’ll see that the layer is no longer considered the Background layer and that it now has the small Smart Object icon in the lower right corner of the layer thumbnail.
Adjusting the Tone & Converting to Black & White
Now that the image is a Smart Object, I can easily pass it over to Camera Raw for some editing. The reason I’d like to use Camera Raw is because I already have a preset over there that will take care of most of my tonal corrections. I can also make the black and white conversion there as well; that tool is quite powerful.
To launch this image into Camera Raw for editing, I’ll need to click the Filter > Camera Raw Filter menu item in Photoshop.
Once I do that, Camera Raw will open up in its own window.
Once I’m in Camera Raw, I’ll click on the Presets tab and then I’ll click on my saved preset.
This is what the output will look like after I apply my go-to preset.
After I do that, I’ll click over into the HSL/Grayscale panel inside of Camera Raw and check the Convert to Grayscale box. Here’s the output after I do that.
That looks pretty good, but I’d like to make one more change while I’m still in Camera Raw. The image looks a little bright to me and that brightness isn’t offering the somber feel that I’m going for. I’ll compensate for this by heading into the Basic panel and pushing the Exposure slider to the left a bit. Doing this should darken and add some depth to the photo. I’ll also add some Contrast and Clarity in Camera Raw as well. Pushing these two sliders almost all the way to their limits should give me the eerie, abandoned look I want.
And here’s the image after all those changes have been applied.
To apply the changes and to jump the image back to Photoshop, I’ll head down to the lower right corner of Camera Raw and click the OK button.
Adding Some Grain to the Image
The next effect I’d like to add to this photo is to make it look old and haunted. To get this effect, I’ll use the Noise filter in Photoshop. I’ll head up to the Filter > Noise > Add Noise Menu item and click.
When I do this, the Add Noise dialog box will appear.
I’ll set the Amount slider to 20% and I’ll be sure to select the Gaussian and Monochromatic options. Gaussian is a nice even distribution of grain and since this is already a grayscale image, the Monochromatic option seems to make sense. To apply this filter, I’ll click the OK button.
After this is finished, I’ll notice there are a few Smart Filters applied to the layer in the Layers panel. The first one is the Add Noise filter and the second is the Camera Raw Filter.
Since the Add Noise filter is somewhat overwhelming, I can make that one less intrusive by applying a blend mode to only the noise filter. To accomplish this, I’ll double-click on the small icon that’s located on the right side of the Add Noise filter layer in the Layers panel. Doing this will open the Blending Options dialog box. I’ll select Soft Light from the drop-down menu and then click OK to apply this blend mode. Remember, only the Add Noise filter layer will have this blend mode to it. Not any other layers.
Just so you know, if you’re making your way through a project similar to this, you can also apply a blending option to the Camera Raw Filter layer as well. That might offer some cool effects. Give it a try.
Adding Some Blur
The final effect I’d like to add to this image is some blur. I already know what I want too. I’d like to see an oval that’s clear and have everything else sort of blurry. Not crazy blurry, but just enough to distinguish the machine in the foreground from everything else in the background. To achieve this look, I’ll go back up to the top menu and select the Filter > Blur Gallery > Iris Blur menu item.
When I do this, an entirely new panel will open that includes all the iris blur options. I’ll make my selections and when I think the image looks good, I’ll click the OK button up in the top options bar.
If you’re interested in the specifics of how to add a blur effect to a photo, be sure to click through the link above the previous screenshot. The details are all in that post.
Now let’s take a look at the final edited photo.
I’d say that look pretty good. The image definitely tells a story now. There were a lot of different ways I could have taken this and the best part of the entire project is that I can still make any change I want. Since I started this project off by transforming the photo into a Smart Object, all I need to do is double-click on any Smart Filter to open the related editing box. I can save this file out as a Photoshop file and work on it and make changes to it any time I want. I edited it in a completely non-destructive manner.
Here’s a before and after shot for you.
The before shot looks like it was taken on some random Wednesday afternoon, while the after shot looks like it was taken on Halloween during a horror film. Mission accomplished.
I hope I clearly demonstrated how to go about using Smart Filters to make edits to a photo in Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!