Making a photo pop isn’t all that difficult to achieve. Oftentimes, all it takes is a bit of tweaking in your favorite photo editor. While I’m very partial to the Adobe Camera Raw engine, which is used in Camera Raw as well as Lightroom, I’m also fond of Photoshop’s capabilities. With the introduction of adjustment layers in Photoshop, editing photos so they tell a story is so much easier than it’s ever been.
In today’s post, I’m going to show you how to make multiple enhancements to a photograph inside of Photoshop using adjustment layers. While I’m sure you already know all about this technique from reading my previous posts on the topic, I may just throw in a new tip or two here. Also, if you’re not well versed in adjustment layer usage, please take a look at these posts to get caught up.
From what I can gather, tattoos are becoming quite popular. I’m guessing that their popularity doesn’t only stem from their abilities to express, but because some of them look really cool. As far as I’ve seen, the better tattoos have depth to them. That, and vivid color that stands out and creates conversation. With this in mind, I though the following image would be perfect to use for this post.
Right off the bat, I think the picture looks pretty good. Of course, I think I can make it look a bit better. So, for the rest of this post, I’ll be doing just that – making it look better with adjustment layers.
Adding Vibrance & Saturation
Before I begin working on this photo, I want to tell you that any change I make is subject to further tweaking later on as more changes are made. Vibrance and Saturation values are notorious for further edits down the line, as contrast and lighting is altered. Just letting you know that.
Okay, the photo has already been launched into Photoshop and sized on my screen so it fills the entire work area (keyboard shortcut Ctrl+0). To kick things off, I’ll click the Vibrance adjustment layer icon in the Adjustments panel.
My goal here is to add some life to the colors in the skin and the tattoos. If there’s any over saturation in the reds of the shirt, I’ll deal with that later on. In the screenshot below, you’ll see the changes I made to the Vibrance and Saturation sliders. I set the Saturation value to +25 and the Vibrance value to +60.
Are you interested in what the difference between Vibrance and Saturation is when it comes to Adobe Photoshop? Well, if you are, you can check out this post I wrote on the topic:
Adding Conrast Via Curves
The next goal I have for this photo is to add some depth to it. I would like to contrast the arms and hands from the rest of the photo. I want to bring them to the forefront.
One method for doing this is to add contrast to the image. While I could easily use the Contrast slider in the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer, I’m opting to use the Curves adjustment because there’s a simple to use preset in there.
If I click the Preset drop-down box and then select the Increase Contrast option, I’ll get the depth I’m looking for.
After doing this, I’ll also notice that the line on the Curves graph has been automatically altered. I could continue to modify the points on this line by clicking and dragging them if I wanted to, but I’m happy with the way they are, so I won’t touch them.
In a previous section, I mentioned that the reds in the shirt may be slightly oversaturated. In all honesty, they really aren’t too bad, but for the sake of showing you how to deal with this type of thing, I’m going to say they are.
To make the reds in the shirt slightly less red, I’ll first click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel.
Then, I’ll click on the Targeted Adjustment Tool inside of the Hue/Saturation Properties panel.
Once that tool is activated, I can go to any red section of the shirt, click and drag to the left to reduce the saturation level for that particular color.
If you take a look at the Properties panel in the screenshot above, you’ll see that, after I clicked on the oversaturated reds, Photoshop has automatically chosen Reds from the drop-down that sits to the right of the tool I just used, as well as selected the reds in the color slider down at the bottom of this panel. No matter what color I chose, Photoshop would have done the same thing for that specific color.
Also, if I drag left when using this tool, I reduce saturation. If I drag right, it increases it. This is a fast and effective tool to use.
Adding a Soft Light Blend Mode
Don’t worry, this is the second to last adjustment layer I’ll be adding and it’s one of the coolest. For this section, I’ll be using a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer that will be colorized. To start, I’ll click on the Hue/Saturation icon once again in the Adjustments panel. Then, once the new Properties panel opens up, I’ll check the Colorize check box and I’ll move the Hue slider over to the area of the blues.
Now, just a word of warning. When I do this, the colors of the image will drastically change. You might like this look and want to keep it, but since I’m going for a more somber and down to earth appearance, I’m going to continue on with modifying this adjustment layer.
To make things look more normal again, I’ll change the blend mode for this adjustment layer from Normal to Soft Light.
If you remember back to one of my earlier posts, you’ll remember that the Soft Light blend mode is defined as this:
Darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened as if it were burned in. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area, but does not result in pure black or white.
Once I choose this mode, the image will look somewhat normal again.
Again, you may like this look and want to keep it. I’d like to make this latest effect just a tad less noticeable, so I’ll lower the opacity of this adjustment layer to 50%. I’ll use the Opacity slider in the Layers panel to accomplish this.
Adding Some Brightness
Sometimes, after making a bunch of changes like I did in this post, the photo becomes somewhat dark. Also, images can become more dynamic in some areas and less dynamic in others. I’ve found that adding just a tinge of brightness to a photo can help out with this sort of issue, so that’s what I’ll do in this final section.
To add brightness to this image, I’ll click the Brightness/Contrast icon in the Adjustments panel.
Then, once the Properties panel opens up for this adjustment, I’ll slightly nudge the Brightness slider to the right, so the photo is just a bit brighter.
I want to warn you about this slider. It’s nowhere near as good as the Shadows and Blacks sliders in Camera Raw or Lightroom, so don’t get your hopes up. When it says Brightness, it means just that. It’s a blunt instrument, so if you have more detailed changes to make, be sure you make them in one of those other applications.
Want a really neat solution to this little issue?
When I’m finished here, things should be a little more bright.
The Final Photo
As it turns out, I get exactly the look I was going for.
There’s some really nice contrast and depth in this photo and none of the colors are overwhelming. I’d say it looks great. The photo now has some punch.
As you may have guessed, you can make some seriously drastic changes to photographs by taking advantage of adjustment layers. While mine were mild, I’m sure you’ve seen some that were much more bold. Think about music magazines and some of the more edgy areas of our cultures. Personally, I like bold photos, but I keep most of them mild for this site.
Anyway, I hope I clearly explained how you can add contrast, color and depth to a photo using a variety of different adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!