Photo Tweaking Tutorial #1

When you first dive into the world of Photoshop tutorials for photography, you will notice that there is an almost infinite library of styles and methods that you can use to manipulate your photography. It can be quite overwhelming; you won’t know where to start! My advice is to start small. Make small enhancements to your photos that get you used to how PS works. If you already know PS, then it’s easy to progress to more advanced styling of your images fairly quickly.

I think an important thing to do when you start is find a style that suits you. There are many methods you could use to process your images, but you need to find something that suits you and photo’s you take. I think after 4 months I have finally found a style that I like for my photo’s, but that’s not to say that I will always process my images in this way. It’s a starting place, somewhere where I can focus on and develop a technique and then move onto something else. I find this is the best way to avoid being completely overwhelmed by the options available to you.

I am going to post several of these little tutorial posts every couple of weeks, which will outline a good method for enhancing your photographs in some way. For the first one (that’s this one) I’m going to quickly enhance the colours and details of a small picture, using two simple methods in Photoshop. They are quick and easy, and can be applied to just about any picture, but the outcome with depend on the image you’ve taken ;)

You can’t polish a turd

Despite all the tutorials in PS though there is important lesson that I have learnt in my short photography experience so far, that will always be true. As awesome as Photoshop is (and it is) nothing, and I do mean nothing will compensate for a crap photo. If your picture is crap before you start, then no amount of PS work will save it, and I’m not talking about over exposure or an ugly subject here (as that can be fixed), I’m talking about blurry, out of focus, boring photos that will simply look like a polished turd once your done. Photoshop deals purely with pixels, and so if your picture sucks from the outset your will be on the back foot before you even start.

That said though, don’t let that deter you from snapping away at anything & everything you think might make a good picture, because until you get it onto your PC screen, you will never know; its all about the 2% that make it :)

Lab colour mode and high pass filtering

So this is going to be my first actual tutorial that I’ve ever written; I hope it doesnt suck! If at least one person finds this useful in some way I’ll be happy :)

The focus of this first tutorial will be to make two simple adjustments to a photograph using two methods called Lab Colour Mode and High Pass Filtering. This is the image we are going to enhance:


This is our image that we will enhance (click to download)

And this is how it will look once we’re done:

Our final image

Our final image

The first thing we are going to do is enhance the colour in this image, which means using Photoshop’s Lab Colour mode.

Lab Colour Mode

Photoshop can run in several colour “modes”, which enable you to manipulate the colours of the image in various ways. By default PS will run in RGB mode, which means all the pixels on the image are based on a variant of Red, Green and Blue. This is how your TV & monitor works. Other modes are designed to work for different types of media, for instance CMYK is designed to work with images for print, as these are the colours that printers use.

Within the Lab Colour mode you have three channels; Lightness, A and B. The lightness channel will deal only with the lightness in the image, without altering the colours in anyway. This type of channel does not exist within RGB mode for instance, whereby the lightness of the image is intertwined with the colours of the image. The A and B channels deal with the colour in the image, with the A channel controlling the greens and magenta’s, and the B channel managing the blues and yellows. Thinking this is sounding complicated? Don’t worry, it isn’t!

Step #1

Download the original image above and open it up in Photoshop (I’m using CS4 here, but this will also work in CS3. I’ve never used anything lower than CS3 so i’m not sure about anything lower than that). The first thing about Photoshop that you must get your head round is the concept of layers. Photoshop works entirely around this system, which involves breaking up an image into multiple layers that sit on top of each other. You can see this if you go to the “Windows” menu and select the “Layers” option. The dialog that appears will then show you the layers in the current project. At this point, you should only have one layer, like this:

the layers pallette

The layers pallette

A good tip in PS is to keep a copy of any layers you work on, so that you can revert back to it if you need to. We can make a copy of the layer in the layers pallette by right clicking the layer and selecting “Duplicate Layer“. Accept the dialog box that appears, and you should then have two identical layers. The little eye to the left of each layer represents its visiblity on the canvas. If you click the eye icon for both layers you will notice that your image becomes blank. For now though, we only want our new layer to be visible, so click the eye on the “Background” layer so that’s its not visible.

Step #2

In order to edit the colours of the image, we need to switch Photoshop into Lab Colour mode, which we can do via the “Image” menu by going to Image > Mode > Lab Colour:

Switch PS into Lab Colour mode

Switch PS into Lab Colour mode

At this point you will get a dialog box asking you if you want to “Merge your layers“. This means that all the layers in your layers pallete will be merged into a single layer. We dont want this to happen, as we have a copy of our layer to revert back to if we want to, so make sure you click “Don’t merge“:

don't merge layers

Don't merge layers

You will not notice any difference to your image but dont worry! All we have done is change how Photoshop deals with colours in your image; we havent made any changes to them yet! That’s the next step :)

Step #3

We are going to use something called “Curves” to alter the colours in the image, which involves manipulating a graph of the colour gradients to get the colours we want. It sounds quite daunting, but if you know how to go about it its really simple! In order to do this, we need to load the “Curves” dialog; do this by going to Image > Adjustments > Curves:

loading the curves dialog

Loading the curves dialog

You should see the following dialog box appear:

the curves dialog

The curves dialog

You can see the three lab colour channels in the drop down box above the curve graph; Lightness, A and B. We will only be editing the curve in channels A and B. Firstly, select channel A from the drop down and you will see the two small squares in the graph in the top right and bottom left. These are called Anchors, and we are going to drag them inward slightly to change the contrast of the colours in the A channel, like the image below:

move the achors in the top right and bottom left inward slightly

Move the achors in the top right and bottom left inward slightly

Make sure when you do this that you move both anchors in the same amount on each side. As you move the anchor points, you will see the image on the canvas changing colour. The more you move the anchors inwards, the more vivid the colours for this channel will become, so dont over-do it! When you have moved the anchor points in for the A channel, select the B channel from the drop down list and do the same again with the anchor points, dragging them inward slightly.

When you have done this for both the channels, click the OK button on the curves dialog. Below you can see how the colours have been enhanced compared to the original:

before and after we changed the colour curves

Before and after we changed the colour curves

As you can see the colours are much more pronounced after we have changed the curves in Lab Colour mode. Its very easy however to go a tad overboard when changing the Curves graph, so make sure you dont make the colours too over saturated; i.e. dont bring the anchors inward too far.

Step #4

Stage one of our little image tutorial is now done, but there is still something we can do to make this image slightly better. The woman’s hair is slightly blurry, and we can use a technique called High Pass Filtering to bring out the detail. This technique works especially well on hair, but can be used on anything to help bring out detail. Dont be afraid to try these techniques out on varying types of photographs to see what results you get; you never know, you might hit on something that looks truly awesome!

Before we make any further changes though we want to change PS back to RGB mode, so go back to your Image menu and go to Image > Mode > RGB Colour:

Switch PS back to RGB mode

Switch PS back to RGB mode

Remember again to click “Don’t Merge” layers when prompted.

In our layers pallette we should now have two layers; our original layer that we made right at the start as a backup, and our colour enhanced layer. At this point you can make a descision; if you think you have overdone the colour adjustments in the curves dialog you can blend it with the original to tone the colours back down again. This is as simple as altering the opacity value in the layers dialog of the colour enhanced layer, to bring the original colours back through slightly.

Almost all of the tweaking you will do in Photoshop revolves around how your layers interact with each other. Layers literally work on the concept of whatever is in the top layer will be visible over everything else, but you can alter that top layer to allow the layers below to be visible using Blend Modes and Opacity.

For instance, if you had two layers and the top layer was set to an Opacity of 50%, you would be able to see the layer underneath it coming through. The lower you set the Opacity of the top layer, the more of the layer beneath will show through. This is what you can do in this instance with your two layers.

Firstly make sure that your original (bottom) layer has the Eye icon to its left so that it is visible on the canvas. Then select your enhanced colour layer that we altered, and click on the Opacity slider at the top of the layers pallette:

change the opacity of the layer with the slider

Change the opacity of the layer with the slider

Making sure you have the top layer selected, move the slider to the left until you have the amount of colour you require in your image. Dont go down too far though, or you will end up basically where you started!

Once you have got a level of colour you are happy with, we will flatten the image. This means merging all the layers in your image into a single layer. In top right of the layers pallette you will see a small down arrow next to some lines. Click that icon and you will get a drop down menu. From that drop down menu select “Flatten Image“:

click the drop down and select flatten image

Click the drop down and select flatten image

After this you will see that you have one layer in the layers pallette. We now need to duplicate this layer for our High Pass filter! Right click on your layer and click “Duplicate Layer”. Again, accept the dialog and you will see a duplicate layer appear.

Step #5 – High Pass Filter

What we are going to do now is do a  High Pass filter on the image, which we will then blend with the layer below to bring out more detail. Making sure you have the top layer selected, click on Filter > Other > High Pass:

Select the high pass filter option

Select the high pass filter option

You will see a dialog box appear, within which you will see a very distorted version of your image layer and a value box. Set the value of the filter to 2.0 and click the OK button:

Set the high pass filter to 2px

Set the high pass filter to 2px

You will see that your top layer is now a funny mish-mash of grey-ish colours, but dont worry as we are going to blend this with the layers below in a way that will provide really nice results! However, we have one job to do first. We dont want the whole image to be enhanced, only the womans hair. This means that we have to start erasing the layer using the eraser tool, from all the areas that we dont want to enhance.

Step #6

Making sure you have the top layer selected, click the eraser tool on the left hand side (or you can press E on your keyboard) and start erasing the layer around the woman. Start roughly at first, like below. (quick tip: you can use the [ and ] keys on your keyboard to change the size of your eraser. This also works for any brushes you use in PS)

Erase the high pass layer around the womans hair

Erase the high pass layer around the womans hair

Once you have a rough outline around the womans hair, make your brush smaller using the [ key, and start to refine it. Make sure you also erase around the womans ear so that you literally just cover her hair. Use the Zoom tool to get really close in for better accuracy (the zoon tool is the magnifying glass towards the bottom of the icons on the left hand side. You can double click it to zoom back out again). Once you are done it should look something like this:

Refine the high pass layer with a smaller eraser brush

Refine the high pass layer with a smaller eraser brush

Step #7

Once you are happy with your layer, go back to your layers pallette and look for the blend mode drop down at the top of the pallette. Currently the option selected will be “Normal” but we want to change this blend mode to something that will bring out the detail in her hair. In this instance we will be using the “Vivid Light” blend mode, which will bring out the lighter elements and ignore the dark elements from our High Pass layer, and blend them with the layer below.

change the blend mode to vivid light

Change the blend mode to vivid light

The hair should then look a lot more refined and detailed, like this:

Before and after the high pass filter

Before and after the high pass filter

I reccomend you have a play with the other Blend Modes, just so you get an idea for how they work. Its quite hard to explain some of the them, but if you have a play you will learn much quicker than reading anything I post to try and explain it.

So there you have it! Two simple quick techniques that you can apply to images to bring out more colour and detail! Here is our final image compared with the original:

Before and after our PS tweaks

Before and after our PS tweaks

Experiment with as many images as you can, and you will soon be able to assess what will work for an image and what won’t; its literally all down to just having a play and seeing what results you get. 99% of the time you wont know how good the result will be until you actually do it!

Hope this post was useful! I’m not entirely sure what my next one will be one, but there will be more!

Our final image

Our final image

Shed :)


~ by the2percent on April 23, 2009.

8 Responses to “Photo Tweaking Tutorial #1”

  1. Very interesting mate. I certainly prefer the image before the High Pass filter is applied, but it is definitely a much more vibrant result.

    Improvements are definitely visible in the face and hair. I’ve never really messed with Photoshop for Photograph Enhancing so would be interested to give it a go.

  2. u have gotten your wish – i really like this post (ive added it to my delicious bookmarks for future reference) and im looking fwd to more tutorials.

    ive not used photoshop for much more than adding watermarks and horizon alignment (im learning to take good pics bf diving into the digital manipulation bit of things). but im eager to learn more abt what can be done with this s/w. so yay to me for finding this blog!

  3. Thanks, enjoyed the tutorial very much, bookmarked. More tuts please.

  4. I was inspired to grab a preview copy of PS and try this, and the first photo i had a go on was one from my wedding, i applied the HDR to the whole picture as i didnt see where detail would be more beneficial. The window, benches and the robed guy in the middle all seemed good targets. BEFORE AFTER

    The photo definatley seemed improved, however im sure if i was more picky with my HDR it might have been ever better :)

  5. […] I also have a basic tut up on my blog for tweaking colour and enhancing detail which you can find here Il root out some nice tuts etc on here a little later on __________________ —- Multiplay […]

  6. […] high pass it to bring out the detail in the stones. I did a quick tut on this process a while back which you can find here. Have a play and see what you get! Nice tho __________________ If you're asking a Multiplay […]

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