A little thing called Contrast.


Well-Known Member
Feb 20, 2007
Mondeo TDCI
Hey fellow photonuts. :)

Just wanted to share a quick little method i sometimes use to increase contrast in images. It might not be anything new to experienced photoshoppers, but maybe someone can make use of it. It is done by using a very useful tool called Selective Color, which i use on almost every image, to manipulate color or remove or change colorcasts. So instead of going for the Curve tool and mess with S-Curves, i just use the tool i have already open and for me, it can give great results in certain images.

I am using Photoshop CS2 for this tutorial.

Ill start by posting the original image, straight from the camera, downsized for the interweb.


As you can see the clouds were pretty dark over the area but the sun was still shining so i thought it would be perfect to make the sky even more dramatic to bring out the dynamics in the scene. Mind you, the subject and framing of this image didnt turn out the way i wanted, but good enough for a tutorial. :lol:

Method 1 is what i would call the classic S-Curve using the Curve tool in Photoshop which most people know how to do.

Start by clicking on the little Adjustment Layer icon and select Curves..


Then click on the line on the highlight part of the curve tool to make an adjust point and drag it up to increase the highlights. Then click on the lower shadow part of the line to make a point and drag it down to darken the shadow area.


This makes a nice S curved shape which increases contrast over the whole image and looks like this...


This however did not do what i wanted. The sky isnt dramatic enough and the colors are getting too saturated for my liking.

So, we move on to what i wanted to show you, using the Selective Color tool to increase the contrast.

Start by clicking on the little Adjustment Layer icon and select Selective Color..


Then choose Blacks from the dropdown menu at the top, then at the bottom slider where it says Black, drag that all the way to the right. I'm showing and extreme sample here, so you can adjust the slider however you want if you think 100% is too much.


Now pick Whites from the dropdown menu and drag the Black slider all the way to the left.


Hit OK and the results are...


This gives me the dramatic sky i wanted with less color saturation and great overall contrast. However, in some cases, like this, you dont want the contrast to cover the whole image as it makes it overall too dark, so i decided to reduce the contrast effect on the sunny area of the sea, concrete and the boat, but leave the sky as it is.

So what i do is, have the Selective Color layer selected, pick the Brush Tool and adjust the size, opacity and flow for the job. And in case you dont understand how painting on the layer mask works, White Color means 100% Opacity (100% effect) and Black means 0% Opacity (no effect). You can also use a shade of Grey if you only want to have about a 50% effect like i'm going to do here.

Now pick a somewhat middle grey as the active foreground color


Then with the Brush Tool in hand, on the Selective Color layer, just paint the areas you do want to reduce the effect of the contrast we just did. In the image below im in the process of reducing the effect on the sea and stroking the brush from right to left. You can easily see the difference in brightness to the left and right of the brush circle.


So here is the result, with a little unsharp mask applied...


Hope you enjoyed!
Dodge and burn are good for bringing out the clouds.

Yes they are, but also more time consuming in my opinion. What im doing there is basically increasing the level of blacks and whites across the image, which turns out works well on clouds and is done very quickly. You can always dodge and burn aswell to further enhance the effect or if you need better control. This method does not work well on images of flowers for example where rich color is dominant, as there is little of black and whites. There, plain old contrast would be better.

This is basically a quick and dirty way for people that dont have alot of photoshop experience to enhance their image. It was also meant to teach people to paint on layer masks, which can be used on any adjustment layer, like hue/saturation, levels, curves and so on.

jensked, ill see if i can do some more tutorials.