By David Rosenthal.
Often a very good photo is ruined because it lacks "pop". This is a way of saying that the image looks flat and boring.
I'm going to use this image to show how to quickly add pop to your flat images. Yes, there are many ways to do this, but we're going to go over a very simple and basic first few steps.
Before we start, let's talk about why this image is flat. First, the image is not using the full range of values that are available. This means nothing is black, and nothing is white. It's all stuck in this sort of gray no man's land.
We're going to fix that.
(NOTE: If you want to follow along with this tutorial, click on the image to get the large size, and then drag to your desktop. You can then use that file to follow along. To get back here, click on the tutorial title in the breadcrumb, above.)
First, let's get ready.
If you go to your Photoshop preferences, you'll see an option for Cursors. Select that option, and the window will open up, giving you many options. We're just going to worry about this one: change your cursors from Standard to Precise.
OK. Now we need to find the black point and the white point.
We do that by using Image>Adjustments>Threshold. This dialog pops up.
Slide the control all the way to the left, until everything is white, and then slowly move it to the right.
You'll start to see little pixels of black show up. Ignore these, as they aren't relevant yet. We're not looking for the absolute blackest pixels, we're looking for the first area of deep, deep shadows that is a recognizable thing.
So, as we move on, the next area that shows up is the man's shirt. Place a marker in the white here, too. Remember: shift-click. Why do we select this area? Because it is the first significant area of visible white. When you're done, CANCEL Threshold. We're done using it, and don't want to leave our image looking like this. NOTE: When you're ready to get rid of those pesky little markers, here's what you need to do: make sure you're in the eyedropper tool (or Curves or Threshold), and option-shift-click (alt-shift-click, PC) on each of them. The cursor will look like a little scisssors, and will remove the markers.
By default, this eyedropper is set to the blackest black possible. We don't want this, we're going to work with it at R7G7B7. So in the R,G, and B fields change the values to 7.
You make this change once. Later you'll save this setting, so it'll be there the next time you use the dropper.
Now you're ready to mark the black point. The black eyedropper should still be selected. Place your cursor directly over the marker you left before on the man's hat. You'll know that it's directly on top of the marker when the cursor disapears.
Click on that spot, and you've got your black point set.
Click OK in the curves dialog, and you'll be asked if you want to save the new target colors as defaults. Select Yes.
Now we're going to set the white point.
Create another adjustment layer for the white point. Remember, Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves.
When the curves dialog opens, double-click on the white eyedropper, and set the values for white at R247G247B247.
Making sure the white point eyedropper is still seleccted, click on the 2nd marker that you left, on the man's shirt.
Again, click OK in the curves dialog, and save the new target colors as default.
It's looking much better, eh?
What we've done so far is to make sure that this image is using the full range of values that are available: from black to white.
But we can do better.
Take a look at the curves dialog here. There is a line running at 45°. This is the curve. When it's straight it's telling you that what goes in, is what comes out. The curve is not changing any values.
The most basic concept in curves is that you want the steepest part of the curve to be in the area of interest. Contrast gets our attention. But in order to steepen the curve in one section, it has to be flattened in another. So all moves in curves come at a cost. You are drawing attention to one area at the expense of another.
In the case of this image, the focus of our interest is the man's face. So that is where we want to have the most contrast.
I've place markers on his face to show the shadow and highlights of his face. This is where I would make my adjustments. You don't need to place markers, as I did; they are there just for illustration.
What you do want to do is open up a new curves adjustment layer. With curves open, cmd-click (ctl-click, PC) on the two points that you want to target. They should be at the dark and light ends of the range that you want to add contrast to. In this case, the shadow and highlight of his cheek.
So now you've got two new points in your curve.
All you need to do now is to make the line between the two steeper. Experiment with it, and see what looks good to you.
This type of a curve is called an S Curve, for it's shape. It's the most basic of curves.
The top point in my curves here is the cheek highlight, and the lower on is the shadow of the cheek. By making the shadow a little darker (draggin it down) and the highlight a little lighter (dragging it up), I've increased the contrast in the tonal range of the man's face.
As you go along, it helps to label your work in a way that you will understand if you ever come back to the file at a later date.
Here are my layers that I created for this tutorial, as an example.
You can discuss or ask questions about this tutorial on Digital Grin.