Tag: detail

Improving local contrast in Photoshop

The ability to post-process our own images, that came together with digital photography, has enabled photographers to create images that are closer to the original scene, overcoming the limitations of the camera used to capture the original file. Moreover, with editing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, any person interested in photography can easily apply changes not only on a global scale to the whole picture, but also on a local scale, improving different aspects like for instance luminosity, color saturation, intensity, contrast and detail.

Today I want to focus on these kind of local improvements and I will specifically focus on contrast and detail. The use of local adjustments for these two aspects is particularly important since global adjustments of contrast and/or detail most of the times result in an undesirable increase in noise, especially on flat areas such as the sky or water surfaces.

To illustrate the process, I will use this image of an old house in the beach town of Choroni in Venezuela.


This is a good example since the image has a lot of structure in those parts where the paint has fallen revealing the brick structure as well as on the door and window but still has some flat areas where the walls are still white. If we increased the contrast in the whole image, unwanted noise would appear in those flat areas and for this reason, applying the changes locally is a much better idea.

The first thing we need to do after opening our file in Photoshop is to duplicate the background layer and convert this new layer into black and white. There are different ways to convert an image into black and white, but here I used the basic Photoshop function located in the ‘Adjustments’ panel.


We then merge the two top layers (‘Black & White 1’ and ‘Background copy’ in our example) so that we are left with the background layer and a black and white copy of it. Next, what we need to do is change the blending mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘Hard Light’ in the dropdown menu left to ‘Opacity’.

Blending modes are a really powerful tool in Photoshop, and yet a poorly understood one. This is in principle a consequence of the complexity behind the different blending modes that makes it almost impossible to predict how each photo will look after applying a specific mode. What the blending mode determines is how the active layer will be ‘applied’ to the underlying one. The most basic mode, the ‘Normal’ mode, simply overlays the active layer pixel by pixel according to the selected opacity. Other layers, in turn, apply different pre-defined algorithms depending on different factors such as luminosity or color.

The ‘Hard Light’ blending mode, specifically, modifies the local contrast of the image by darkening those pixels that are darker than 50% gray on the top layer and lightening those that are lighter than 50%. For this reason, after applying the blending mode, we will end up with an image with an exaggerated contrast.


The next step is to apply a high pass filter (Filter -> Other -> High Pass…) to the top layer. Images, same as sound, can be separated by different frequencies. Low frequency areas are those where changes in luminosity or color are only observable when taking a significant number of pixels, whereas high frequency areas are those where changes are observable within a small number of pixels. For instance, borders (window and door frame, the boundary between painted and unpainted areas, etc.) are high frequency areas and thus the high pass (allowing the passage of high frequency components) will leave this areas unchanged while filtering out the low frequency areas.

Now, remember that we are applying this filter to the top layer, meaning that the changes in contrast applied during the blending process described above will only be left in those areas with high contrast in the original image. The strength of the filter will depend on the image you are editing and your personal taste, but as a general rule, something around 10 should be enough. Here, I applied a strength of 8.


Since we want to enhance the contrast and details locally, the next thing to do is to mask the top layer by adding a layer mask and painting it completely black. This can be easily done by pressing the ‘alt’ key while pressing the ‘Add layer mask’ button below the layers tab.

Finally, by changing the foreground color to white and with the layer mask selected, we can paint over the areas where we want to increase the contrast with the desired opacity and that’s pretty much it. You can enhance the contrast without affecting flat areas.


By combining the blending process and the high pass filter, we ensure that the transition between the regions where we apply the effect and those where we don’t is gradual and soft.

As usual, if there is anything that you would like to have further explained, don’t hesitate to contact me. I will be more than happy to help. Have fun!

Here’s how you can bring your sunset images to another level in photoshop.

Recovering blown out images in Lightroom

Fall can be a great time to capture many different looks, because of the constant change in weather and colors. On the day of the photo, I wanted to be able to move around quickly and did not want to lug around a bunch of equipment that would get wet and dirty, so all that I used was my camera and tripod. Only using natural light saved me from having to bring extra gear, but also presented a problem. On this day it was very rainy, misty and foggy which gives me the atmosphere I am looking for, but it often times looks washed out in the raw file. If you have ever shot in fog, you know that it can be hard to capture enough detail in the distance and keep your subject properly exposed. All of the moisture in the air catches the light and often times gives you blown out the part in the image.

In this tutorial I am going to walk you through what you need to know to be able to recover an image in Lightroom, that may be blown out.

1. Temperature

This is what the RAW file looks like straight from the camera. The only difference I made was turning down the temperature slightly, as I had my original at around 5500. Now you may be wondering, how do you know where to set the temperature and in reality I don’t. All of these adjustments are not in an exact order, there is a lot of jumping back and forth, from section to section and tweaking until you find what you like. I turned down the temperature knowing that I wanted a cooler and more moody feeling to the image. I wanted to bring out the cold and lonely feeling of someone in a world of their own.

Before we go to the next step take a look at the Histogram and notice the lack of detail in the sky portion of my image.


2. Exposure

This is where we are going to make the adjustments to be able to recover some of that sky. I mentioned earlier that shooting in this kind of weather becomes hard to expose properly because the dynamic range can be so vast. When I was shooting, my objective was to set my camera so that I could get as much information in one exposure as possible. There were other ways I could have set the camera (like boosting the ISO) to capture more info, but I kept getting the little island blown out, so I stuck with the settings you see (right under the histogram).

I boosted the shadows/blacks and brought down the highlights/whites. I normally would not do such harsh adjustments, but I needed to in this situation, to achieve my end result. If you compare the histogram of the 1st image with the one below, you will notice that not as much of the right side (white/highlights) of the histogram is clipping.

We can now see that there are some clouds in the sky (slight as they may be) and it is not all white, with no information. This is not enough, though, we have information in the sky, but the image looks bland and the color still does not fit the mood we set out to create originally. The next few steps will be more about editing the color.


3. Color

Steps 3,4 and 5 are a peek into some of the color editing decisions I made to pop the subject out at the same time as showing some of the background information we recovered, using the previous steps. I will be doing a color editing tutorial in the future, but in the meantime check out our tutorial for giving your photos a retro feel. In the previous step we recovered the highlight and shadow details, but in the process, we flattened out the image. To fix those adjustments one way to add contrast and color adjustments to your photos, is to use the Tone Curve.


4. Color

Next, I played around the HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance), again just a peek at your own photos will ask for different settings.


5. Split Tone

Then I added more of a cool color to my shadows, using the Split Toning.


6. Final Steps

After getting the color  I was going for, I did some light spot removal and added some noise. I do have to mention that for the color work mentioned above, I did use a preset as a starting point and then tweaked it to fit my needs. If you want some presets to speed up your process or to just get you going in a direction, check out the presets available by Sleeklens.

7. Additional Tips

Like many things, when it comes to editing photos in Lightroom/Photoshop there are many ways to get to the final result. If you need to be more precise using tools like the adjustment brush or graduated filter, it will help you get results to specific areas and not have to worry about affecting the whole image.


8. Conclusion

Remember, the best way to set yourself up for success in your post processing is to have an idea of what you want your final image to look like. Shooting to capture all of the information in the raw file will help you later.