Control colour and contrast
Make your images more unique by approaching everyday image styles in unconventional ways
When was the last time you watched a movie and the colours and tones looked just the way they do in real life? When was the last time you looked at an image and wondered what processing had been applied to achieve its look and feel? Chances are it was fairly recently; I’d even be bold enough to say that the use of colour and contrast were behind both of those situations.
Controlling colour and contrast are two of the most fundamental adjustments you can make to images, but they’re also two of the most important. Not only do they control the overall appearance of an image, they can also influence mood. Too much or too little can make an image look, well, wrong.
We’re going to explore four techniques that control, to varying degrees, both colour and contrast. These effects can be applied to a range of different shots ranging from landscapes to portraits, and even applied individually or stacked together, depending on the overall look you’re aiming for.
The most effective way to boost contrast in your images is to use Curves. Simply create a Curves Adjustment Layer and click on three quarters of the way up the Curve line and drag up and to the left to place a point. Now do the same a quarter of the way up, but drag down and to the right – this should create an S-shape. If the saturation looks too high afterwards, set the layer’s Blending Mode to Luminosity.
A quick and easy way to add a strong amount of slightly desaturated contrast is to create a Black & White Adjustment Layer. When the dialog box opens, simply leave all settings at their defaults and close the box. Now change the Blending Mode from Normal to Multiply and colour will return to the image alongside strong contrast. If the contrast is too strong, reduce the Opacity setting for the layer.
As well as adding a subtle blur to images, this technique also smooths tones and increases saturation. Simply create two copies of the Background layer and click on the top one. Add Gaussian Blur at 25 to this Layer and set the Blending Mode to Multiply. Set the Blending Mode of the middle layer to Screen. Lighten the image if necessary and group the two layers before lowering their overall Opacity.
L ookup tables
Lookup tables, or LUTs, are a way of adding colou-grading effects to video and still images. Photoshop has a number of pre-installed LUTs that can be used to give your shots a more cinematic look and feel. Create a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer; when the dialog box opens, click on Abstract and select an option from the dropdown menu. Adjust Opacity to refine the effect.