Con­trol colour and con­trast

Make your images more unique by ap­proach­ing ev­ery­day image styles in un­con­ven­tional ways

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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.

Stan­dard con­trast

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.

In­tense con­trast

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.

Or­ton ef­fect

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.

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