Get that contemporary “Geez, you make me look good!” feel to your digital photographs
It has always amazed me that, with a little Photoshop love, just about anyone can look great. Now, to be clear, am I not referring to air-brushing the heck out of your pictures; removing every blemish and wrinkle. What I am talking about is adding some adjustment layers to tweak the hue/saturation, brightness/contrast and curves a little.
My interest was peaked when friends showed me their engagement and wedding pictures. They (the friends) looked great, and they really aren’t that cool… or sexy, and yet the photographs made them look like a million bucks! Of course there is a lot to be said for composition and lighting, which I won’t get into here, but there was something else going on; some treatment that gave the photographs that “vintage” look. It’s what I would describe as a contemporary equivalent to sepia tinting. This little “how-to” is my quick and dirty way to achieve something like that. I should mention that I am using Photoshop CS3 so I am adding adjustment layers to the file, but you could just as easily get the same result with ‘adjustments’ from the ‘Image’ menu in earlier versions of Photoshop.
Five Simple Steps
- Create ‘Soft Light’ duplicate layer of the original
- Add ‘Curves’ adjustment layer
- Add ‘Brightness/Contrast’ adjustment layer
- Add ‘Hue/Saturation’ adjustment layer
- Create flat color ‘Exclusion’ layer
The Original Image
So here we have the original image, which I am using with permission from Carsten Tolkmit who is a fabulous photographer. If you have a moment, check out his work on either his Flickr Photostream or website.
Step One – Soft Light Layer
First up we make a copy of the original layer and set the blend to Soft Light. I have the layer opacity set to 15% here, but you might want to increase this depending on the image and your taste.
Step Two – Adjustment Layer: Curves
Next up we need an Adjustment Layer which we will use to modify the color. For this we add a Curves Adjustment Layer. This can be found at the bottom of the Layers palette or in the top menu under Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves… I won’t go into the exact input/output values for each channel; suffice it to say that the curves should resemble the image above. Trial and error is the key!
Step Three – Adjustment Layer: Brightness/Contrast
Add a second Adjustment Layer, but this time select Brightness/Contrast… In the example above I have increased the brightness to 58 and the contrast to 28. Again, these numbers may vary depending on the characteristics of the photograph and your personal taste.
Step Four – Adjustment Layer: Hue/Saturation
The final Adjustment Layer that we need will allow us to decrease the overall intensity of the color of the image. Add a new Adjustment Layer and select Hue/Saturation… Here you see that I have dropped the saturation (-28) to give the image a “Faded” or “washed-out” feel to it.
Step Five – Flat Color ‘Exclusion’ Layer
The final step in the process is adding a flat color layer with a strong blue fill. You can experiment with the color for different effects, but for my example the color is R:0 G:0 B:102 (#000066). The opacity is set reasonably low, 19% in this case. Increasing the opacity value will give you the ‘yellowing’ effect of aged photographic paper.
And here is the result. Changing up the values in the adjustment layers can give you a multitude of interesting results, and I encourage you to experiment. Anyway this should give you a good starting point.