So you wonder what makes some images look more "professional" than others? I wondered the same thing for a long time until I finally found the secret. And that secret is the magic use of contrast. If you shoot in RAW (and I hope you do for many various reasons that we shall discuss in another topic) then you probably notice that the images come out looking rather flat. In my opinion, this is a good thing. If the photos came straight out of the camera with too much contrast applied, then you run the risk of having blown out highlights or loss of detail in the shadows. As wedding photographers, we cannot have that because some of the main colors we shoot are white (wedding dress) and black (tuxedo). So, today I am going to show you how to add contrast to your wedding photos without losing detail in your highlights and shadows. I am even going to throw in a bonus tip at the end of the article, so make sure and keep reading.
First, we need an image. I am assuming that you have already color-corrected your image and performed the necessary retouches. First thing we need to do is open the image in Photoshop. I am currently using CS5, but CS2 and up should work fine.
You will want to duplicate your original layer. A quick way to do this is to click on the original layer and press control + J (windows), or command + J (mac). This will duplicate the selected layer. Now that you have two of the same layers, we are going to focus on the top layer. Let's go ahead and name that layer. I find that this is a great practice and recommend you add naming your layers to your workflow. I am going to name mine "contrast".
After we name our layer, we need to change the blending mode of this layer. If you look right above the layer named "contrast" you will see a drop down box that says "Normal". We want to click on this and select "Soft Light". Once you do this you will immediately notice that the image has a lot more contrast. In fact, it has too much and does not look that good.
In order to make the photo look better we now need to lower the contrast a bit. We can do this by lowering the opacity of the "contrast" layer. I usually set my opacity to around 60%, or so. This is a subjective change and you can fine-tune this to your likings.
Because we have added contrast, we have essentially boosted our highlights and shadow areas. What we need to do is make sure that our contrast layer does not affect these highlights and shadow areas. We will do that by opening the layer properties and changing the way the layer blends the gray tones. Open up the layer properties by double-clicking on the "contrast" layer. Once the layer properties box is open you will need to adjust the "Blend if: Gray" value so that our "contrast" layer does not affect the highlights and shadows, within a certain range that we specify.
We want to move the slider on the black (left) side, to the right until the first number next to "This Layer:" is 10. After that hold down the ctrl (Windows), or command (Mac), while you are still hovering over the same slider and start moving it to the right, even more, until the second number is 30. You will notice that this will split the slider
into two. What this is doing is blending the shadows so that there is not an abrupt change in the tonal value, for this would not look verypleasing. Do the same thing to the white (right) slider until the numbers are (from left to right) 225 and 245. So from left to right from the "Blend if: Gray", we have 10 / 30 225 / 245. Essentially, what we have done is tell the layer not to change any of the highlight or shadow values in a certain range and to also blend the values that we did change with the ones from the original background layer.
It is time to evaluate our work. Turn off the "Contrast" layer and look at how much different our image looks now. The image has great contrast without damaging our highlights or shadow detail and it looks more professional. Great job!
Thanks for reading!
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