2 Steps to Snappy Pictures

Seattle can be a dreary place – you may have heard.  The overcast gives an even light that can be good for portraiture, but when it gets too dark out, you often end up with flat light.  However you get it, flat light makes boring pictures.  Simple as that.  A while back, I put up this technique (or at least linked to it) on how to add some pop to a picture that needs something extra.  It works well, but it takes a little while.  There are more than a few steps.  It involves brushes and such.  When you need it, great.  But what if you want something easier?  There are a couple caveats, but once again, I’ve stolen something I can help you with.  Let’s start from the start:


Wanna see how this picture gets at least marginally more interesting?  Click the jump for more.  I promise it’s easy!

Alright – here are the caveats.  Look at the picture.  It’s… lacking, but not lacking everything.  The focus is pretty good.  It has some colors in it and the subject is at least kinda separate from the background.  These things help.  Using pictures of people works great with this technique, but I don’t like putting people on the internets without their say-so, so you get newspaper boxes.  Second caveat – I don’t know how to do anything in Photoshop, but I know where to find people who do.  This technique is courtesy of the Photoshop Hero (who is what he says).  Got that out of the way?  Onward!

0.  Ok… so the first thing wrong with this puppy is that the contrast is just horrible.  In Photoshop, Image -> Auto Contrast. Let’s call that step 0 – barely even counts.

1.  Here’s the magic.  First make sure our colors are black and white.  Do this by hitting D on your keyboard.  Now it’s time to add a Gradient Map Layer.  You do this by either clicking Layer -> Adjustment Layer -> Gradient Map -> Ok or by clicking the little half black, half white circle on the bottom of the Layers panel and then choosing Gradient Map.  I know your image just got all black and white on you – don’t sweat it!


2.  With the Gradient Map layer selected, change the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 50%.  Starting to look good.


3.  Last step is to sharpen.  Click back on your background layer and choose your sharpening method of choice.  In the newest versions of Photoshop, that would probably be Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpen. Older versions will probably be stuck with Unsharp Mask which takes a little more work.  Inside Smart Sharpen, just play around until you’re happy.  Depending on the image, you’re probably talking about 1-2 pixels and 100-150%, but it all depends.  If you’re happy, I’m happy!

All done!  How’d we do?

Newspaper boxes, after editing

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Ok… that’s three steps plus step zero, but it is essentially two.  I swear.  I think that looks a lot better, and once you’ve done it once or twice, you can bust it out in about 30 seconds, so there isn’t much of a reason not to experiment and see what looks good.

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