Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Main image

Cherngyo asked about how can I create the third evening photo in the Evening Photography set, so I’ve took some time to create this tutorial :) I hope you’ll like it! Anyway unlike the previous tutorials, I’m not going to embed full-sized screenshots in this post, but embed thumbnails so you can view them in the lightbox whenever you need it. I guess it saves up a lot of space and loading time!

A short and sweet summary for this tutorial – you can now bring out the details from darkened areas of an underexposed photos, and also artifically increase the dynamic range (pseudo-HDR, anyone?) using the colour dodge and colour burn blending options in Photoshop.

Oh, and this tutorial includes a sample download as well – happy experimenting! :D

The tutorial continues after the read more tag… you know, I hate to clutter up my homepage. Yes, go ahead and call me a perfectionist! Teehee.

Step 1 – Open the photo in Photoshop

I guess this is the easiest step! Just drag and drop the photo from its original folder into your workspace, or you can use the old classic method of opening it through the windows menu.

Step 2 – Create new layer

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Create new layer, \'Colour Burn\' Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Change blending options to \'Colour Burn\'

You don’t want to directly edit your precious photo – it’s always safe to leave in untouched (so in case you regretted a massive edit and couldn’t revert back to the original state, just delete the layer will do). At the layers tab, click on the icon with a folded corner to add a new layer. Rename it to Colour Burn (or anything you like) – see first screenshot (left). And finally, access the Blending Options menu and change the default Normal to Colour Burn – see second screenshot (right).

Anyway, this is Adobe Photostop’s description for the blending mode Colour Burn:

Colour Burn looks at the color information in each channel and darkens the base color to reflect the blend color by increasing the contrast. Blending with white produces no change.

Step 3 – Darkening the sky

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Change foreground colour to \'#999999\' Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Create the first gradient

Now what you’ll need to do is actually to darken the sky a little (to create a dramatic effect). The blending option of Colour Burn allows you to do that, but you’ll need to ge the foreground colour correct first. The default black (#000000) will be too dark, so I stuck to a lighter colour of #999999. Of course you can use any colour you desire – if you want to give it a red tinge, you can use dark red or something. I’m using greyscale colour because I didn’t want to change the colour information. You can do a little experimenting with it before you move on.

To create a gradient, pick the gradient tool (if you can’t find it, it’s most probably replaced by the Paintbucket tool – click on it to change it). Make sure that the gradient style is foreground colour fading to transparency (see second screenshot), and then while pressing the Shift key (so as to draw a perfectly vertical gradient), click-drag your cursor from the top to the point where you want to darkening to stop. For this example image, I stopped above the roof height of the nearby buildings.

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After creating the first gradient Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After creating the first gradient - Original

If you you have done it correctly, this is what you should get (thrid screenshot shows what you’ll see in Photoshop and the fourth shows the (cropped) modified image up to this step) – a darkened sky fading towards a lighter colour as it approaches street level. DO NOT drag the gradient beyond street level because that will black out the details you wanted later.

Step 4 – Darkening the street

This adds to the overall dramatic effect of the image, and it also vignettes the image. Since the street is already quite dark on its own, it will be better if we use a lighter foreground colour to do the colour burning. To ensure a safe ‘rollback’ in case something bad happens, create a new layer again and rename it to whatever you adore. I’ve selected #dedede for the foreground colour, and in order to complement the perspective distortion of the street, we will slant the gradient towards the left a little (see second screenshot).

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Change foreground colour to \'#dedede\' Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Create the second gradient

And you’ve done it correctly, here is what you should expect to see:

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After creating the second gradient Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After creating the second gradient - Original

Step 5 – Brightening foreground objects

Now you’ve done the darkening part. If you’ve noticed, the foreground objects look a little too dark – that’s because of the under-exposed nature of the photo. It’s always possible to pull out details for darkened areas, but conversely, it’s harder for us to get details out of whitewashed areas. So the rule of thumb for general photography is that it’s always better to under-expose than to over-expose a photo.

Since there’s no solid areas to be brightened in the image, we’ll use the brush tool instead of the gradient tool. And before we do that, you’ll need to create another new layer above all layers (I named it Colour Dodge) and set the blending mode to Colour Dodge (see screenshot) – you don’t want to brighten an area and find out later than the layers with colour burn is darkening them, nullifying your effort. And here is Adobe Photoshop’s definition for Colour Dodge:

Colour Dodge looks at the color information in each channel and brightens the base color to reflect the blend color by decreasing the contrast. Blending with black produces no change.

Now you’re ready for the exciting part where you can put your creativity into good use. Get the brush tool (see screenshot). The default brush styling is a solid brush with a diameter of 1px. Don’t stick to that – you do not want to create blotchy bright areas in your images. You’ll need to customise your brush tool – click on the brush tool toolbar, and there will be a dropdown list of all types of brushes available – select the ones with softedges, and depending on the resolution of your image, select the diameter of the brush. Maybe this screenshot can clear things up a little :)

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Paint over dark areas of image Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Paint over dark areas of image - Original

We will change the foreground colour, yet again. Do not opt for pure white unless you know what you’re doing (try using white and see what happens, if you’re curious). We’ll select a darker shade of white, #9a9a9a perhaps. Feel free to experiment with other shades of colours! After that, hover your cursor (now a brush tool) over the image and paint at areas where you want to brighten. It’s okay if you accidentally run your brush over the areas you don’t want to brighten – you can erase those extra strokes later.

Step 6 – Cleaning Up

You’ll most probably be complaning now – oh, I’ve painted over the wrong places in the image and not some areas are accidentally colour-dodged even if I have nagivated my cursor around the canvas carefully. No worries, there is always something called the eraser tool. This is when the separate layer for colour dodge comes into play. Imagine this – you’ve painted the wrong places over and over again but it’s permanently on the image. This means that you’ll have to start all over again! With a separate layer for the brightening effect, you can use the eraser tool to wipe away brush strokes that you don’t want.

Grab the eraser tool, choose a soft edged one and adjust the diameter accordingly. If you want to erase huge areas, use a larger diameter so you wouldn’t need to wave your mouse like mad. If you want to erase small bits of it, try zooming in and use a really really small brush. It’s a little bit of digital darkroom work, but believe me, you’ll get used to it very quickly. Here’s a quick example: on the left, we have the edited image with areas accidentally painted over – and on the right, areas that are to be erased (with the Colour Dodge layer selected and not any other layers!) being highlighted in red. Click on the image below to view the edited image after using the eraser tool:

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Erase away over-brightened areas

Step 7 – Shadows and Highlights

This is when you take a step further – to strike a balance between shadows and highligths. Before you move on, save your file (either in TIFF or PSD format which uses lossless image compression algorithm and preserves all the layers – PNG is good but it merges all the layers together, rendering the image uneditable in the future). Why save? This is because to adjust the shadows and highlights options, we’ll need to merge all visible layers by pressing Ctrl + Shift + [E].

After merging all visible layers, proceed to Image > Adjustments > Shadow / Highlight (if you can’t find where it is, see screenshot). A small popup window will appear, containing the 2 simple slidebars for you to adjust the amount of shadows and highlight (see first screenshot). There will be a small checkbox at the bottom which reads Show More Options, check it and a larger menu will appear (see second screenshot):

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Adjust shadows / highlights Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Adjust shadows / highlights with advanced options - modify them

Please customise the advance option by referring to the screenshot to the right. Feel free to vary and experiment with different values and settings – what is in the screenshot is merely my personal preferrence. You can see how your image changes as you tweak the slidebars, and settle with the one you’re most comfortable with. Here’s what I’ve got after applying the settings:

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After adjusting shadows / highlights with advanced options Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After adjusting shadows / highlights with advanced options - Original

As you can see, darker areas which you’ve failed to brighten are exposed properly now :) we couldn’t be relying on just colour dodging or shadow adjustment to bring out details from dark areas – it’s the interplay of both that produces optimum results.

Step 8 – Final touch ups

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Create new fill or adjustment layer From step 1, we are only concering with vignetting the image (and thus creating some kind of dramatic effect), darkening overly bright areas (by using Colour Burn) and bringing out details from the dark (by using Colour Dodge) – we have not done any adjustments to the saturation, contrast, hue, colour tone of the image. This is when the common photoshopping techniques come in. Well you can of course directly edit the image, but it’s always better to do so by creating a new fill or adjustment layer. This can be done by looking at the Layers palette and clicking on the half-black and half-white cirlce at the bottom. Clicking on it will give you a menu of various possible modifications to your image. Feel free to experiment with them – the adjustments are made on a separate layer so if you don’t like it, just delete it! You can even modify your adjustments by double-clicking on the relevant adjustment layers.

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - After creating adjustment layers This is the final result after applying the adjustment I wanted. Here are the adjustments that I’ve made:

1. Brightness / Contrast:
Settings – Brightness: 0 | Contrast: +8
I have avoided bumping up the contrast by too much (+15 is usually my threshold), because if I did that, the bottom part of the image where the darkened tarmac is will appear posterised. I try to avoid adjusting the brightness because it means shifting the entire histogram which leads to loss in colour information. To adjust brightness, you would have already done that in step 5.

2. Hue / Saturation:
Settings – Hue: 0 | Saturation: -10 | Lightness: 0
I don’t really touch the hue option :) it’s a very tricky thing to do, unless you’re creating modern art. I’ve actually toned down the saturation – a very weird choice, but I think there’s way too much colour saturation in the image.

3. Colour Balance:
Settings – Cyan/Red: +15 | Magneta/Green: 0 | Yellow/Blue: -5
There is way too much cyan and blue in this photo, so to add a warm evening feeling to it, I adjusted 15 towards red and 5 towards yellow.

Voila! You’re done!

Here is the final product of this tutorial:

Photo Touchup Tutorial #1 - Final image

Just in case you’re interested, I’ve included a ZIP file which contains:

  1. Photo_Touchup_Tutorial_01.TIF – This file includes the product of Step 1 to Step 6.
  2. Photo_Tocuhup_Tutorial_02.TIF – This file includes the shadows / highlight enhancements and the adjustment layers created in Step 7 and 8 respectively.

To shorten download time and reduce file size, I’ve shrunk the image resolution to 768*1024. Here’s the promised download link:


I hope this tutorial is of good use to you all :razz: if you have any suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments section. Oh, and you can always request for a tutorial.

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