Photoshop | Creating Dynamic Contrast

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For this tip I decided to do something a little different and concentrate more on post-production, rather than more normal focus on shooting in camera. No matter how good a photographer is, because of the limitations of in-camera capture, every commercial shoot has at least some post-production done in either a dark room for film or in Photoshop (or some other knock-off) for digital capture. One of the biggest focuses in post is adding/removing/manipulating contrast within the photo, and everybody see contrast a little bit differently. So, here is my quick approach and some tips on how I perform my post-production contrast in Photoshop.

Global Contrast vs. Dynamic Contrast:

I think of these two as completely different. No idea if there is a more appropriate/official term for these, but it’s how I identify them in my mind so just bare with me… When I am talking about global contrast, generally I’m talking in terms of a contrast that is applied “evenly” to the highlights and shadows throughout the image. For this type of contrast most photographers, including myself, use a “curves” layer to apply the the changes to the image in a non-destructive manner.

photo-before-curves-layer

full-s-curvesmall-s-curve

photo-after-curves-layer

As you can see, I don’t necessarily use an S-Curve but a tweaked version of this to boost highlights and pull down the blacks enough to make a change to the image, then I dial it in by changing the opacity of the layer. At the same time, I tend to do my color changes in the same curves layer as well – generally adding a little bit of warmth or making the image a little colder depending on the look I’m trying to achieve.

When I want to apply “dynamic” contrast however, I use a little trick that has worked very well for me and uses a Photoshop tool in a way its not generally though of…

Applying Dynamic Contrast:

This is a quick step-by-step on an action I’ve created for myself that quickly applies some contrast that make the image “pop” just a little bit more and really can be appealing to the eye depending on the look you’re trying to achieve. I wouldn’t necessarily use this for a Beauty shot, but for that edgy look I’m normally trying to achieve, it works very well.

creating-layer-unsharp-filter

First, merge all of the layers to a new layer (Cmd+Option+Shift+E on a Mac or Cntrl+Alt+Shift+E on PC). I always make sure that’s I’ve done all of the other edits I’m going to make to the image before doing this. Once you’ve merged all of the layers, this new layer covers up all of the edits below it so it, essentially, becomes the new base image for anything on top of it (i.e. you can’t turn it off if you see something else you need to clone stamp or edit in any way…). But I digress…

applying-unsharp-mask

After merging, go to Filters and apply an Unsharp Mask to the new layer you’ve created. Now comes the counter-intuitive part. For the Amount, Radius, and Threshold, apply the following amounts to each: Amount – 12, Radius – 215(!!), and Threshold – 0. As you can see by toggling the preview button on and off, it applies a really cool, dynamic effect to the image and really makes it pop. Maybe even a little too much… So, I normally dial this in the same way as my curves layer and adjust the opacity until the image pleases my eyes. Next, just add whatever final touches (sharpening) to the image and you’re good to go!

no-contrast-applied-photo

with-dynamic-contrast-applied

Hopefully this helps you create a dynamic and interesting look in your photos and gives you a little more insight into what goes on Behind The Scenes at Ruddock Visuals. Leave any comments below for other effects you’d like to see and enjoy!

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