Photography Tutorial: Drastically Improve Your Photos in Less Than 5 Minutes

In this tutorial I will try to show you how to improve your photos in just five minutes with some adjustment layers.
Although the process of this tutorial is made with Photoshop CS5 it may also be made with the CS3 version and above of this program.

You do not need to be an experienced user since the whole process is pretty simple and easy to follow and all the techniques explained are made using adjustment layers with very simple masks.

The best way of practicing is taken a plain or bad shot; the photograph I have used for this example was taken in almost the worst conditions. That is in a sunny afternoon at the beach with backlight conditions. The camera sensors do not work as our eyes; luckily we have Photoshop to solve this.

You also can download the original file from here

End result:
Drastically Improve Your Photos in Less Than 5 Minutes Final Image

avatar mqtrf

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Practice tutorial

Step 1

Once we have taken the shot we have to develop it; it is very important to use the RAW mode of the camera because a capture in RAW mode will contain more information than one in JPG.

Not too much to say about the developing settings in Camera Raw, the “auto” function is usually enough for me; the hard work will be done later in Photoshop.

Take special attention to the recovery value if you need to restore highlight zones without details. The blacks value should be between 0 and 5 for not losing details in the dark areas.

Adjust other settings when needed, each camera and each lens is different, adjust the sharpness and the chromatic aberrations when needed but leave the colour adjustments untouched.
One of the most important details of this step is choosing the output image with the ProPhoto space with 16 bit of colour depth, in this format we keep all the information of the RAW file to play within the next adjustments.

Step 2

2.1. - In this step we are going to adjust the light of the dark areas. First select the whole image (ctrl+a) and copy it to the clipboard (ctrl+c), we will use it later in the step 3

2.2. - Now in the adjustments palette click at the levels icon to add a levels adjustment layer.

2.3.- Moving the midtones and the highlights sliders make the dark zones brighter, in this case the highlights were moved to 175 and the midtones balanced to 1,96.
You do not have to care about the losing details in the highlight areas from the original image, we will take care of them later, just adjust the dark zones to the point of light you want.

Step 3

3.1. - In the step 3 we will finish our work with lot of burned zones in the highlight areas, this incidence will be solved in a while.
Hold the alt key and click at the mask icon of the levels adjustment layer created on the step 2 and this will enable the visibility of the mask to let us see what we are doing while we work with it.

3.2. - Press ctrl+v to paste the initial image we copied in the step 1.

3.3. - We are going to use this image as a mask to recover the highlights, as for this we need to invert the mask so press ctrl+i.
Now we have to do some adjustments to this mask to make it more effective.

Step 4

4.1. - Click the eye icon to enable again the visibility of the image we are working with.

4.2. - Select the mask and invoke levels (ctrl+l)
We need to increase the contrast of the mask making the dark zones black and the brighter zones white.
In this way the dark zones are shown as we adjust them and the highlights are totally restored because they are unaffected by the adjustment layer.

4.3. - Adjust the sliders, move shadows to recover the highlights and adjust the highlights and the midtones not to hide the previously brightened areas.

Step 5

5.1. - Now the light is much better but the image looks too flat so we need to increase the contrast.

5.2.- Add a curves adjustment layer, we need to make a “S” type curve to increase the contrast. Be subtle since we only want to boost the contrast without losing details neither on the highlights nor in the shadows.

Step 6

6.1. - Time to boost the colour now; as I previously said the image was taken in a sunny afternoon but the colours look too cold.
I also want to give a yellowish tone to the whole image to make it more attractive.

6.2. - Use a colour balance adjustment layer, we begin adjusting the highlights to give the tone we want to the whole image, adjust the shadows to reduce the bluish tone of the shadows and en up fine-tuning the midtones until you are satisfied with the result.

Step 7

7.1.- Although I’m already satisfied with the way the whole image looks like we will go a bit further with the colour. Add a Hue/saturation adjustment layer to modify the different zones of the photo.

7.2. - Select the yellow channel and raise even more the saturation, modify also the red and the blue channels to make the car and the driver more visible.

Step 8

8.1. - Almost finished, I want to make the car more attention catching adding a vignette effect.
Add a levels adjustment layer and move the midtones slider to the right to darken the image, pay attention to the borders and stop as soon as you see them dark enough.

8.2.- Now choose black for the foreground colour and use the gradient tool with the radial gradient option selected.
Make a gradient from the centre to the border to finish, you can press ctrl+z to try with a different gradient or just adjust the levels again to get a better result.

Step 9

In this step we can see both pictures, the original picture and the retouched one.

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no avatar
Guest says:

Great job!!

(5 years and 1850 days ago)
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Guest says:

you have to study dan margulis theory. if you don't use channel and curve and color corrections and RGB and CMYK and Lab and and and all the other and, you will never get a good pic. or result. The color of water is blu but never yellow or brown or other, because water is a cool color but never cold color. You have to use the curve in channels and not in RGB (but Red, Green, Yellow or CMYK or Lab channels). Forget Hue /Saturation and use Lab for colors.
The modern Man From Mars is another manouvre to help you.

(5 years and 1846 days ago)
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Guest says:

amazing! thank for sharing

(5 years and 1845 days ago)
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Guest says:

yaay good job

(5 years and 1716 days ago)
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Wow. This mod knows how to do most of it all!

(5 years and 1693 days ago)
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Guest says:

Or you could just take a better photo to start with and not end up with an HDR imitation.

(5 years and 1581 days ago)
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Guest says:

Or we could all get a life and not use photoshop

(5 years and 1489 days ago)
no avatar
[banned] says:

It's actually humorous how these trolls can't appreciate skill/talent. I'm definitely sure these are the ones that TRY to perform the tutorial but find themselves dumfounded - resulting in relieving their stress by raging on the post.

All in all - great tutorial.


(5 years and 1440 days ago)
no avatar
noelia says:

the download link of the photo is not working ..

(5 years and 1355 days ago)
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jhp2025 says:

Amazing! Never seen like this before! Thanks

(5 years and 1300 days ago)
avatar still26
still26 says:

WOW thank you for this. I will study it again and again.

(4 years and 295 days ago)

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