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In certain situations, the best approach to a photo involves a variety of effects, that work together to create the right mood. In this lesson, we'll take a look at an image that needs a bit of work to convey the emotion behind the original photograph. I captured this image on a trip to Japan. I was wandering around Tokyo and found a courtyard with several Buddhist trans and a small cemetery. I'm fascinated by foreign cultures and by cemeteries, so I proceeded to take some pictures. I was feeling a bit self conscious, not wanting to offend anyone, and being very respectful of my surroundings. When I captured this image, I had the feeling, I was going to be very happy with it.
Moments later, an elderly Japanese woman got my attention in the courtyard. She motioned me over to her. I thought for sure, I was going to be in big trouble. Instead, she lead me over the one of the shrines, and proceeded to teach me how to pray. All this, despite the fact, that she spoke no English, and I spoke just about no Japanese. It was an incredible experience and I couldn't wait to get back to the hotel, and start working on this photo. When I did get back to the hotel, I was rather disappointed in the image. It just didn't convey the magic of what I had experienced earlier in the day.
So I set about working with the image in Photoshop, in an effort to get close to the emotion of my experience. I started off thinking that this photo represented an older time, so it seemed black and white was a good start. That involved of course adding a black and white adjustment layer, and then fine tuning the sliders, in order to see if I could acheive a little bit better starting point for this interpretation of the image. In large part that meant trying to find good contrast within the image. Of course the image itself is relatively monochromatic, and so as you can see here, adjusting most of the sliders doesn't have a very significant affect on the image. But I still wanted to explore each of them, to try to produce the best overall result.
I also decided that black and white by itself didn't quite give me that somewhat ethereal feel, that, you know, sense of an older time, and so I decided that maybe a sepia tone effect might be good. Turning on the tint check box, I can then click on the Color Swatch and choose a color that seems to be most appropriate for this image. In this case, a warm sepia that's not too overly saturated, seems to be the best result. Clicking OK to apply that color tint, you can see that now we have a reasonably good result, but it's still looking a little flat, and almost lifeless.
So I added a curves adjustment. With curves, I was able to increase contrast, without sacrificing any highlight, or shadow detail. I wanted the image to be a little bit more impactful, and so I added an S curve, in order to really give the image a little bit of impact. Of course at this point things are starting to look reasonably good. I think maybe a vignette effect might help frame the image, helping to keep the viewer's eye focused on the image itself and not drifting outside. To do that I'll hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, while clicking on the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the layers panel.
I'll call this layer vignette, and change the blend mode to multiply. That will allow me to apply a darkening effect, via this layer. I'll then turn on the Fill with Multiply Neutral Color, which happens to be white. Clicking OK, you can see that the new layer is added. I can now go to the filter menu and choose Lens Correction. Going immediately to the Custom tab, I'll reduce the amount setting, which will darken the edges of the image and then I can fine tune the midpoint. In this case, I don't want the effect to come too far into the image, but I do want a very dark effect, which I can of course fine tune after the fact.
I'll click OK here to close the lens correction dialog, and as you can see I have the darkening effect around the edge of the image. To get a better sense, we can turn off the visibility of that vignette layer. I think this is a little bit too strong, so I'll reduce the opasity for that vignette layer. In fact, I'll reduce it enough that at first glance it almost seems like I've eliminated the vignetting. However, again, turning off the vignette layer and then turning it back on, we can see that we've darkened up those sort of background areas and some of the foreground that really aren't critical. And this helps to keep the viewer focused on the primary subjects in the center. At this point, I was feeling much better about the image. And in fact, I went on to use it in several different books. I learned later that these are prayer sticks, that are used to honor someone who's passed away on the anniversary of their death. By focusing on the mood that existed when the image was originally captured, you can often create a much more impactful file result. As you've seen in this lesson, that often involves several steps as you make your way toward the final image.
And keep in mind we can get an overall before and after view of the image by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh and clicking the Eye Icon associated with the background image layer. This will make only that layer visible. Holding the Alt or Option key and clicking again, all layers becomes visible. This allows us to get a good before and after view of the image, with all of the adjustments turned off, and then all of the adjustments turned on. And hopefully you'll agree that from the before to the after, represents an image that really conveys a much better sense of the experience that I had.
- Understanding channels
- Using the Lab color mode
- Adding a black-and-white adjustment layer
- Adding a color tint
- Applying a Curves adjustment
- Using the Gradient Map adjustment
- Adding a vignette or film grain
- Dodging and burning
- Selective black-and-white