Photoshop Special Effects

by David Peters

Photographs can be enhanced in many ways with Photoshop. Many times the areas of the photo that are touched up can be differentiated from their surrounding areas. You have the tools to create a nice, soft fade from the effect and effect-free areas through masking and there are many ways to achieve this. Before you add an effect to any area of the photo it is useful to add this masking to the selected areas you want to adjust. One method most commonly used is the ‘quick mask mode’. It is quick and easy to use and normally produces acceptable results.

Quick masking: In Adobe Photoshop find the button called ‘edit in quick mask mode’. It’s located near the bottom of the main tool bar and looks like a circle in a rectangle. There’s also a short-cut key: Q. Once in quick mask mode, you can select and deselect areas simply by painting them with white and black respectively, using the standard brush tool. Zoom to 100 or 200 % for best accuracy. You might want to use a soft-edged brush to avoid hard edges. Alternatively, when you’re done, exit the masking mode and go to ‘Select > Feather’ and set the feather radius to 5-10 pixels or so. A nice option is that you can set the opacity to anywhere between 0 and 100%, allowing you to apply the effect stronger or weaker in one part of the image that another.

Layer masking: Slightly more complicated, you can add a layer mask. This allows you to apply any effect gradually from any point in your photo. Follow these steps in Photoshop:

1. Select ‘Windows > Layers’.

1. Choose ‘Windows > Layers’.

3. Click on the little icon in the bottom of the layer box called ‘Add layer mask’.

3. In the bottom of the layer box, click on the little icon called ‘Add layer mask’.

5. Select a gradient style from the top ‘Options’ bar (linear, radial etc.).

5. Select a gradient style from the top ‘Options’ bar (linear, radial etc.).

6. Click on your image on the point you don’t want to change, dragging the mouse away to the point where you want the full effect to take place. The effect will be applied gradually more and more along this line you’ve now created.

Lens-like effects: Using the same layer masking explained above, you can apply ‘Gaussian blur’ which will make the selected areas appear soft-focused, a bit like if you had used a large-aperture lens. With ‘Curves’ you can make your corners darker than the center, replicating the lens effect called vignetting. In principle, vignetting is considered a lens dysfunction, but subjectively it can add an extra feeling to your photo. It will create a kind of frame that will have a ‘sucking’ effect, drawing more focus to the center of your photo. You can also just lower the contrast and/or color-saturation around your main subject, helping to divide it from the background clutter. Be creative with the many options you have available!

Lens-like effects: You can apply ‘Gaussian blur’ using the layer masking outlined above which will make the selected areas appear soft-focused, as if you had used a large-aperture lens. With ‘Curves’ you can make your corners darker than the center, duplicating the lens effect called vignetting. Technically, vignetting is considered a lens dysfunction, but subjectively it can add an extra feeling to your photo, creating a sort of frame that will have a ‘sucking’ effect, drawing more attention into the center of your photo. You can also just lower the contrast and/or color-saturation around your main subject, helping to separate it from the background clutter. Be creative with the many options offered!

Soft glow effect: Great for creating a ‘romantic’ look for portraits. Follow these steps:

1. Duplicate layer.

3. Play around with the blend modes and opacity till you get what you want:

3. Adjust the blend modes and opacity till you get what you want:

‘Lighten’ or ‘Screen’ blends lightens the image instead. Good for adding high key or highlight glows.

‘Soft Light’ and ‘Overlay’ adds contrast and saturation. Especially useful for landscapes and still life photos.

Black-and-white-ish: Creates a metallic black-and-white’ish look, great for for documentary work and subdued portraits, and is achieved by setting the contrast high (curves) and color saturation low.

Black-and-white-ish: By setting the contrast high (curves) and color saturation low, you create a metallic black and white’ish look many times seen in documentaries and subdues portraits. Do this through Photoshop’s ‘layers’ to be able to most accurately adjust your setting in place.

One example: To give your image a cool green-blue color tone, first create two duplicate layers. Use ‘Edit > Fill’ to make the first one green and the second one blue. Set opacities to 30 and 60% respectively and select the ‘Multiply’ blending mode for the top (blue) layer. Adjust levels to get it exactly like you want. Also try adding a soft glow, as described above.

One example: To give your image a warm reddish-orange color tone make two duplicate layers first. Use ‘Edit > Fill’ to make the first one red and the second one orange. Set opacities to 30 and 60% respectively and select the ‘Multiply’ blending mode for the top (orange) layer. Tweak it in place to get it precisely as you want. Also try adding a soft glow, as explained above.

Using any of the above mentioned effects can improve your photos and make them really eye-catching. However, learning when to use them and when not to use them is just as important as learning how to use them. When to use special effects in your photos is a matter of personal taste and judgement. Use it, but don’t overdo it. Often, less is more.

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