Taking Your Photos to a New Level
Improving the overall look of photos without using HDR
Have you ever noticed how dull your photos can seem compared to how you saw them as you were taking them? Sometimes, this is due to your photographic skills, as I can well attest to. I have much to learn about f-stops, exposure, lenses etc. However, I've seen how vivid things can seem as I'm taking a photo, and it even looks great on the little screen on my Nikon D-70. (Yes, I know, it's not the latest and greatest, but it was when it first came out...) But when I get it home, the photo looks a little DULL. And that's what we have RAW settings for. But even then, sometimes tweaking with the RAW file doesn't do justice to what you saw in the first place.
I'm a big lover of using HDR with my photos, but there are times when even that is too artificial, when I'm really just looking for what I saw. So, here is my solution. It doesn't always work, but very often it is a great improvement, and it can be done with photos that didn't come in the RAW format.
1. Open photo in Photoshop. I am using CS5, though I was able to do most of this even back in CS1!
2. Duplicate the background layer.
3. Choose Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur, and set radius to 6.1 (or so...it's really up to you.)
4. Choose Filter, Sharpen, Smart Sharpen and set to 107% with radius of 15.6 (again to your taste).
5. Choose Filter, Other, High Pass and set radius to about 10 pixels.
6. Set Blending Mode from Normal to Soft Light.
7. Repeat process if necessary. (I have created this as an Action since I use it so often.) For this photo, I did the process twice. Sometimes it's necessary to reduce the opacity of the layer so the effect is not overwhelming, again play it by ear...or eye as the case may be.
8. Play with Levels and Saturation. For this photo, I increased the darkness using the Levels panel (CTRL + L) and I increased the saturation on the Red and Yellow spectrum using the Saturation panel (CRTL + U). You can also convert your file to a Smart Object and then create effects layers.
End result is a sharper, crisper image that is closer to what I saw in person. And it doesn't look hyper-realistic like HDR tends to.
Enjoy your Photo Editing!!!