Fixing Images with Contrast Masks in Photoshop - Digital Photography School
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Fixing Images with Contrast Masks in Photoshop

contrast_masking.opener.jpg

Many of the fixes we commonly apply to images come from darkroom processes. Contrast masking is one of those fixes and it can be used to fix an image which is under or over exposed.

Contrast masking is a relatively simple process and it can work wonders with your images. I like it because it generally doesn’t require you to make selections and there is a lot to like about fixes that don’t involve selections.

Here’s how to use Contrast Masking to fix an under exposed image:

Open your image and duplicate the background layer. Target this duplicate layer in the Layers palette.

contrast_masking_1.jpg

Desaturate this layer by choosing Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. Right now the default convert to black and white is just fine.

contrast_masking_2.jpg

Alter the blend mode of this layer to Overlay.

contrast_masking_3.jpg

To invert this black and white layer choose Image > Adjustments > Invert – this gives a negative of the image.

Adjust the layer opacity to suit.

contrast_masking_4.jpg

Convert the top layer to a Smart Object by choosing Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.

contrast_masking_5.jpg

Now blur this layer by choosing Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Adjust the Radius to adds some sharpening back to the image. Check the preview to get the best result for the image.

contrast_masking_6.jpg

Read more from our Post Production category.

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • http://www.lourceyphoto.com Larry Lourcey

    Interesting technique Helen. Never tried it that way before. I tend to rely so much on filters when I’m in a hurry! :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/acierman/ Paul Saulnier

    sorry but i like the before picture more . Like my Dad always said ..IF IT AINT BROKE DONT FIX IT …now i know what hes saying …this is one of those times

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jeet/163550653733694 Jeet

    This seems to be do-able in other software too. I use the GIMP, will try this over the weekend. Thank you very much :)

    Just a question: How important is the ‘Convert to Smart object’ step? Can this be used by adding gaussian blur without converting to smart object?

  • http://www.projectwoman.com Helen Bradley

    Hi @Jeet – you raise a good point and some other readers have emailed me direct to ask the same question. The answer is not at all – you can do it without converting to a smart object – the only issue will be that you can’t alter the blur later on if you don’t have the filter applied to a smart object layer. But if you leave out that step, this can be done in GIMP or Photoshop Elements for example and work similarly.

    Cheers

    Helen

  • Bert

    Ya I don’t see any benefit converting to smart Object either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jeet/163550653733694 Jeet

    Thanks Helen, now I’m just waiting for the weekend and free time to test this out :)
    There might be a workaround for altering the blur later:
    I would duplicate the top layer a few times, and apply different levels of blur to each duplicated layer keeping one untouched for future use. Then each of the new layers can be made visible one at a time to check out the effect of different levels of blur. If saved in the native format (.psd for Photoshop, .xcf for the GIMP) it keeps the layers intact, and jpgs can be exported with the desired blur level as and when desired. The one layer without blurring can be used to try out further levels of blur, or maybe even other effect. This way, you can even use more than one blurred layer with different opacity/mode for different effects.

  • Peter yeung

    Is this “Contrast Masks” one of the ways to lighten a pic? Is there a difference when I use Exposure and Sharpen in Lightroom 4?

  • ali

    thanks
    why can’t we see a decent before/after or at least final result?
    come on! 250×160 pixels?

  • Martin

    This is a great technique and in a certain way works like Shadow/Highlights filter. The additional flexibility is in using slightly different mask. For example, try blurring with Smart Blur or Surface Blur instead of Gaussian. The other trick I like to use is not desaturating the picture. Instead you can use the Hue/Saturation adjustment and lowering the saturation to -50 and at the same time shifting the hue by 180.

    All of this is possible with other software, not just Adobe Photoshop.

  • ArturoMM

    @ali: That’s a good point.

  • Ivan Nikolov

    Very usefull! Thank you so much!

  • Osman

    This is simply awesome tutorial.Thanks for sharing this video tutorial.
    If somebody wants to get such a services they can simply visit this site
    http://www.clippingcreationsindia.com/…….

Some older comments

  • ArturoMM

    December 11, 2012 06:03 am

    @ali: That's a good point.

  • Martin

    December 8, 2012 05:13 am

    This is a great technique and in a certain way works like Shadow/Highlights filter. The additional flexibility is in using slightly different mask. For example, try blurring with Smart Blur or Surface Blur instead of Gaussian. The other trick I like to use is not desaturating the picture. Instead you can use the Hue/Saturation adjustment and lowering the saturation to -50 and at the same time shifting the hue by 180.

    All of this is possible with other software, not just Adobe Photoshop.

  • ali

    December 7, 2012 08:34 am

    thanks
    why can't we see a decent before/after or at least final result?
    come on! 250x160 pixels?

  • Peter yeung

    December 6, 2012 06:28 pm

    Is this "Contrast Masks" one of the ways to lighten a pic? Is there a difference when I use Exposure and Sharpen in Lightroom 4?

  • Jeet

    December 6, 2012 05:04 pm

    Thanks Helen, now I'm just waiting for the weekend and free time to test this out :)
    There might be a workaround for altering the blur later:
    I would duplicate the top layer a few times, and apply different levels of blur to each duplicated layer keeping one untouched for future use. Then each of the new layers can be made visible one at a time to check out the effect of different levels of blur. If saved in the native format (.psd for Photoshop, .xcf for the GIMP) it keeps the layers intact, and jpgs can be exported with the desired blur level as and when desired. The one layer without blurring can be used to try out further levels of blur, or maybe even other effect. This way, you can even use more than one blurred layer with different opacity/mode for different effects.

  • Bert

    December 6, 2012 02:53 am

    Ya I don't see any benefit converting to smart Object either.

  • Helen Bradley

    December 6, 2012 02:30 am

    Hi @Jeet - you raise a good point and some other readers have emailed me direct to ask the same question. The answer is not at all - you can do it without converting to a smart object - the only issue will be that you can't alter the blur later on if you don't have the filter applied to a smart object layer. But if you leave out that step, this can be done in GIMP or Photoshop Elements for example and work similarly.

    Cheers

    Helen

  • Jeet

    December 6, 2012 12:42 am

    This seems to be do-able in other software too. I use the GIMP, will try this over the weekend. Thank you very much :)

    Just a question: How important is the 'Convert to Smart object' step? Can this be used by adding gaussian blur without converting to smart object?

  • Paul Saulnier

    December 6, 2012 12:26 am

    sorry but i like the before picture more . Like my Dad always said ..IF IT AINT BROKE DONT FIX IT ...now i know what hes saying ...this is one of those times

  • Larry Lourcey

    December 5, 2012 11:47 am

    Interesting technique Helen. Never tried it that way before. I tend to rely so much on filters when I'm in a hurry! :)

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