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Have you ever looked at a landscape image and wondered how they managed to make it “pop” so well? Landscape photos which contain great detail and sharpness can often be enhanced further by increasing the contrast in the midtones of the image. The result produces a vibrant image with great depth that jumps off the page (or screen)!
Open your photo in Photoshop. Press Command-J (Mac) or Control-J (PC) to duplicate the layer, then change the layer blend mode to “Vivid Light.” Next, Invert the layer by pressing Command-I (Mac) or Control-I (PC)
The image will look pretty grey at the moment; this is normal! Blur the image using the Surface Blur filter menu: Filter > Blur > Surface Blur… and raise both the Radius to 30 and Threshold to 30. Click OK to apply the blur effect. Once again, the image will look greyish and quite strange at this point.
This next step is where “Photoshop magic” starts to happen. Press the following keys to create a merged layer. Mac: Command-Option-Shift-E PC: Control-Alt-Shift-E This creates a merged layer on top of your other layers. Change the blend mode of this
layer to Overlay, and un-check the visibility of the layer below it (Layer 1) as seen here…
As you will see, at this stage the image is starting to get that high-contrast look. If the effect is too strong for your liking, you can ease it back by lowering the opacity of this layer. Create another merged layer as we did in the previous step. With this new layer active, go to the menu: Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights… When the Shadows/Highlights dialog box opens, lower the Shadows Amount to 0, raise the Highlights Amount to 15% keeping Tonal Width at 50% and Radius 30px. Raise the Midtone Contrast slider up to +25, and click OK to apply the filter.
Create yet another merged layer which we will now apply some sharpening to. Go to the menu: Filter > Other > High Pass… and choose an appropriate Radius value depending on your particular image. You can lower the Radius to zero, and slide the slider to increase the Radius until you start to see some detail showing up in the preview of your image. You’ll want to use a low value, anywhere in the neighbourhood of 1.5 to 4 pixels. Click OK to apply the filter, then change the blend mode of this layer to Soft Light.
We’re almost finished at this point, but we can add some more depth to the image by creating a vignette effect to pull the viewer’s eye in even further. Create one more merged layer, and change the blend mode of this layer to Multiply. Next, click on the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Click on the layer mask in the active layer (the top layer) to make sure that the layer mask is active, and choose a large, soft edged brush. Make sure your active color swatch is BLACK. You can do this by clicking (D) for the default colour swatches. With the brush, paint over the middle of your image. You will see the effect as you paint, revealing the lighter image layers below. You can paint to your preference, but your layer mask should wind up looking something like this, as shown here…
See the comparison of the Original (above) and the result (below)
This technique is extremely effective on landscape images which contain lots of detail and colours. If you find the effect to be too strong, some alternatives would be to lower the layer opacity created in step 3, or change that layer’s blend mode to Soft Light instead of Overlay. It’s all about experimentation, which is the fun that Photoshop brings to each processing party.
Tutorial by Dave Seeram