3 Simple Image Enhancement Tricks using Photoshop

Imagine this scenario. You have spent countless hours designing the perfect mock-up page for a client using placeholder images. Now it’s time to drop in the client’s assets to get that final approval so you can get down to coding. You extract the zip file that was just now delivered and your heart sinks. All of the photos were shot by a non-ace on a snap-shot digital camera! Some were out of focus (completely unusable) while the remaining photos were dull in color.

Let’s face it. It happens. Not every client can afford a professional photo shoot with a photographer that will deliver high quality images. And though you may have sternly recommended using a skilled individual for the task, it just may not be in their budget. And that is where you, as a designer, have to step in and work up some minor divination on those lifeless images.

I’m going to show you three very simple ways to enhance a digital photo in Photoshop. These are meant for screen use only and not intended for print production. Unless you are adept at photo retouching, I wouldn’t recommend using these methods on a document that is intended for print.

If you would like to follow along, download this “Country road” stock image from stock.xchng, but feel free to use any image you like. I am using this image for demonstration purposes only and am not saying the image represents what was described in the imagined scenario.

Method 1: Use blending modes to enhance the color.

Of the three methods, this one is the simplest. Open your image in Photoshop. From your Layers Palette window, drag a copy of the “Background” layer over the “Create a new layer” icon at the bottom of the palette window. This will automatically create a “Background copy” layer above the “Background” layer.

Make a Copy of your Background Layer

Now, select your “Background copy” layer and change the Blend Mode to Overlay. You should see a dramatic change in the colors of your image. In fact, the image might now be over saturated. Simply reduce the Opacity to about 70%, or until you reach your desired effect.

Change Blend Mode to Overlay

Now you can see the differences between the original source image and the end result. You can adjust the effect by increasing or decreasing the Opacity slider. You can also play with other Blend Modes like Soft Light to quickly add a color pop to a drab digital image. It all depends on how dramatic of an effect you want in the end.

Method 1 Before & After

Method 2: Change the mood of an image with a Curves adjustment layer.

Here is a method I just picked up from a photographer and master photo retoucher that is often used in fashion photography (but in a more detailed manner than what I am going to show you). We are going to drastically boost specific colors by using a Curves adjustment layer.

First, let’s boost up the saturation of the image by clicking on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon and selecting “Hue/Saturation…” from the Layers Palette window. In the newly opened dialog window drag the Saturation slider to 25.

Increase the Saturation

Return to your Layers Palette window and click on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon again and select “Curves…”. This will add another adjustment layer directly above your Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

For this image, I want to enhance the blue colors in the photograph. To do so, I will select the Blue channel from the drop down menu and create an “s” shaped curve. Make sure you have your Preview option on. Once I am happy with the output, I will click “Ok” and I am done.

Add a Curves Adjustment Layer

The beauty of this method is that it is non destructive to your source image. If you don’t like the effect, simply delete the adjustment layers and begin again.

Method 2 Before & After

Method 3: Use High Pass filter and Blending Modes to sharpen a black & white photo.

You can quickly sharpen a dull black & white photo, in Photoshop, using the High Pass filter. I am going to first desaturate this image to convert it into a black & white photo by choosing Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. And just as we did in the previous method, I will create a copy of the “Background” layer.

With the “Background copy” layer selected, I will choose Filter > Other > High Pass which will open a dialog window for this filter.

Select High Pass Filter

Make sure you have your Preview option checked so you can see what you are doing. Depending on how dramatic of an effect you want, adjust the slider and hit “Ok”. I set mine to a Radius of 6 pixels because I want to really bring out the shadows and midtones.

High Pass Dialog Window

Now, with your “Background copy” layer selected, change the Blend Mode to Soft Lift leaving the Opacity at 100%. Make another copy of this filtered layer and change the Blend Mode to Hard Light and reduce the Opacity to 15%.

Method 3 Before & After


There are other, more detailed methods of enhancing your digital images in Photoshop. These are some of my quicker methods that can result in desirable final images. Play around with them on your own and see what you come up with. I firmly believe that experimenting always produces the best accidents.

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