One of the great things about Photoshop is that you can direct the viewer’s attention to the most important part of an image.  One of the ways to do this is to highlight the area you want your audience to see first, and darken the more unimportant areas. This technique works for simple photos and for images that have a lot going on. Add a point of interest for your viewer to latch on to. Here is a before-and-after of how this technique can dramatically alter the effect your image can have.

Before and After Photoshop Example Before and After Examples in Photoshop

To create a look like this for your photo, read on!

To start, we are going to create two versions of the image – a light version, and a dark version. Then we will choose where we want the light version to show through, and where we want the dark version to show through using curves adjustment layers and layer masks.

In your Layers window, there is a half black half white circle that allows you to make adjustment layers – an adjusted version of your image. We will hold that down and choose “curves.” A box will pop up with a diagonal line.

Adjustment Layers

Pull up on the top part of the line just a bit to see your image lighten. Lighten it somewhat significantly – a bit more than you think is necessary.

Curves Adjustment Layers

Then create another curves adjustment layer, and this time pull down on the bottom part of the line until your image seems a bit too dark.

Photoshop Curves Tips

Now we have two versions of the same image – “Curves 1” is a lightened version, while “Curves 2” is a darkened version. Note that the boxes on the curves layers are white. In photoshop, white reveals, while black conceals. We want to conceal these layers for now. With the layer highlighted, hit ctl+i to inverse the color. The effect of the curves layer will now be hidden. Inverse the white to black on both curves layers.

How to do curves layers

Now, we will select where we want Curves 1 to show through (areas we want highlighted), and where we want Curves 2 to show through (areas we want darker). Select a medium to large sized soft round brush. Hit “b” to bring up your brush tool (also looks like a black paint brush). Up top. you can select the shape of your paint brush. Choose a fuzzy round shape and increase the size of the brush as needed by increasing the size number (you can also use the “[” and “]” keys to increase or decrease the size of the brush).  Also decrease the Flow (along the top of photoshop) to 10%.

Then with white as your foreground color and your Curves 1 layer highlighted, “paint” your photo where you would like light to come through. In this case, i chose the middle of the photo.  You can see the white being painted over the black on your adjustment layer. Remember, anywhere where there is white on that layer, the image adjustments for that layer are revealed. We chose a low flow so that you can control how much you want the adjusted layer to show through. Then simply repeat with the Curves 2 (dark) adjustment layer. I usually darken the edges and other unimportant things.

Below, you can see blobs of white that were painted onto my adjustment layers.

Photography Techniques

See how on Curves 1 (my lightened layer), the center was painted pack in with white, revealing a lightened version of my image just where the subject is. I painted around the edges on Curves 2 to give my photo a vignetted look.

Photoshop techniques

Here is the before and after version of the same image, using only this one technique.

Before and After Photoshop Example

Before and After Examples in Photoshop

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Happy photoshopping! Anyone can do it with the right tools and the right skill set!