Tag Archives: photoshop action

Exposure-Blend and Shine-Be-Reduced Photoshop Actions

This article and project entry comes from Martin Kimeldorf. The content in this post comes from the PDF documents that Martin put together for his actions.


Exposure Blend Example, by Brian Auer

Photo by Brian Auer showing (L) under exposed, (M) over exposed, and (R) exposure blended image using Martin’s action.

Most people find the outcome of my little action to be very similar to Photomatix… certainly cheaper… and I think a bit easier since you just mouse click away. I don’t charge for this action as re-payment for all the people who helped me along the way.

Put the camera in Aperture Priority or Manual and set to your preferred f-stop and ISO. Use auto-bracketing to take three frames with different exposures: normal, under exposed, and over exposed. Make sure the auto-bracket is set so the images are at least 1.5 stops apart from normal.

The following notes are also embedded in the action to prompt you.

Prepare a file with two images labeled as Under and Over Exposed. Place both the under exposed and over exposed image in a new Photoshop file. Neither file should be locked as a background layers, so unlock any background layer by double clicking on them. Make sure the over exposed layer is labeled as such and sits on top of the under exposed file.

In the end you will get 3 image version to choose from:

1) The basic Composite or exposure blend
2) the same composite with shadow recovery applied
3) The shadow recovery image with soft light blend applied for more contrast.

You then take your final image and apply noise reduction if needed and then sharpen.



Install this Action in your Photoshop program (see sample at the end). Run the action, and then “paint away” the shine from the areas that offend your sensibilities. Paint away distracting shines from flash on nose, cheeks, foreheads.

Most people leave shines on hair and lips and pupils. This will be done by creating a second duplicate layer over your original layer. Then you can brush in the amount of “shine removal” that you want. Here are the steps to follow for removing the shine, AFTER the action is run.

1) A new adjusted layer is placed above your original, and is masked (blacked) out.
2) While viewing at 100%, select a soft WHITE brush, Set the brush so it is slightly larger than the shine area, and Set brush opacity to 30% opacity
3) Then paint over the shine…on the black layer mask.
4) For real finesse, select the layer mask by holding down the Command Key and click on the layer MASK. This will make the selection come alive with marching ants. Then apply a Gaussian blur of about 4 to this mask to soften the edges.


Flickr Resizer Photoshop Actions

I find resizing photos for web output to be one of the most boring and repetitive tasks in post-processing. My workflow consists of only creating JPEGs as needed, and deleting them when they’ve done their deed. My photo archive also consists of RAW (from the dSLR), TIFF (from film scans), and PSD files, in both AdobeRGB and grayscale color spaces.

So with all these requirements, I found that a Photoshop action is the way to go. I process a big batch of photos with Bridge/ACR, and I use a batch process to create all my Flickr files at once. The really cool thing about the action I’ve created is that it doesn’t care what kind of file you have or what color space it’s in. The output is always the same — 800 pixels on the long edge, sRGB, a quality of 12, etc.


The action was built to be fairly robust against an array of possible image settings and file types. The main idea behind the action is to be “hands free” so it can blast through a big set of photos with no interaction from the user.

The action first flattens any layers that may be present. Then it moves on to scale it down while still in the original color space and bit depth. After downsizing, the action converts to RGB mode just in case you were working in LAB or grayscale. And since the intent is to create images for the web, we then convert to sRGB color space. And so we can save as a JPEG, we then convert to 8 bits. Now it’s time for output, so the action saves the file to a set destination at high quality while maintaining the original file name and metadata. The last step is to close the image without saving so it can move on to the next one if using a batch process.

If you don’t have things like layers or other color spaces, the action just keeps going without warning you — it’s no big deal, those steps are just to make it more robust.


The action is intended to be customized for each person using it. At a minimum, you’ll want to change the location of the saved file. I put my Flickr exports in a folder on my desktop, but you can put yours wherever you want.

To change the location of the saved files, first open up a file to work with. Then go into the action and uncheck the last two lines — “Save” and “Close”. Run the action. Now double-click on the “Save” command to modify it. When you do this, you’ll see a save dialog box. Simply navigate to the folder of your choice and press “Save” — don’t mess with the file name or you’ll end up saving every single image in the future with the same exact name. After you re-record this step, you can check the “Save” and “Close” lines and you should be in business.

You can also do the same type of thing with the “Image Size” command if you want something other than 800 pixels. Just make note of which action you’re editing (horizontal or vertical) because you have to type the values into the corresponding box (width or height, respectively).


As I just mentioned, there are two actions. This is to take care that vertical and horizontal images maintain a common maximum size. If you run a vertical image through the horizontal action, you’ll get a photo at 800 pixels on the short edge rather than the long edge. And square cropped photos don’t care which one you use.

You can run the action on single photos if you’d like — just be aware of the “Close” command at the end of the action. Uncheck it if you don’t want to close the image after exporting.

The best way to run this action is with a batch process. You can do this from Bridge by selecting the photos you want to export and clicking “Tools >> Photoshop >> Batch…” You can also do it straight from Photoshop by clicking “File >> Automate >> Batch…” Either method gets you the same dialog box. Then you pick the action from the drop-down menu. If you run it from Bridge, all you have to do is hit “OK” and it starts running. If you run it from Photoshop, you’ll have to tell it where to get the files from too.


I hope some of you will find this useful with your workflow. I know it saves me a ton of time! This article is one of my own project submissions to the Action and Preset Extravaganza.

Make Light Real ONE Action

Those who have used Photoshop probably know the power of actions. Some also know the power of LAB color mode. The problem is that LAB can sound like a scary thing, and most actions are “one hit wonders.”

Neil Cowley has created something that will blow you away — The ONE Action. It’s an action set that guides you through the LAB colorspace workflow. I’ve worked in LAB for a few little things in the past, but I hadn’t realized the full potential until I started working with the ONE Action.

Neil is sponsoring our most recent project, the “Action and Preset Extravaganza“, and the top 3 prizes include the ONE Action. I’ve been toying around with it for a couple weeks, and this is my introductory take on it. I should also state that I have much to learn about using this action and working in the LAB color space, so this is by no means a comprehensive review.


The ONE Action package includes several handy items. Obviously, the Photoshop Action is at the heart of it all. You also get an ACR and Lightroom preset, an HDR action, LAB curve presets, an instruction manual, a really great walkthrough video, and some sample photos.

The video is a great place to start after you’ve loaded up the actions and/or presets. Neil goes through the capabilities of the action, how to use it, and the thought process behind the actions. He explains rather quickly that the ONE Action is more than just a “push and go” type of action — it’s a workflow process.

Here’s another video from Neil that shows an example of how the action can be used. This is not the video included with the action.


The action “forces” you to work in the LAB color space (which really isn’t a bad thing at all). This gives you the freedom to manipulate the luminosity and color of the image separate from each other. It also gives you the ability to pinpoint specific tonal ranges and apply adjustments only where you desire.

There are a lot of individual actions contained in the set, and each one is intended to target a very specific region of the image. The main idea, though, is to understand the adjustments produced by the actions and apply them in small steps as you work through the image. Masking and tone-mapping are important parts of the ONE Action workflow.

Honestly, once you start working with this action set you’ll really start to understand the power of working in LAB color space. As I went though several of my own photos, I was surprised and amazed at the results that could be achieved with just a few little adjustments.


Each of the images below show the unprocessed raw file, the processed raw file, and the final photo after processing with the “ONE Action.” I chose to use the action on a few particular photos from a recent photowalk that turned out less than optimal but had potential. I used the action with the intent of reproducing the scene I saw with my eyes (and in some cases introduce a bit more “life”), and in most cases the ONE Action saved my butt. Click on the photos for a larger view.

You can purchase the ONE Action from Make Light Real, or participate in the Action and Preset Extravaganza for your chance at one of the prize packages.

Link Roundup 05-10-2008

  • 15 Fun Fabulous Fisheye Photos
    digital Photography School
    If you’ve ever been interested in fisheye photography, check out this article packed with great examples and explanations by Neil Creek.
  • 11 Things To Do With Your Cameraphone While You Wait
    Beyond Phototips
    We have our cameraphones with us more than our real cameras, so why not use them to explore the world around us and shoot it up?
  • DSLR Viewfinder Size / Coverage Comparison
    Here’s a neat little chart that shows crop factors, coverage areas, magnification, and effective sizes for the viewfinders on just about all dSLRs.
  • 5 ways to deal with negative photo-critiques
    Dealing with criticism is a difficult thing to do as a photographer — we have a strong connection with those photos. But critiques will happen, so here are five ways to deal with them.
  • 13 of the best flickr silhouette pictures
    All Day I Dream About Photography
    A very nice collection of silhouette photos from the creative minds at Flickr.
  • How to frak your next digital camera purchase
    1001 Noisy Cameras
    Wanna screw up your next camera purchase? Here are some tips to help you accomplish that.
  • Do you know what Hyperfocal Distance is?
    Do you like to photograph landscapes? Do you know what hyperfocal distance refers to? Check out this great technical explanation, complete with some fun charts.
  • 70 Free Photoshop Actions
    Reyns Wim Photography
    Wow, a very nicely done package of Photoshop actions. The download page also has a preview functionality so you can see what all the actions do. Most of them are for “normal” editing techniques, but there are a few “artistic” ones in there too.
  • Color Junkies
    The Online Photographer
    “The Online Photographer” takes a stance against color photos. Somewhat humorous, but he makse some very good points for b&w and how to evaluate if a color photo is really worth pursuing in color.
  • If You Put That Picture On The Internet I’ll Call My Lawyer
    Jeremy Brooks
    Jeremy Brooks runs into a crazy guy on the street and writes about his confrontation. Here’s a good example of when to stand up for your rights against people who think they can bully photographers.
  • And here’s a neat photojournalism video/slideshow from Richard Wong.

How To Create Photoshop Actions

Photoshop Actions

Photoshop actions are the best — they save time and make you more productive during post-processing. They can be used to speed up repetitive tasks, make quick work of time consuming edits, and give you a little creative inspiration. In several of my previous Photoshop articles I’ve given the option to download a set of actions that cover the topics discussed here on the blog.


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As I mentioned in my “Actions Teaser” post, I’ll be going through the basic steps of creating actions and give you some examples of how they can be used. I’m going to rely on my regular readers to fill in any gaps that I might miss, and discuss the Photoshop actions they typically use. So let’s get to it — open up Photoshop and follow along!


Before you can do anything, you need to have the right tools in front of you. Make sure that your actions palette is activated and visible. It typically shows up as a tab on the history palette, but this may vary depending on your workspace.

If your actions palette is nowhere to be found, you can activate it under the “Window” menu. Once you do this, you should see a palette similar to the one in this photo. If you don’t have any actions defined yet, you’ll probably just see the “Default Actions” set.

Sets are a way to group actions as you see fit. To create a new set, pull down the palette menu and click “New Set…”. Give your new set a descriptive name. Also note that when you import and export actions, it’s the whole set rather than a single action.


OK, you’ve got some sequence of events you want to record and you’re ready to start the action. As an example, I’ll walk through my “Flickr Horizontal” action that I mentioned in the teaser post.

Before we can begin recording the action, we’ll need to create the action. Pull down the action menu and click on “New Action…”. Give it a name and a keyboard shortcut if you want. Now we have a new empty action that we can record to.


To begin recording the action, simply select your action in the palette and click on the “Record” icon in the lower action menu or select “Start Recording” from the pull-down menu. Once you click this button, every event you perform will be recorded. This includes menu items, adjustments, layer selections, and any of the Photoshop tools.

There’s no need to hurry through your sequence of events, because the action is not time based. If you’re not doing something to the image, it won’t be recorded. So take your time and get it right.


Now do whatever it is that you wanted to do. Perform all the tasks, clicks, option settings, and image adjustments that you want included in your action.

If you mess something up or if you accidentally skip a step — don’t worry. After recording the action you can go back and edit the steps, add steps, and re-record steps.

For my “Flickr Horizontal” action, here are the steps I take:

  • Save (optional)
    Since I’m creating an action that eventually closes the file, it might be a good idea to quickly save the original prior to running the rest of the action. I don’t include this step in my action because of long save times for large files, but I could lose information if I forget to save prior to running the action.
  • Flatten Image
    Since I’ll be resizing the image, I flatten everything to create a single composite layer. This prevents all of my adjustment layers and whatnot from being scaled separately.
  • Image Size
    I prefer to keep my Flickr photos at 800 pixels on the long edge, so I’ll type in “800″ in the appropriate dialog field.
  • Convert to Profile
    I work in Adobe RGB, so I need to convert everything to sRGB for the web.
  • Convert Mode
    I also work in 16-bit mode, and JPEGs don’t support this. So I switch to 8-bit.
  • Save As
    I didn’t like the results from the “Save for Web” option, so I just use a “Save As” now. Here, I specify that the image should be saved in a “Flickr Upload” folder located on my desktop. I don’t rename the image, so it retains its original name. I also save at a quality of 12 since there are no limits on storage space with Flickr.
  • Close
    After I save the image, I have no need for it so I close it out.

Some of these events are specific to my personal preferences and my computer’s file structure, so if you’re following along with my example you’ll need to adjust a few values.


So once you’re done with the sequence, its time to stop the action. Just press the “Stop” button at the bottom of the action palette and Photoshop will stop recording.

For some actions, this is the end of the road. But many of my actions are set to require input from the user at specific points along the way.


An action with no stop dialogs will run through the sequence of events without stopping or asking for anything. So if you have a step that requires some human input or uses a setting that must be adjusted for each photo, you must tell the action that this is the case. To do this, simply click on the box next to the step and you’ll see the icon appear.

When this box is active on a given step in the action, Photoshop will present you with the dialog box pre-filled as specified by the action. You’ll then have a chance to make adjustments to anything in that dialog before moving on. Once you hit “OK” for that dialog, the action continues as it normally would.

In the example of my “Flickr Horizontal” action, I don’t set any stops for the dialogs. I can do this because each time I use it I want to produce the same results. For my other actions such as “LAB Sharpening”, “LAB Saturation”, or “High Pass Sharpen” (as shown in the image above), I set stop points to adjust certain settings that vary between photos.


Inserting a menu item (via the pull-down menu) is similar to recording the action, but it forces a dialog that can’t be toggled off. When the action arrives at that menu item, you MUST interact with it to continue. These menu items also have no preset values like the recorded actions do, so you’ll get whatever shows up by default.

I personally don’t use menu items very often, but they can be useful for certain situations. If you record an action and you find that the presets from the action item are causing more work for you, delete that step and insert a menu item.


I usually don’t get my actions right the first time around unless they’re extremely simple. I find that if I run a few different Photoshop files through the action, I usually uncover some mistakes or find the need to insert additional steps to ensure the action runs smoothly. If you find a mistake with one of your steps, just select that step and “Record Again” (via the pull-down menu). Or if you want to re-order some steps, just drag them up or down the list until they land where you want them.

I’ve also noted a few quirks about running actions, such as error messages that can occur if something is not possible to complete. Or the fact that working with multiple files, renaming layers, and selecting layers are cumbersome tasks with actions because Photoshop is looking for specific file names or layer names each time the action is run.

For complex actions, what you’ll end up with are a few extra steps that ensure a robust action that can handle many different files. But hey, it’s an action — who cares?


So… I think that covers the basics of how to create an action in Photoshop. If I missed something or if I didn’t explain something well enough, let me know and we can follow-up in the comments.

These action things are great, but what can you do with them? It can be hard to think of those repetitive tasks when you’re not performing them, so I’ll share a few of my action needs. I would say that my actions are grouped into three main categories: administrative tasks, specific tasks, and creative boosts. Here are a few of the actions in my arsenal.


These are things that will drive you nuts because they’re no fun at all. Like every time you want to save a JPEG or TIFF file. Or every time you want to downsize for Flickr or email. I use actions to speed up the process and prevent me from making mistakes.

  • Resizing and saving for specific destinations
  • Basic adjustment layer setups
  • Converting color space and bit depth


Actions are good for little items that consist of a few steps. By using an action, it not only bypasses the need to click on menus or type keyboard shortcuts, but it also allows you to set default values that you commonly use.


These are more of starting points than anything. I use actions for this type of stuff so I can quickly evaluate if a certain technique has any potential with the photo. Often, I’ll not only run a few b/w conversions, but I’ll also run most photos through at least 3 or 4 other creative techniques in Photoshop and take snapshots of the initial results. This allows me to decide which direction I’m going and I don’t have to waste a lot of time getting there.

So all you Photoshop gurus out there, pipe up and give us more examples of what can be done with these things. What are some of your most useful actions that you couldn’t live without?

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Use Photoshop Actions To Save Time

Do you have some sequence of edits, mouse clicks, or keystrokes that you find yourself doing on a repeated basis, day in and day out? I certainly do. One of my most repeated pieces of Photoshop work is saving something down for Flickr.

First I have to flatten all the layers. Then I size it down to 800 pixels on the longest dimension. Then I convert to sRGB color space. Then switch over to 8-bits. Then, finally, I can save it to a “Flickr” folder on my desktop for uploading. Oh, and then I have to close the file. This is painful if I have even more than one image to process. So I made a couple of Photoshop actions to make quick work of it.

I made one action for horizontal aspects and one for vertical aspects because I set a specific dimension for downsizing. If I use the horizontal action on a vertical photo, I’ll end up with something that’s 800 pixels on the short dimension. The other handy thing about the actions is that the files get saved to the same folder every time, so I don’t have to specify anything in the save dialog box. It’s definitely handy for me!

If you haven’t made your own actions before, you’re missing out. It’s seriously easy, and you can get quite complex with them if the need arises. A Photoshop action is just a record of a sequence of post-processing steps. If you work on a photo, you’ll see that Photoshop keeps a history of what you’re doing. An action is very similar to that history, but you can play it back on different photos to make the program do the work for you.

In a follow-up article, I’ll show you how to make a Photoshop action and I’ll use my “Flickr save” action as an example. I’ll go through the basics of creating the action, runtime options, and talk about some other examples of what you can do with them.

Photoshop Techniques: Cross Process and Redscale

I gotta hand it to the film guys, they sure know how to have a good time. I’m fascinated by the many methods and techniques they can use to produce some very interesting images, all of which are only possible with film. As digital photographers, we can only try to mimic what they can do in hopes that our work will turn out half as interesting. Here are a couple of my favorite film photography techniques that can be (sort of) reproduced with Photoshop.

Base ImageGreen ProcessedRed Processed

Cross processing is a film photography technique whereby the film is deliberately processed in a solution intended for a different type of film. The effect is usually heavy color shifts, increased contrast, over-saturation, and a funky greenish-yellow tint.

Base ImageGreen ProcessedRed Processed

Redscale is another film photography technique whereby the film is loaded into the camera facing the wrong direction. This causes the red layer of the film to be exposed first, thus absorbing more light than it would normally. Blue now becomes the last layer to absorb light, so it’s nearly non-existent. These images have a very distinct red color shift, but can range from yellow to maroon.

Here are some of my previous cross-processed photos.

PED XING Piña Refresco Benched Smoker The Dog in the Bike Reading Material

Keep in mind that these techniques are highly subjective, so many cross processed and redscale images will have similar traits while being drastically different. I’ve put together a couple of Photoshop actions that will help start the process for these techniques. These have been added to the previous actions for LAB Sharpening and LAB Saturation.


These actions will lay down three layers to get you in the right direction, but think of them as more of a starting point than an ending point. Dig into it and start tweaking the layers until you find something that works for that image. Since the layers are non-destructive adjustment layers, you can edit one at a time, little by little, until you get the photo where you want it.


Cross Processing Steps

This is a fairly simple process, it just takes a lot of time if you don’t use the Photoshop Action provided. I picked this up at PhotoshopSupport.com, made a few tweaks, and wrapped it up in a Photoshop Action.


Cross Process Color Curves

A curves adjustment layer (Layer >> New Adjustment Layer >> Curves…) is typically used on the composite channel to boost contrast. We’ll be ignoring the composite channel and working on each of the color channels. As you get into the setup dialog box for the curves, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and leave it at 100% opacity for now. So here are what my curves look like in the red, green, and blue channels. This isn’t an exact science, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect — you’ll want to tweak on things differently for each image anyways.


Cross Process Color Fill

Here, we’re just adding a fill layer at a low opacity (Layer >> New Fill Layer >> Solid Color…). Again, in the setup dialog box for the fill layer, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and bring the opacity down to about 10 or 15%. Start off using the color “#E1FF00″ and work from there — it’s kind of a lime green/yellow. This will give us that green tint.


Cross Process Contrast

At this point, the image is probably looking pretty close, but a little dull and flat. We’ll use another curves adjustment layer to boost the contrast. Be sure to set the blend mode to “Luminosity” and leave it at 100% — this will ensure that we keep our colors and our brightness separate. Throw in a nice “S” curve and adjust to your liking. Don’t be afraid to blow out some highlights, since that’s fairly common in cross processed photos.


This isn’t usually necessary, but if you want to give the color a little more punch, run my LAB Saturation action (included in the download set) and adjust the parameters until you’re happy with it.


Redscale Steps

I based this one off of the cross processing technique by altering the colors and curves. It may not be the best way to accomplish this, but it works fairly well and it gives you great control over your colors.


Redscale Color Curves

Again, we’ll be ignoring the composite channel and working on each of the color channels. As you get into the setup dialog box for the curves, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and leave it at 100% opacity for now. So here are what my curves look like in the red, green, and blue channels. The main thing you need to know here is that the blue channel will give you the most control over the final color of the image. Drag the point in the middle of the curve up and to the left, and you’ll get more of a magenta tone. Drag the point down and to the right, and you’ll get more of an orange or yellow tone. These are all feasible outcomes of redscale film photography.


Redscale Color Fill

Here, we’re just adding a fill layer at a low opacity (Layer >> New Fill Layer >> Solid Color…). Again, in the setup dialog box for the fill layer, be sure to set the blend mode to “Color” and bring the opacity down to about 15 or 25%. Start off using the color “#CC4400″ and work from there — it’s kind of a brick red/orange. Most of the red will come from the previous layer, but this will add some. Here, you can also adjust how yellow or magenta the layer is along with the opacity.


Redscale Contrast

Redscales are typically less contrasty than cross processed photos, but this step will give you control over that and let you play around a little. We’ll use another curves adjustment layer to boost the contrast, just like we did with cross processing — but this one I’ve set the shadows to be less dark. Be sure to set the blend mode to “Luminosity” and leave it at 100% — this will ensure that we keep our colors and our brightness separate. After you’re done with this, you can continue to boost the saturation, sharpen the photo, etc.

So there are two techniques to mess around with. Use them sparingly, otherwise it’ll start to lose it’s magic with your onlookers. I’ve found that street scenes tend to work well with these techniques, but you’d actually be surprised at how many different images could benefit from a little artistic flare such as this.

If you use one of these techniques on some photos in the near future, leave a link in the comments below — I’d like to check them out!

Photoshop Technique: LAB Saturation Adjustments

LAB Saturation

Saturation is one of those things that we tend to either ignore or overdo. In some color images, it’s the actual colors that account for the interesting-factor — and in those cases, saturation processing is very important.

I have the sneaking suspicion that most of us (yes, I’m at fault too) will use an RGB saturation adjustment layer (or an ACR adjustment) to boost the color saturation. This is probably OK for very small adjustments on the order of less than 5 or 10%. Once you go beyond that, you’ll start clipping the color highlights and end up losing tone details and textures.

But have no fear, there is a better way! The LAB (Lightness, A, B) color mode is quite useful for making higher quality adjustments to the saturation. I’m guessing that most will avoid LAB editing because it seems less intuitive, or because there’s no immediate need to use it. In reality, it’s no more difficult to use than the RGB color mode. So if you have an image that’s begging to be saturated, try out this technique and I’m certain you’ll find just how powerful it can be.


I’ve put together a Photoshop action that might help speed up the whole process. Laziness is usually why I’ll opt for the RGB saturation method vs the LAB method, so this action should make the process less tedious. Just apply any touch-ups or adjustment layers to your original image like you normally would, select the top layer when you’re ready to bump your saturation, and run the action. This action basically takes care of everything, but it gives you the ability to adjust the LAB curves half way through the execution. After getting the LAB curves adjusted (as outlined in step 4 below), you’ll be presented with a “Duplicate Layer” dialog — You MUST select your original document from the second drop down menu for things to work correctly. Give it a try, and let me know if there are any problems with it. Also, before you run it, you might want to run through the steps below just to get a better idea of what it’s doing.


Unadjusted RGB Image

The RGB color mode is the most common to work with, so I’ll assume that most of us use this as our default. We can still work in RGB even though we’re doing adjustments in LAB color mode — it’s just a little extra work. So open up your image as you normally would and apply any touch-ups such as spot removal or any other cloning or cropping. Once you’re comfortable with the base image, we’ll start looking at the color and contrast.

You can also go a different route than what I’m showing here — you could actually start up in LAB color mode straight out of the RAW file (for those of us processing RAW), skip steps 2 and 3, go straight to boosting the saturation, and just convert back to RGB when you’re done. What you want to avoid is excessively switching back and forth between RGB and LAB color modes.


RGB Curve AdjustmentCurves Adjusted

After applying my touch-ups, a curves adjustment is usually the first thing I do. The RGB curve is great for increasing contrast using the traditional “S” curve as I’ve shown here. This adjustment also gives the appearance of increased saturation too, so it’s a good idea to apply it and dial in your contrast prior to adding any color saturation.


Make a copy of the visible image by doing a “Stamp Visible” command (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E). This gives us a single layer that contains all of the underlying adjustments we’ve applied. Now take this layer and duplicate it to a new document. Once in that new document, change the color mode to “LAB”. Why not just change the color mode in the original file? You’ll lose any RGB-specific adjustment layers such as the curves adjustment we just applied (go ahead, try it and see what happens). OK, so now we’re working with LAB and we’re ready to boost the contrast.


Lightness CurveLAB Adjusted
A CurveB Curve

We’ll do the saturation adjustment with a curves adjustment layer, but this time we’ll be adjusting each channel individually. Start with the “A” and “B” channels and make the adjustments as shown in the screenshot. Be sure to pull each side of the curve in equal amounts, otherwise you’ll end up with some funky color shifts. Same goes for adjustments between the two channels — try to keep them in the same ballpark. The last step is to go back to the “Lightness” channel and put a slight “S” curve into it to fine tune the contrast after adjusting the saturation. Again, extra contrast adds to the appearance of extra saturation.


Once you’re happy with your saturation adjustment, you can merge the layers, stamp visible, flatten, etc. to give you a single layer with all of the color information. Now copy that layer back to your original image — it should convert itself back into RGB when you copy it over.

Once you’re back in the original image, you’re pretty much done with the adjustment. You can now toy around with masking and opacity settings to get the final look you’re after. If you’re seeing localized spots that seem too saturated our out of place, you can just brush over them on the mask with a low opacity brush until you get the results you need.


Now for the fun part — let’s evaluate just how much better this technique is from a standard saturation adjustment that most of us are familiar with. Sometimes the old RGB method will work out better for you, but in my opinion, the LAB saturation is much more natural with deeper colors and less highlight clipping.

LAB Saturated (shown), RGB Saturated (mouse over)

LAB Saturated (shown), Curves Only (mouse over)

RGB Saturated (shown), Curves Only (mouse over)

LAB Saturated (shown), Original (mouse over)

RGB Saturated (shown), Original (mouse over)