In this tutorial I’ll show how I processed this image using the easiest way to darken the sky for dramatic effect and some super-sharpening to bring out more detail in the photo.
The photo I started with was okay, but nothing particularly interesting. The exposure was good, but the real scene was more dramatic. I’ve tried to recreate that scene the way I saw it. And, admittedly, enhance it to the way I wish I had seen it.
Step One – Shadows/Highlights
Duplicate the photo layer. Photoshop doesn’t yet have the ability to have Shadows/Highlights as an Adjustment Layer, so I like to keep a backup of the original photo for fine-tuning later on.
To give it a bit more of an HDR look (which is how our eyes see), I used the Shadows/Highlights tool . I kept the settings subtle to just bring a bit more detail into the clouds and to brighten the dark areas of the road and trees.
Step Two – Darken the Sky
Ensure your foreground colour is set to Black (press D to reset the colours to their Defaults)
Now add a Gradient Adjustment Layer . Set the gradient to “Foreground to Transparent”. I want the gradient to be going from black at the top to transparent at the bottom, so I’ve ticked “Reverse”.
Set this Adjustment Layer to Soft Light blend mode and now we have a nice dark sky. A similar effect could have been done by using a Graduated Filter on the camera when taking the photo, but a) I like the control and fine-tuning this offers and b) I don’t have a graduated filter (at least not one that fits my main lens).
Step Three – Super-Sharpen
Finally, to give the image more impact, I used some super-sharpening. My preferred method of sharpening (everyone seems to have their own way) is using the High Pass filter.
To use this, I needed to first flatten the image into a new layer above all the others (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E – a very useful shortcut!).
Then to Filters > Other (at the bottom) > High Pass. The amount depends on the size of your photo and the effect you want. A small number (0.5 or 1) is good for normal sharpening. But for this super-sharpening effect, I went with 50.
Now, you should have a mostly grayscale image with a bit of smudged colour. I prefer to keep it all grayscale, but sometimes the extra colour looks good. To remove the colour I use Ctrl+Shift+U.
Set this layer to Hard Light blend mode to see how it looks. Now, turn the layer off and on a few times to compare. The unsharpened version almost looks blurry by comparison! The difference is dramatic. Some people will like it, others might think it’s too much. You can (and I usually do) turn the opacity down to keep it subtle.
I don’t usually use that super-sharpening but for this photo it seemed to work well. The method also works well on more texture based photos.
In my original I used my vintage colour technique to adjust the colours further and tuned the opacity of layers to get it looking good to my eyes.
Hopefully this tutorial has given you a couple of new techniques to try out on your own photos. If you’ve used these techniques on one of your photos, I’d love to see what you have come up with – feel free to send me the link in the comments.