Turn Dull Photos Into Dazzling Images in Photoshop

Anum Khan
Anum Khan

A few years back, if you wanted your photos to have a specific style or effect for your photographs, you would have gone straight to a professional photographer. However, today’s technology makes it possible to achieve the same results without paying handsomely to get the desired photo effect, even after the fleeting photo opportunities have come and gone.

Our very own Photoshop makes that job not only easy to do, but surprisingly enjoyable as well. Photoshop allows users to with the right know-how to make large improvements and enhancements to their imagery, as we’ll demonstrate. There are countless effects, styles and actions available, and if you have something particular in your mind and the right technique on hand, you can make your effect a reality… or at least a digital reality. Colors can be brought to life, or they can be subdued to create a vintage look. Photoshop helps you achieve your desired effect easily, and there’s no limit to your creativity with this amazing tool at your disposal.

Today, I am going to show you how to make some strong, time-efficient improvements to your photos in Photoshop. Along the way, you will learn few handy techniques to accentuate an image. We’ll use various adjustment layers and filters to do this job. So, let’s get started!

Image by masha.kushnir
Final result:

Step 1

Open the image that you want to improve in Photoshop. I am going to use the gorgeous image below by masha.kushnir. Duplicate it — we’ll work on this copy now to preserve the original image.


Step 2

First of all, we’ll use the spot healing brush tool to clear the skin of any imperfections. Use “Normal” mode for the spot healing brush and select “Content-Aware” as the source sampling type. We’ll use an 8-10px soft round brush to do this job. Use the brush over the clear skin near the spot and press the “Alt” key to sample that area. Now, apply the brush over the blemish in question — it will replace the spot with normal skin sampled earlier. Label this new layer as “Clear”.


Step 3

Next, we’ll smooth out the skin. Duplicate the “Clear” layer. Select the smudge tool with 5% strength and use varying sizes of the soft round brush to apply the smudge tool along the natural facial curves in the directions shown below. Label this new layer as “Smudged”.


You can adjust the opacity of smudged layer to 50-80% if you want to show the skin texture. For this particular image, I am proceeding with 100% opacity.


Step 4

Duplicate the smudged layer and label it as “Glowing Edges”. Now, go to “Filter” >“Filter Gallery” > “Stylize” > “Glowing Edges.” Apply the following settings here.


Change the blending mode to “Linear Dodge” and set opacity to 50%.


Step 5

Next, duplicate the original smudged layer and bring it above the glowing edges layer. Now, go to “Filter” > “Sharpen” > “Unsharp mask.” Use the following settings here to sharpen the image.


Step 6

Next, we’ll mask the sharpening effect over the skin to keep it smooth. To do this, click on the “Add Layer Mask” icon, which is present in the bottom of layers panel. Now, press “D” to select the default colors and fill the mask with black using the paint bucket tool. Filling the mask with black would hide the sharpening effect. Now, pick a suitable size soft round brush and paint white over the area you want to sharpen. I’ve applied a white soft brush all over the image, leaving the skin as shown below. If you go wrong while painting white, just paint over that area with black to hide the effect within your layer mask.


Step 7

To blend the facial skin color, you can try this technique. However, its optional — you can skip this step if you feel that the skin tone of your image already suits you. Create a new layer above the others and label it as “white mask”. Select a 50-60px soft round brush and paint with white over the face on this new layer. Reduce the opacity of this layer slightly, as illustrated in the image below.

Select a soft round eraser tool and roughly erase the white mask over the eyes, eye brows, nostrils, lips, etc.


Step 8

Now, apply a 5px Gaussian blur filter on the white mask and reduce its opacity to 5-8%. This may vary from image to image.


Step 9

To improve the shading and lighting over the face, we’ll use the burn and dodge tools. Create a new layer and go to “Edit” > “Fill” — use “50% gray”. Label this layer as “Shading” and change its blending mode to “Soft light”. Now, we’ll use the burn tool to darken the shaded parts of the image and the dodge tool over the highlights. You need to use varying size brushes for this job. However, use low settings (Midtones) for both the burn and dodge tools and exposure — between 5-10%.

Here is how I used these tools, showing you first in normal blending mode, so you know where exactly I burned and dodged the image.


Then, after changing its blending mode to “Soft light”.


Step 10

Next, click on the icon to “Create new fill or adjustment layer” and select “Curves”. Apply the following settings here.


Step 11

Now, fill the curves mask with black using the paint bucket tool to hide the effect and then paint with white over the areas where you want to increase the contrast.


Step 12

Create a “Color balance” adjustment layer. Apply the following settings for midtones, shadows, and highlights.

12 12b

Step 13

Next, create an “Exposure” adjustment layer and apply the following settings to it.


Step 14

To further brighten the image, create a “Brightness/Contrast” adjustment layer with the following settings.


Step 15

Duplicate the smudged layer and place it above the rest of the layers, label it as “High pass”. Now, go to “Filter” > “Other” > “High Pass”. Use a 1.5px radius. Change the blending mode of this layer to “Linear Light”. Hide this effect over the skin by adding a mask, as we did in step 11 with the curves.


Step 16

Lastly, create a “Hue/Saturation” adjustment layer and increase the saturation of the image.

Original image:

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and learned something useful. I would love to see your results.