3 Ways to Add Contrast in Photoshop

Great photos are often characterized by contrast. A full range of tones is important. This means that pixels can be from pure black to pure blue, and everything in-between. Because you can’t control the lighting, you may need to adjust your images after processing. Adobe Photoshop offers all the tools necessary to increase contrast and give your photos the depth and dimension they need.

The Histogram can be used to generate ideas

The histogram lets you see how dark and light values are distributed in an original image. The histogram is located in the upper right corner of Photoshop.

The left side displays how many dark tones you have in your image. The graph’s right side displays how many bright colors you have, and the middle shows how many mid-tones you have.

A histogram should be spread with a bar that touches the left and right sides of the histogram. The peaks should be in the middle.

Use the Contrast/Brightness Adjustment layer

You can adjust the contrast/brightness of an image by changing the number of shades in the darkest and lightest parts. This means that you can adjust the image’s tonal range.

You can adjust the Brightness slider to favor shadows or highlights and make the image darker or brighter. You can also adjust the Contrast slider to increase or decrease the image’s tonal range. The image will have more contrast if it has a wider tonal range.

These steps will help you add contrast to your photos:

  • Go to Layer-> New Adjustment Layer-> Brightness/Contrast. Alternativly, you could open the Adjustments panel by clicking on the Brightness/Contrast icon.
  • To increase contrast, drag the slider controlling Contrast to your right. Contrast can be adjusted between -50 to 100.

Use the Curves Adjustment layer

Another tool you can use to adjust the image’s tonal range is Curves adjustment. The Curves adjustment is not a slider as with Contrast/Brightness adjustment. Instead, it represents the tonal range of an image as a straight diagonal line. You can move control points up and down. Maximum 14 control points can be used. As a reference, the Curves tool has a histogram representation representing the original tonal range.

The highlights are represented by the upper-right values, while the shadows are represented by the lower-left. On the horizontal, the original tonal value ranges from black to white. The vertical shows the output of your modifications. It also ranges between black and white. You can make a point more bright by moving it up. You can make a point darker by moving it down.

You can increase contrast by using the Curves adjustment. This is done by increasing the difference between the shadows and the highlights. Drag the control points up or down, left or right. You can increase the value of a control point by moving it to its left. You decrease the value of a control point if you drag it to its right. To increase the contrast, move the control points in the highlights to the left and the one in the shadows to the right.

These steps will show you how to use Photoshop’s Curves adjustment layer for adding contrast.

  • Go to Layer-> New Adjustment Layer-> Curves (alternatively you can open the Adjustments Panel and click the Curves icon).
  • Click on the curve line (upper-right) to create a control point. Drag the control point left or right.
  • Click on the curve line (lower-left), and draw a control point. Drag the control point to either the right or the left.

One common contrast adjustment that uses the curves adjustment is to create an S shape curve by decreasing the darker tones and increasing the brighter values.

You can use the background histogram to help you define your control points. Place your control points in the empty areas of the histogram. If this is the case, you can move the black and/or white points towards the center of your curved line, until they reach the extremities. This adjustment will increase the overall contrast in the image.

Photoshop helps you even more. The On-Image tool allows you to define control points automatically. Click on the icon in Curves Properties to activate the On-Image Tool. You can create a control point using the On-Image tool by clicking anywhere in an image and making it darker or brighter by dragging up/down. Photoshop calculates the amount of light in the area and places it on the curve line. It then adjusts the curve according to your drag action.

Use the Levels Adjustment Layer

You can adjust the brightness levels of one of the histograms by using the Levels adjustment. The histogram will show you how many different tonalities your image has. There are 256 possible tone values. The Input Levels sliders range from 0 (black), to 255 (white).

Your photograph should have a continuous histogram that covers all 256 values. It should also be pure white or black. This is not always possible so the Levels adjustment lets you adjust the white and black points and extend the tonal range. You can increase the contrast in your photo.

Photoshop offers the ability to adjust the levels of a single channel or a composite RGB channel. You can also use it to change the colors of blue or green in landscape photography. This tool allows you to edit the image in a more flexible way and gives you complete control over every detail. You don’t have to add contrast to the entire image. Instead, you can add contrast and subtle effects to one color.

A well-balanced RGB histogram is a great asset for nature photographs. You can also choose which pixels are pure white, black or mid-tone grey to make your photos look more realistic. This allows you to reproduce the whiteness of snow and clouds in your photographs. A photo can be altered to have a different feel, such as being more sunny or less cloudy.

Levels adjustment can be used to quickly and efficiently adjust the image’s overall contrast. Follow these steps to fix the overall contrast of your image.

  • Go to Layer-> New Adjustment Layer-> Levels. Alternativly, you could open the Adjustments panel by clicking on the Levels icon.
  • Select an option from the Channel drop-down list (i.e. RGB, R or G, or even B)
  • Drag the Input Levels sliders for white and black to the right until they reach the ends of the histogram.

The middle Input slider can be moved to adjust the mid-tones. The image will look darker if you move to the left towards the black Input slider. The image will look brighter if you move to the right towards the white Input slider.

Do not Forget the Manual Way — Dodge and Burning

If you have one subject in your photos that stands out, you might use localized techniques to create contrast. Imagine that you took a macro shot of an insect. You want to contrast the insect with the background. These adjustments can be made using Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools. The Dodge tool will lighten the area that has been covered with a brush while the Burn tool will darken it. You can use both the Dodge tool and the Burn tool to work on the background.

These steps will show you how to use the Dodge or Burn tool for adding contrast

  • To make sure that you don’t permanently alter the background layer, first duplicate it.
  • Choose the Dodge or Burn option.
  • You can set up the options for your brush (e.g. size, opacity and exposure). ).
  • You can choose to change highlights, shadows or midtones from the Range menu.
  • Drag the mouse to select an area in the image you wish to burn or dodge.

To either eliminate tonal differences you don’t like or to highlight them, you would normally want to avoid and burn. This image shows me brightening the belly and back of my bird, while darkening its lower wing. This highlights the bird’s 3D shape.

Are you interested in bird photography? We have your back.

Concluding words

The three tools described may look similar but each one produces a different effect for a specific image. You can try them all and then choose the one that best suits your editing style and photography. Photoshop contrast is one of the most important steps in a photographer’s editing workflow. A slight increase in contrast can improve the quality of your photos and make them more appealing for commercial or editorial purposes.