5 steps to take your images from drab to glam.
This is the original image, right off the camera, no manipulation:
Here is the final image. See the vast, but subtle difference:
Open the image and find your focal point. Using some of the same techniques that give the look of a tilt-shift image, enter Quick Mask Mode (shortcut: Q). Once in Quick Mask Mode, select the Gradient tool (shortcut: G) and switch it to “Reflected Gradient” mode.
Now draw a 90º line from the center of your focal point out to one of the edges of the artboard. This step might take a couple tried to get you exactly what you’re looking for, but tweak the settings until you’re happy. This is what mine looked like:
Once you have your gradient drawn out to a place your comfortable with, exit Quick Mask Mode (shortcut: Q) and you should see your marquee.
From your finder menu navigate to ‘Filter/Blur/Lens Blur…’ and enter the dialogue window. From here you will control how much emphasis you would like on your subject, but for normal photos this should remain fairly low as to not give it a “photoshopped” fakeness.
As you can see from the above image, the setting i used offer a sense of depth to the otherwise flat photo. I kept the settings subtle for the effect i was trying to create, but be creative until you achieve the look you want.
Next we will adjust the saturation to really make the colors and the focal point pop. First, Enter the Hue/Saturation dialogue window (shortcut: command + U) and add anywhere from 15-35 to the saturation point.
This will give the image a much more vibrant look without blowing out the colors to a ridiculous state.
From here we will adjust the levels of the image to make sure that our black points and white points are slightly beyond their original histogram starting points.
Enter the Levels dialogue window (shortcut: command + L) and look at your histogram. Make sure you move the Black point past the lowest point of the left graph and visa versa with the White point on the right side. For this image i’ve also moved the 50% Gray point slightly to the right as to make the image slightly darker throughout the mid tones as well.
By now you’re image should look pretty good. Now if you’d like to jab at those colors and depths one more time like i did you can proceed with this step.
What i’ve done in this step is to take all the work we’ve done thus far, and step it up one more time. Start by duplicating the layer you’ve been working on by dragging it to the new layer icon, which will create a copy, or using the keyboard shortcut (command + J). Once you’ve got a copy from your finder menu navigate to ‘Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur…’ and adjust your settings until you’ve got a nice smooth glow over the image, as you can see above. Now, you may be asking yourself why we just ruined all that work we just did. Well, here’s the exciting part. Set that duplicate layer you just blurred to a blending mode of “Soft Light” and watch the image shine! Adjust you opacity until you’re happy with your final image.
Well, That’s it. Simple, fast and effective. Once you get these techniques down you’re on your way to editing all your photos with speed. For a tutorial on using the Levels dialogue window, see my post, Tutorial: Using Black & White points in Photoshop to clear up an underexposed picture, for a more in depth explanation of the White point and Black point and how you can color correct photos in a flash.