Fixing Dull Color In Photos

Dull photos…we all have them. Sometimes it’s just the way that they come out of the camera. Do we have to live with it? No way! SO here is a quick tutorial that shows you one way that I might tackle the very common problem of the dull photo…

Here is a before and after of what we are going to do…

Real quick…Some FYI’s

I use  Photoshop CS2 entirely in this tutorial and this should work for any subsequent versions of Photoshop. There are keyboard shortcuts for some of the actions, but I only call out the menu selections in this tutorial to keep things simple.

Before you begin, realize that this process will introduce some added noise to your image. The noise can be treated in the end using different techniques or software (Noise Ninja, or Neat Image) designed to reduce noise in images. Most people wont be bothered by the noise addition and will find it negligible, but if I don’t mention it upfront, the noise-nazi’s will come out of the woodwork and chastise me with their comments and emails. So here is your full disclosure up front. 

And lastly, I know that the final effect might be too much for some and in this tutorial I pushed the image very hard. For most of the actions you can back off the effect and make the changes more subtle and create the effect that YOU want. With art, make yourself happy first, and then others.

Let’s Get Started

Here above is the picture we will be working with today. It was obtained graciously from “Photos8” and is included in the public domain so that means we can use it for whatever purposes we would like. The picture is not unlike any photo that we might take on a vacation; a silhouetted palm tree and a so-so background. 

1) To get this picture onto your clipboard, right-click the photo and choose the option “copy photo”. The photo is now on your clipboard.

2) With Photoshop open, go to the pulldown menus and choose File>New

3) A dialogue box will appear and should have the size of the photo already in it (720 pixels x 479 pixels) as photoshop will launch new canvases with the dimensions of your most recent clipboard acquisition. Press OK

4) Now you should have an empty canvas. Go to the pulldown menus and choose Edit>Paste. The picture of the palm should be applied to your canvas.

5) Time to start where I start with every photo; LEVELS. SO go to IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>LEVELS. You will get a pop up that looks like this.

***For beginners…there are three eye droppers on the levels pop-up box. If you look closely, the one on the left looks like it has black ink in it, the one in the middle looks like it has grey ink in it, and the one on the right looks like it has white ink in it. We can use these droppers to help determine what we think should be absolute black, grey, and white. 

First we want to define our black point on the photo. The palms are what I think should be black, so we will take the black eyedropper and click somewhere on the black of the palm to define our new black. 

Then we want to take the white eyedropper and click on the white of the watermark in the lower right hand corner.

Lastly, take the middle slider (grey) under the histogram and move it to the right until the middle number in the “Input Levels” reaches .5 as shown below.

Your histogram and picture should look like this at this point. looks good so far so lets push “OK”


6) Time for some magic and to do so we need to duplicate this layer. So go to Layers>Duplicate Layer. A pop up box will appear asking you to name the layer. We can let it default to Layer 1 Copy and push OK.

7) With the Layer 1 Copy layer active go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. A dialogue box will pop up asking you to choose a radius for the blur. Choose something small. I chose 1.1 as a radius value.

8 ) Now go to the Layers pallette and click on the blend mode pulldown (see photo below) and choose “multiply” as the blend mode. [ Note*** not every photo is the same and you may have/want to choose a different blending mode. If you are unfamiliar with what each one does…click through all of them and choose the best blending mode for your pic. ]

Your photo should now look like the one below

So looking at the photo now, we have some nice color but it is really hard to see the dark palms against the dark clouds. So we have one last adjustment to make.

9) Go to Layer>Flatten Image. This will give us a composited picture all in one layer.

10) Go to Image>Adjustment> Shadow Highlight. You will see a pop-up dialogue box and immediately you should see a difference in the image. I choose to move the Shadows slider to 40% as shown below. You can move it to wherever you feel comfortable.

11) OPTIONAL*** You can at this point go to Filters>SHarpen>unsharp mask and sharpen the image to increase the detail  of the outline in the palm trees. Be warned though that this will increase noise in your photo so don’t go crazy. 

Summary: So as you can see, there is a chance for those forgotten photos that were judged too dull to be shown off. I hope you enjoyed it and as always, feel free to contact me with comments, questions, or suggestions. Cheers.