How to Bring a Dull Photo Back to Life

by | 4 years ago

I love shooting sunsets; it’s the best time of the day to shoot. Every place looks so much better during sunset or sunrise, and that’s why most of my photos have a nice sky and a touch of magenta. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t always do justice to the photo. It doesn’t capture all the colors and details of the sky, and it can be disappointing when you arrive back home and you don’t know how to re-create the feeling you had when you were on the spot. If that has happened to you, this article is for you. I’ll show you simple steps to bring your photos back to life!

Step One: This is a photo I took of the Pont Alexandre III in the beautiful city of Paris. The sun was to the right and very red, but as you can see, the light is pretty boring in the image, even though it was really beautiful when I was there.

Step Two: The first thing you can do is some basic retouching in the Basic panel. In this example, I brought down the Highlight to –100, opened up the Shadows to +100, boosted the Whites to +55, and lowered the Blacks to –24.

Step Three: You can set the White Balance drop-down menu to Shade to give the image more of a sunrise feel. I personally love magenta, as it adds to the sunset mood even more, so try setting the Tint to +35.

Step Four: To make the photo more dynamic, use the Crop Overlay tool (R) to crop it so it’s more panoramic. The dead tree and boat don’t add anything to this photo, so I decided to crop them out. Also, use the Spot Removal tool (Q) to remove any other elements, such as sensor dust, that distract from the message.

Step Five: Now we can start bringing the sunset back! You can see in this photo that the sky was red around the bridge and bluer at the top. To enhance those colors, we can start at the top of the photo with a Graduated Filter (M). Once you set the gradient, add some blue by lowering the Temp slider to –12 and some magenta by setting the Tint slider to 7. I set the Contrast to 12 and the Clarity to 13, and I also lowered the Exposure to –0.52 to add some drama. Tip: In this image, when I lowered the Exposure, it darkened the statue in the foreground, so I opened the shadows to 100 in the Graduated Filter so the statue wasn’t affected by the Exposure change.

Step Six: Now to close the top of the photo you can add a second Graduated Filter. Click the word “New” at the top of the Graduated Filter panel, drag a new gradient on the very top, and just lower the Exposure to –0.41 to darken the edge.

Step Seven: This is the fun part—bringing the sun back! Select the Adjustment Brush (K), and set its Size pretty big. Set the Feather slider to 100, and both the Flow and Density to around 80 so you can’t see the brushstrokes. If you’re crazy about colors like me, you can even set the Saturation to 25. With the Tint and the Temp set to around 75, paint over the sunset on the bridge.

Step Eight: Click New in the Adjustment Brush panel, and play around with the Flow, Density, Temp, and Tint sliders to create a more gradual red-to-blue gradient in the sky.

Step Nine: A cool tip is to turn on the lights on the bridge. You just have to create a new Adjustment Brush, set the Flow and Density to 100, Temp to 46, Tint to 52, Exposure to 2.00, and Saturation to 22, then make your brush very small to fit in the lights. Now click just once on each light to fake the appearance of light. If you think it’s too noticeable, you can make it less bright by bringing down the Exposure. In this image, it adds that little midnight-in-Paris touch.

Step 10: For the final touch, you can create another Adjustment Brush and do some dodging and burning. In this example, I set the Flow and Density to around 90, boosted the Exposure to around 0.52, and then brushed over parts of the photo to make them brighter and more interesting. Here I’m showing the red mask overlay so you can see where I brushed on the photo.

And here’s the before and after:

Quite a change! Now you can see that it isn’t dull anymore. This is a pretty cool trick and I hope it will be useful for you guys!