Achieve textural contrast through selective sharpening of different areas of the image

Sample 1:
Exporting files as warm and cool layers. Top: Consider the warm parts of the image (1), such as the rocks, and adjust the temperature and tint sliders (2) in ACR or Lightroom. Export this file as the base image. Bottom: Similarly, consider the cool parts of the image (1), in this example the water, and adjust the temperature and tint sliders (2). Export this file as a layer on top of the base image.

Sample 2:
In Photoshop, open the Channels tab (1) or the Tony Kuyper panel if you have purchased it. Select the appropriate ‘darks’ channel (2) which best represents the cooler tones of the image. Ctrl-click selects this for you to use as a mask. The ‘marching ants’ (3) gives you an idea of the selection boundaries.

Sample 3:
Working palette for warm and cool layers in Photoshop. The cool layer should the top layer in this example (1). The warm layer should be the background layer (2). With the selection you have made from the luminosity mask active, click on the layer mask icon (3). A layer mask (4) is created on the ‘cool’ layer which omits the bright parts of this layer (shades of black) and includes the cooler parts of this layer (shades of white). Select the brush tool (5) to make adjustments to the layer mask by ‘painting’ in either black to exclude the effect, or white to include the effect.

If the ‘orton effect’ is something which doesn’t appeal to you, you can still achieve textural contrast through selective sharpening of different areas of the image. The steps for this are the same except you can omit the Gaussian blur layer. On the high-pass filter layer you can then create a layer mask and paint out areas where you don’t want this effect. The most striking example of this method of sharpening would be to accentuate the textural difference between rock, foliage and long exposure water for a seascape or waterfall image. In this instance, the sharpening should be applied selectively to areas which would naturally have texture, like the rocks, while areas which have been deliberately made textureless through in-camera techniques could well be left completely unsharpened (for example, waterfalls). The advantage of using the ‘high-pass filter’ as a sharpening layer instead of unsharp mask or smart sharpen is that it is a ‘see through’ layer, meaning all other adjustment layers beneath it can still be seen in full effect.

Use of a background duplicate layer and other sharpening techniques creates a new solid layer where adjustments can only be seen if they are above that layer in Photoshop.

The Last Word
These three methods of contrast control can make a striking difference to the appearance of the image, which can result in an almost three-dimensional look. It’s important to note however, that not all images will benefit from applying all three of these processes. It’s one thing to know the techniques available for you — you’ll be even stronger in post production if you know when to apply these techniques selectively. But the only way to learn is to experiment frequently so you’ll have a rough idea of what will need to be done in post processing before you start. We hope this outline has provided you with some insight into how we achieve what we feel is a balanced and restrained approach to contrast adjustment.

Example 1
Adding tonal contrast using the Curves adjustment layer. Select the curves adjustment layer (1). Click on top left hand icon on curves adjustment layer (2). With the hand icon active, click on areas of the image for bright and dark. Two new points should appear on the curves histogram (3). Use a layer mask to refine which part of the image requires this adjustment (4). Review the blend mode (5) to check if the effect is desired.

Example 2
Examples of tonal contrast applied in different blend modes. Top: Luminosity blend mode, Middle: Normal blend mode, Bottom: Colour blend mode. The effects are subtle and affect different colours in the image. As shown, Colour blend mode renders the image a cooler tone than in Luminosity blend mode.

Example 3
Mount Feathertop, Hotham, Victoria. Clouds obscure the peak of Mt Feathertop on a subzero morning. Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens, 120.0s @ f/13, 150100. ND filter, Benro tripod. Colour, contrast and sharpening done in Adobe Photoshop CC. David Lee image.