In the image below we have a situation that comes up a lot; dark hair over a dark background and the hair just doesn’t pop.  Start looking at portraits and you’ll see it time and again.  I’m going to show you how in just a few minutes, with a little Photoshop trickery I make hair come to life in post.

00 before.jpg

Step 1:  Go do the layers tab and create a new layer by dragging your background layer onto the create new layer icon.

01 CNL

Step 2:  With the original background layer selected (the bottom one) open up “Camera Raw Filter” from the filters drop down menu.

Step 3:  Now it’s time to play with the sliders.  For this step you will eventually have to come to your own conclusions about what looks best.  To give you a starting point and to make this little tutorial as simple as possible I will start you off with a nice easy base.

Exposure +1.00
Shadows +50
Clarity +50
Vibrance +50

This is going to result in what looks like a highly over processed HDR but don’t worry.  Just click OK to apply.  Now what you should have is a top layer (Background copy) that looks “normal” and your HDR looking bottom or base layer (Background).

02 2nd layer

Stop 4:  With the top layer selected and the bottom layer hidden select the erase tool and start to erase where the hair is.  You can toggle between your bottom layer being visible and invisible to help you apply the brush in the right spots.

03 erase 01

 I usually have brush opacity at 100% and flow somewhere between 3 and 12.  Before long, depending on how careful you are with your erasing, you should have something that looks like this;

04 erase 02

Step 5:  When your happy with your erasing unhide your bottom layer and merge your layers.  If you followed the stops properly and your initial image was a good candidate for this trick you should have something like this; Before on top and After below.

06 b&a

In case you didn’t notice I actually erased her eyes and lips as well to give them a little boost.  In many cases I will also boost the clothing, but not here.

Animated GIF’s destroy all detail and resolution but it helps to show just how dramatic the change is.


Extra Tip:

If your a little more advance with layers or just want to give it a go you can add a 3rd layer to this process and use opacity to more accurately apply the intensity of the effect.  To be honest it’s usually not worth the time.

In the image below I not only applied this trick to the hair and dress but to the sculpture as well.

R3_00113 base mask 02 crop_resize

Please let me know what you thought of this tip in the comments so I know if I should keep doing these.

Photo Credits:

Model: @traciedang
Hair & Makeup: @mai_p_n
Special thanks to @blairkyliejay & @cswrightphotographyRed Dress: Forever 21
Platinum Dress: @vyvyan_84
Photos & Edits:  Me

© All images are property of Blackriver Photography and Lightsmith Studios.