Contrast Mask Photoshop Tutorial

Contrast masking is a technique used to correct photos that because of the high dynamic range some of it’s areas appear underexposed while the rest of the image appears overexposed. With this technique we are able to reveal details both from the underexposed areas and the overexposed areas. This technique isn’t something new, traditional photographers used to apply the equivalent of this technique in the dark room for quite sometime now while the digital version of this technique is also used by a lot of photographers for years. However, I have found that most digital photographers ignore this extremely useful technique so I decided to write this tutorial.

Lets start by opening our image. I am going to use this photo taken at Stockholm with a small compact digital camera.

Original photo before tutorial

You can see that the left side of the photo is underexposed, while the building is slightly overexposed.

Now we are going to duplicate the photo layer. Go to Layer->Duplicate Layer (Ctrl+J)

layers window

The next step is to desaturate the new layer we just created. Go to Image->Adjustments->Desaturate (Ctrl+Shift+U). Now you should have something like this.

desaturated Original photo

Inverting the duplicate layer is our next step. Go to Image->Adjustments->Invert (Ctrl+I)

photo after inversion

Set the blending mode of the layer to Overlay and you should get something like this.

overlay blending mode result

As you can see a lot of details that weren’t previously visible are now visible. However our image looks strange, so we are going to do one final thing.

Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur and apply a gaussian blur. For this step there is no golden rule about the value of the radius of the gaussian blur that works best, you should experiment with the settings. For different images I have seen values from 10 up to more than 100 work. For this image I used a value of 60. You can also play with the opacity of the duplicate layer to achieve your desired result.

gaussian blur settings

And here is my final result.
final tutorial photo result

tutorials thumbnails

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4 Responses to “Contrast Mask Photoshop Tutorial”

  1. Ed Fladung Says:

    Excellent tutorial! keep up the good work. other tutorials to think about:

    Recreating the looks of certain film stocks on digital photos. would love to see a tutorial on how to get a digital photo to look like it was shot with Fuji Velvia.
    A cross-process tutorial that doesn’t muddy up the photo (most canned Pshop actions get great saturation, but leave the photo looking too dark and muddy. almost gothicy (if that’s a word)
    a lot of Pshop manipulations like contrast and saturation look great on screen, but try to print these photos and you’ll have trouble. possibly a tutorial on how to achieve the same effects using different techniques. (i.e. using ’selective color’ instead of saturation will give much better printing results).

    just a thought.

  2. alay Says:

    wow! nice one! i really need this.. ^^

  3. jon Says:

    that was very cool

  4. » Blog Archive » Says:

    […] Contrast Mask Photoshop Tutorial. Fix the under and overexposed parts of your photos. […]

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