Photoshop Tutorial: Dull Color Fix: Duck girl
Level: Beginner
Demo in Photoshop CS4

Click on images to enlarge.

This picture of my daughter was taken by a professional photographer - my cousin Brian Pedersen. We went to a local park in Las Vegas. It was late in the day and the light was going, but it is otherwise a great picture — if we can fix the dull color. Although this seems challenging, it's actually a pretty fast fix.
The first step is a little clone on the face to even out the skin tones on the right cheek. This is done on a new layer and merged down once you are happy with it. To clone on a new layer, create a new layer using the sticky note icon at the bottom of the layers palette, select the clone tool and make sure Current & Below is selected in the options bar. Alt/Option+click on a clean area very near the area to be repaired in order to match the color and lighting.
Next you'll need to use a threshold adjustment layer to find the lightest and darkest points in the image. To do that, select threshold from the adjustments panel and follow the steps on my other curves tutorial. You should end up with two of these small target markers.
Create a new curves adjustment layer and click the white eyedropper. Click in the center of target #1 in the duck's hair. Then click the black eyedropper and click target 2. Now comes the "eyeball" part. This image doesn't have an easy to spot neutral gray such as concrete paving or a metal object. I clicked around a bit and settled on a spot in the upper left by the very fuzzy car bumper. When you do this, watch the skin tones and anything that should be white. It's easy to introduce a color cast if you are not careful. It is also easy to turn skin too magenta or too blue.
You may need to reduce the fill or opacity of these adjustment layers to reduce the strength of the effect and create a more natural change.
Now this looks pretty good for 3 minutes of effort, huh? But we can do more. How about we pump up the yellow in the duck and her shirt?
I created a new curve and on the BLUE channel dragged the mid-point down. This brings in more yellow. On the red curve, I dragged very slightly up to warm it up even more. To have this only effect the shirt and the duck, fill the layer mask with all black then using a soft edge brush, paint over the shirt and duck with white.
Next, let's darken and enhance the green in the background to make the child pop out. Create another curves adjustment layer. On the green channel pull up slightly. On the composite channel, pull down slightly on the bottom of the curve, and up even less on the top half of the curve. Fill the layer mask with white and paint over the girl with black. To soften the mask, you can run a gaussian blur on it.

Next, create a new regular layer. Sample a dark green from the grass. Fill the layer with the dark green, Set the blend mode to multiply. Select the eraser tool and use a huge fuzzy brush to erase all the green except the corners. This darkens the edges and makes the kid pop to the front. Lastly, create one more curves adjustment layer and don't make any changes to the curve. Change the blend mode on the layer to screen and lower the opacity. Fill the mask with black and paint over her face with white. This creates areas of target lightening that preserve skin tones very well. See my Painting with Light tutorial for additional explanation.
Here's the final image.

Here is another before and after using these techniques.
Questions? Post below.

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storybeader said...

looks great! First I have to get the $$ to buy Powerpoint. Any suggestions? lol {:-D

Wild Quire said...

What a great tutorial on a topic I've been wanting to learn about. I can't wait to try it out on some of my own photos.

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