Tutorial: Make Your Colorful Photos POP!

There are times when we take photos of colorful subjects and feel that the results are somewhat less than spectacular when we upload the images to our computer. Colors can often seem washed out, leaving your beautiful photo looking rather plain. Fear not! There is a quick and easy way we can take your colorful photos and really make them POP!

This technique works especially well on landscape photography, or even photographs of other colorful subjects like flowers, packed marketplaces, or these totem poles for example. To make a photo really pop off the screen, we need to do a few things: Sharpen the image, boost the color saturation in the luminance areas of the image, and deep end the black levels slightly. I’m going to show you a quick and easy way you can do all of these things in just a few short steps!

1) With your image open in Photoshop, duplicate your background layer by pressing Control-J (PC) or Command-J (Mac).

2) We are going to make our adjustments in the Lab color mode, so lets switch our image mode to Lab by going to the menu: Image > Mode > Lab…

3) Since you have multiple layers here, you will be asked if you would like to flatten these layers. Do not flatten the layers, as we will be needing to work with them both.

4) Click on the Channels Palette (the tab located right next to your Layers Palette) and Control-Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) on the Lightness Channel which will load this channel as a selection. You will see an odd pattern of the selection as indicated by the little “marching ants” in your image.

5) Now click back on the Layers Palette to view the layers again.

6) Go to the menu: Filter > Other > High Pass… And choose a value between 1 to 3 pixels based on the resolution of your photo. For low-res or web gallery photos, you will want to use a value around 1 pixel. For high-res images, use a value between 2.5 to 3 pixels. The higher the value, the more sharpening will be applied to your photo.

7) At this point, the image wont appear to look very nice at all. Not to worry, the best part is yet to come! Switch back to RGB mode through the menu: Image > Mode > RBG… And once again, do not flatten your layers.

8.) As with all tutorials in Photoshop, there is always a “wow” moment, and here it comes! We made the selection and high pass adjustments to the duplicated layer, now it’s time to make the magic happen. Change the blending mode of this layer to “Soft Light” and voilà! You should immediately notice all of the changes made to the image; sharpening, color boost, and a deepening of the blacks (increased contrast).

9) You can adjust the strength of this effect by decreasing the layer opacity of the top layer to your liking.


When viewed together, you can see the difference in the before/after examples. Better still, you can rerecord these steps into a Photoshop Action, or you can feel free to download the one we have created on our Photoshop Actions Page (1-Click WOW Action – free).

Have fun with this technique and make those colorful images really pop!

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