Simple Photo editing tutorial – photoshop photography digital art

betstb - MainImage

This is my first tutorial ever – so give me feedback on how you like it – but be gentle!  🙂

I’m going to go over the design steps that take the good picture on the left and make it into something a bit more vivid on the right.  Hopefully some of the thoughts and steps will inspire you to make your pictures even more amazing!

Find your Focus

The first thing I do when I look at a picture is figure out what the focus is going to be. What part of the picture is going to be the star?
In this case I was attracted to the way the sunlight was interacting with the little ‘hairs’ on the grass.
When I zoomed in they looked like little stars.

You always want to show off contrast – and the best way to do that is to look at edges.  I did a bunch of crops – looking for a nice section of stars that had great focus and seemed to sparkle more against the background.
When you are doing this feel free to rotate and flip the picture.  Sometimes flipping a picture just makes it pop!  In this case I found what I needed using the section below.

betstb 01crop

Creating the base

There are a few things I do to every picture – Denoise, Sharpen, Overlay layer.

Denoise – there are lots of good programs that take out the noise in your picture.  I use Topaz Denoise.  If I took the picture with a small pocket camera I use Topaz Dejpg.  Both work fantastic for getting rid of the noise and leaving in the detail.

Sharpen – There are lots of good sharpening programs out there too.  If this is your first time doing photo editing then just use the sharpen filter included with Photoshop.  It’s pretty good.  I use 2 high pass layers but it takes too many steps to describe here.

Overlay Layer – using an over Overlay Layer is one of the best and simplest things you can do to make your photo pop!  Here’s the steps – make a copy of your picture on a new layer – change the blend mode to overlay – change the opacity to about 20%.

Overlay before

betstb 02-overlay-before

Overlay After

betstb 02-overlay-after

Overlay options

betstb 02-overlay-options

Using a Levels Adjustment Layer

The next thing I want to do is make the ‘stars’ shine.  For that I used a Levels Adjustment Layer.  Levels is a great way to make the dark parts of your picture true black and the light parts true white.
The levels window has three sliders on the bottom.  The one on the left makes the darks blacker – the right slider makes the lights whiter – and the middle slider makes the entire picture darker or lighter.

Start by clicking the adjustments button at the bottom – then select LEVELS.  That gives you a layer that looks like where the larger arrow is pointing.

betstb 03 levels options

Now that we have the levels layer it’s time to move the sliders.
I still want all the nice ‘fuzzy dark stuff’ in the background so I left the left slider alone.
I want the lightest part of the picture – the ‘stars’ – to stand out – so I moved the right slider in.  That made the stars brighter.
The stars still got lost a bit in the background so I moved the middle slider to the right – making the entire picture a bit darker.  After all – stars shine brightest at night!

betstb 03 levels options 2

Before the Levels Adjustment Layer

betstb 03-levels-before

After the Levels Adjustment Layer

betstb 03-levels-after

Vignette using a Curves Adjustment Layer

The picture is starting to take shape!!
The bright grass on the right and all the stars at the bottom are pulling focus.
One thing you always want to do is help guide the viewer to the focus.  One way of doing that is making the supporting part of the picture darker.  The technical term is making a vignette.
A vignette is a powerful thing – it can be subtle – or beat you over the head.  You want to keep it as natural as possible.  If you get a result like the picture was taken through a foggy lens then you’ve gone too far!
Fortunately there is a super simple way to create a vignette effect that focuses exactly on what you want.  We will do this using a Curves Adjustment Layer.

First click on the Adjustment layers button – then select Curves.

betstb 04 curves options

There is a LOT you can do with the Curves Adjustment Layer.  You can lighten shadows, bring back detail in highlights – but what we are going to focus on today is adjusting the brightness and tone of the entire image.

To do that click in the center of the curve – this makes an adjustment point – and drag it down.  You’ll see the contrast and darkness in your image increase.

betstb 04 curves options 2

We don’t want that for the entire image, though.  We want to leave the center all bright and happy!

To remove the curves effect from part of the image we use the mask.  The mask determines what parts of the image get the effect and what parts don’t.  The white parts get the effect – the black parts don’t.

First click on the mask – then select a soft black brush – and paint over the image where you want the original brightness to remain.  If you look at the image below you can see the black part of the mask is right where we want the stars to shine!

betstb 04 curves options 3

Before Curves Adjustment Layer

betstb 04-curves-before

After Curves Adjustment Layer

betstb 04-curves-after

Final Step – Vibrance Adjustment Layer

The picture is looking great!
One by-product of all the layers we’ve used so far is the saturation has gone way up.  The browns on the right and bottom are still pulling focus.  The stars in the focus look great but the brown parts now just look spiky.
It’s time for the Vibrance Layer!
Vibrance is one of the newer layers for Photoshop.  It’s a subtle way of adjusting the saturation of an image.  You can use a saturation layer if you want but it seems that the results get so out of whack so fast.  Using the vibrance layer you can add subtle color to flowers, skies or fields – or you can go the other way and make a picture more Black and White without going all the way.
Making a picture Black and White always emphasizes the shapes of objects and that is what we want to do in this case.

Adding a Vibrance Adjustment Layer is similar to adding the other adjustment layers – you just click the Adjustment button – and select Vibrance from the list.  I haven’t shown the pop up menu before but you can see it in this picture.  If you look at the list you can see the Levels and Curves on there as well.

betstb 05 vibrance options

The Vibrance Adjustment Layer only has two sliders – saturation and vibrance.  It’s nice to have the saturation option on this window but I usually only use the Vibrance slider.  In this case I moved it to the left and took out some of the color.  The browns are now mostly gone and are no longer distracting!

betstb 05 vibrance options 2

Before Vibrance Adjustment Layer

betstb 04-curves-after

After Vibrance Adjustment Layer

betstb 05-vibrance-after

Final Image

And that is it!!  That is the final image.  The stars are twinkling and the picture has focus!

You obviously don’t have to do all of these steps on every picture.  Maybe you find the idea of the crop useful – or the overlay layer – or the vibrance layer.

Let me know if you liked this tutorial and if you got any value out of it!

I hope you share this on your blog / facebook / etc and it inspires people to do a little editing on their pictures!


betstb 06-final-before

Final image

betstb 05-vibrance-after

19 thoughts on “Simple Photo editing tutorial – photoshop photography digital art

    • I’m using Photoshop CS6. I use that exclusively for all my picture editing.

      If I’m going through vacation pictures, though, I use Picasso by Google and use their Quick Fix batch option.

      Thanks for asking!


  1. This is a great tutorial! I recently got Photoshop and have no idea what to do with it. The screen shots (and before and afters of what they do) are awesome! Thanks!


  2. Great tutorial, Michael! I really like the layer masks in Photoshop as they offer so many versatile ways to spruce up your pictures, and CS6 is really comfortable to use. I think I liked your image before the Vibrance Adjustment layer the most, with the yellow accents still in it – but that’s just a matter of color preference. 🙂 I find the cropping very helpful to guide the eye as you said, that’s a really key point for a great picture. Have a lovely week and thanks for sharing your knowledge!


    • You are so very welcome! I’m glad you found the tutorial useful.

      I was including the before and after pictures for each edit because I was hoping that – like you – people would make up their own minds about what liked.

      Thanks again for the support!


  3. Thanks for sharing your expertise. As I use cs5 would need to adjust but find some of your approach giving me new ideas which is ever a good thing!


  4. That is a cool workflow. I have never used Topaz or considered reducing the noise as a step. I also think it is interesting how many of the other steps you make are reflected in my own workflow but I take different paths to you in order to achieve what I see as similar ends.


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