60 Seconds Exploring Design & Technology since 1988

Creative effects with Photos


Believe it or not, this Colin Smith tutorial is still alive with great tips and insight into using Photoshop . . . have fun!

The Finished Cover

We welcome Colin Smith, one of the true Photoshop icons of our times, to the pages of DTG — and we thank him for sending in this tutorial. Colin writes . . .

In this tutorial, we are going to apply one of my favoriate effects to a photograph. This will soften it and add some nice color and contrast. It only takes a second. In a form of subtlty, I use this effect on almost all my photos.

the original photograph

To start with, we will use a photograph I shot of model, Crystal. I shot this photography with a Canon 5D mk2 and a 50mm prime lens. I used a two light setup, one in front to the viewers right and one behind in the opposite. (You don’t really see the back light in this shot). I also used a silver reflector to fill in the light on the left. View the original shot enlarged

1 Because of the type of effect we are going for, let’s add some punch and contrast to the photograph. (See a before and after comparison)

increase the contrast using curves in Photoshop

Create a Curves adjustment. Usually I would use adjustments layers, but in this case Press Cmd/Ctrl+M to open curves. Make a slight S-curve by darkening the shadows and increasing the highlights a bit. Notice that I pushed the white point to the left so that the adjustment starts at the beginning of the histogram.

2 Duplicate the Layer and change to Overlay Blend Mode

3 Add a Blur to the top layer … Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur
(Note, I went back and did some very subtle spot healing work to the image to get rid of a few spots)

Add a new layer then Gaussian Blur

Choose the amount of blur depending on the resolution. In this case I’m working on a high res image so, I used 32.8. Low res might be somewhere in 5 range or so. You will be able to tell by eyeballing it. As you move the slider, the image will take on this nice dreamy look, when you go too far that look stops. Find the "sweet spot" and apply. For some images, you could stop right here, I like the soft dreamy look we have.

reduce the opacity of the blur layer

4 I reduced the opacity to about 40% to make the effect more subtle. This is a usable photo effect right here.

Having prepared the photo, Lets move on and make a CD cover.

5 Lets make a CD cover.

Add some text for the CD Cover This is just a really basic idea for fun, we cover other more advanced designs in other tutorials. Crop the image to a Square shape to it looks more like an album cover.

Add some text for the artist.

6 Choose the Custom shape tool for the toolbox. It’s nested under the line tool.

custom shapeSelect the shape layer option on the left side of the top tool bar

Choose a custom shape from the top tool bar. (If you don’t see many shapes, choose all from the little arrow on the right of the presets).
Select append when it asks what to do.
Grab the sun shape.
Hold down shift (to constrain)
Drag out the shape on your image. (enlarge)

position the custom shape

7 Drag the shape into position. You can scale it up or down and you will lose no quality because it’s a vector. (above right)

Change to Overlay mode and change the opacity to suit your tastes.

I added another super basic line of text as an album name.

finished CD Cover

There you go. I hope you liked this tutorial!


Feel free to experiment with the effect. One of the things that produces great results, is different blend modes. Try some of the other modes and see what you can come up with.

Colin Smith photographic effects

Colin Smith is a best-selling author, trainer, and award-winning new-media designer who has caused a stir in the design community with his stunning photorealistic illustrations composed entirely in Photoshop. He has won every Photoshop award ever presented, and authored a dozen books including : Complete Photoshop CS2 For Digital Photographers, How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS2, Photoshop and Dreamweaver Integration, How to Wow: Photoshop CS2 for the Web, and many others. He is founder of Photoshop resource site, PhotoshopCAFE.com


Don’t forget … we encourage you to share your discoveries with other readers. Just send and email, contribute your own article, join the Design Cafe forums, or follow DTG on Facebook!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

60 Seconds Exploring Design & Technology since 1988
Fred Showker explores design, graphics, computing, social media, marketing, and the online world with an eye to entertaining, amazing information that will possibly make you think!

Recent Posts

Recent Comments