Learn how to add a high-contrast subculture look to any photo using Photoshop CS3’s Black & White adjustment layer. This photo effect mimics the harsh lighting effect commonly seen in urban portrait or fashion photography. This tutorial also provides an alternative way to mimic this effect for users using Photoshop CS2 or older.

Preview of Final Results

Harsh Lighting

Harsh Lighting Photoshop Tutorial

Step 1: Open a photo into Photoshop

Begin by opening in Photoshop the photo that you would like to add this harsh lighting effect to.

Step 2: Add a Black & White adjustment layer

Open the Layer> New Adjustment Layer menu and select Black & White. If you are using Photoshop CS2 or older, you won’t be able to use the Black & White filter. Instead, select Hue/Saturation which can give a similar effect as the Black & White adjustment layer.

Step 3: Set Overlay as the blending mode

A New Layer window should appear. Inside this window, select “Overlay” from the Mode drop down menu.

Step 4: Select a B&W preset

If you are using Photoshop CS2 or older, skip this step because there is no presets to choose from. For Photoshop CS3 users, the Black & White adjustment layer settings should appear and you should see the harsh lighting effect. First, move the window so that it doesn’t cover the photo; you will need to be able to see the photo as you make adjustments. Open the presets drop down menu and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to scroll through the list. As you scroll through the list of presets, you should see a live preview of the effect. Pick a preset that you like the most. For this step, I chose the red filter because it gives the female model a brighter skin tone that will contrast well with her dark dress.

Step 5: Tweak the settings

Now we’ll tweak each individual color to achieve the best results. In the Black & White adjustment window, there are six adjustable color settings (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta). You can adjust the brightness of each individual color by sliding the input slider for the corresponding color. For my photo, the skin was overexposed so I reduced the reds slightly (from 110% to 77%) so that the curves of the face are visible without losing the harsh lighting effect.

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