Soft Contrast

Soft Contrast
Enhance dull photos soft contrast. This Photoshop effect enhances contrast and saturation.

Apply the Soft Contrast Effect

The soft contrast Photoshop effect is easy and quick. Follow the steps below to apply the soft contrast effect.

Step 1

Open a photo you would like to edit. Or, you may use the photo used in this tutorial (from iStockPhoto).
Image from iStockPhoto

Step 2

Duplicate the layer (Layer> Duplicate Layer or Ctrl+J) and change the blending mode of the new layer to Overlay.
Duplicated layer with blending mode set to Overlay.

Step 3

Activate the top layer and apply a Gaussian Blur filter (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur).
Ensure that the Preview checkbox is checked and adjust the radius to achieve your desired effect.
Without blurred Overlay layer vs blurred Overlay layer

Retain the Details

The majority of this effect has been done. But you'll notice that the edges may appear softer due to this effect. In the steps below, you'll learn how to filter out this effect from the edges.

Step 4

Select the top layer and add a layer mask (Layer> Add Layer Mask> Reveal All).
Layer Mask applied.

Step 5

Make sure the layer mask is activated. The thumbnail of the layer mask in the layers window should have a white border around it. If it doesn't, click on the thumbnail to activate the layer mask.

Step 6

With the layer mask selected, open the Apply Image tool (Image> Apply Image). Change the Layer to Background and click OK.
The Apply Image tool. Your window may show the blending mode as Multiply instead. Using either the Multiply or Normal blending mode is fine. They will both produce the same result if the layer mask is white.
Layer and Layer Mask

Step 7

With the layer mask still activated, apply a Find Edges filter (Filter> Stylize> Find Edges). You may be able to notice  slight changes in the edges of your image when you apply the filter. After applying the Find Edges filter to the layer mask in my image, the edge details have been restored; especially on the eyebrow.
Find Edges applied to the layer mask.
With and without Outlined layer mask.

Step 8

You may notice some outlining on some of the edges. To remove this, apply a Gaussian Blur filter (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur) with a radius of 3 pixels on the layer mask.
Before and after Gaussian Blur

Adjust the Results

There are a few adjustments we can make on this effect. Follow the tips below to tweak the final results.

Step 9

If the effect is too strong, reduce the opacity of the top layer or change the blending mode from Overlay to Soft Light.
Overlay vs Soft Light

Step 10

To adjust the saturation of the effect,activate the top layer anduse the Hue/Saturation tool (Image> Adjustments> Hue/Saturation) to modify the saturation.
The Hue/Saturation tool.

Final Results


Rollover the images below to see the before and after effect.
Soft Contrast Photoshop Tutorial
Soft Contrast Example
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