Local Contrast

Local Contrast
Is your lens lacking contrast? Find out how to simulate the contrast qualities of high quality lens with this Photoshop retouching tutorial. This effect increases visible detail and edge contrast without increasing the overall image contrast.

Local Contrast Photoshop Tutorial

Step 1: Open an image

Open a photo into Photoshop. To open a file, choose File > Open, browse for the image file, and click OK.
White Tiger

Step 2: Duplicate the layer and add a layer mask

Press Ctrl+J or choose Layer > Duplicate. This will create a second copy of the background layer. On the new layer, click on the add layer mask button in the Layers palette to add a layer mask.
Duplicated layer with mask

Step 3: Use the Unsharp Mask filter

When we added the layer mask, it automatically selected the layer mask. Select back the layer by clicking on the thumbnail of the layer. Now choose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. In the Unsharp Mask tool, set the Amount to 100% and increase the radius until the details become more apparent. Don't worry about it looking too sharpened - we'll work on that later. Adjust the amount so that the image contrast looks strong, but not posterized. Click OK when done.
Photoshop Unsharp Mask

Step 4: Paint the layer mask

Most likely, you don't want this effect to appear on the entire image, but rather just certain areas. In this step, we'll paint the layer mask to specify where and how strong the local contrast effect will be applied. There are two ways to do it:
  • Remove the effect from certain areas Use the Eraser tool to erase certain areas of the layer mask.
  • Add the effect to certain areas Select the layer mask and press Ctrl+I to invert. This will make the layer mask black. Use the Brush tool to paint the areas that you want to apply the local contrast effect to.
For this tutorial, we'll use the Eraser tool. Select the Eraser tool and set the hardness to 0% and opacity to 50%. If you're the Brush tool instead, use the same hardness and opacity.
Photoshop Brush Options
Make sure that you have the layer mask selected. Click on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers palette to activate it. With the layer mask selected, erase the areas that appears to be too strong. If you're using a brush, paint the areas where you want to increase the contrast. In the image below, I erased the ground. tiger, and parts of the background slightly. My layer mask may look like I did a sloppy job, but that is fine because it is hardly noticeable in the final results.
Now set the opacity to 100% and erase (or paint if you're using the Brush tool) the areas that you want to fully remove the effect from. For example, the snow on the ground looks dirty with the effect, so I masked out the effect from the snow.

Final Results

Here is the before and after effect of this Local Contrast Photoshop tutorial. After applying local contrast, the wall in the background shows a lot more detail. This effect can make photos look as if they were taken with high quality lens.
Before and After Local Contrast Photoshop Tutorial

Sample Photoshop Document

To view the image and layers used in this tutorial, download the following *.psd file and open it with Adobe Photoshop.
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