Photoshop Technique: High Pass Contrast

April 9, 2010

Photo Tips

Achieving adequate midtone contrast can make or break an image. While Curves offers the ultimate precision for fine tuning contrast, it treats all image areas equally – smooth areas, textured areas, and contours. Using High Pass contrast you can target contrast to affect contours more than other image areas – to a lesser degree, texture and volume are also accentuated.

Here’s how.

Step One

  • Duplicate the Background Layer. Title the new layer High Pass Contrast.
  • Keeping the effect on a separate layer allows it to be modified indefinitely and applied selectively.

Step Two

  • Double click on the layer to activate the Layer Style palette. Set the Blend Mode to Overlay. Lower the Opacity to 50%. And finally move the Blend If sliders on This Layer to 25/45 and 215/235. (Hold the Option/Alt key to split the sliders.)
  • The Blend If sliders are used to hold the effect away from delicate shadow and highlight detail that is prone to clipping.

Step Three

  • Filter the layer with High Pass (Filter: Other; High Pass). Start with a Radius of 50.
  • If haloes appear, lower the radius.
  • Very high Radius settings changes the effect from contour contrast to planar contrast.
  • The filter Radius determines the intensity of the effect.

Step Four

  • Desaturate the layer (Image: Adjustments: Desaturate).
  • This reduces potential hue and saturation shifts produced by this effect.

Step Five

  • Increase or decrease the effect by using the layer’s opacity slider.
  • The Opacity controls how intensely the effect is applied to the image.

Step Six

  • Add a layer mask to localize the effect.
  • Use a black soft-edged brush the effect away.

High Pass contrast is customizable, localizable Clarity for your Photoshop layer stack.

A derivation of High Pass sharpening routines, this technique can also make the image look sharper without accentuating noise.

It’s a useful kind of contrast that is difficult if not impossible to achieve any other way.

Warning! Once you start using it, you may find it hard to stop.

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2 Responses to “Photoshop Technique: High Pass Contrast”

  1. David Saffir Says:

    I have a number of dune images that will be greatly improved by this. Well done!


  2. Ron Richins Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I tried this out over the weekend. I like it. I set this up as an action, and I’ll probably find it hard to stop now.


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