How to get the "Look" of my photos.

Started Nov 26, 2005 | Discussions
Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
How to get the "Look" of my photos.

This came from another thread going on, but I thought it might be of use in a new thread. Dig in, these actions are great... to see them in use, check out:


Thank you for the compliments and for visiting my site. A lot of it is very contrasty and saturated, as you said, but the key, as you pointed out, is subtlety when necessary.

The most important of all Photoshop tricks that I've ever learned is this:

if you can tell what filter or effect was used, you've gone too far.

The second most important is layer masking. In case you aren't familiar, a Layer Mask hides a layer without deleting it. White or Black paint then hides or reveals that layer, allowing you to make countless adjustments to the image and reveal important details on a separate layer. If you don't understand, I urge you to figure it out; it is invaluable knowledge.

What I'm implying is that my images are all composites of maybe five or as much as twenty layers, each one edited to bring out specific details. The photo of the couple on the roof had a layer for the cement wall, another for the bricks, and another for them; one for the sky, one for the buildings, because everything had different values of brightness and detail.

Be an artist! Paint it up!

Oh, I use two actions ALL THE TIME.

The first action is a Velvia action, which I got from my friend Bob Butler ( It is by far the best I've used...

Make this an action!!!! Slide the opacity to match your needs.

The other is a Gradient Mapping action for Black and White photos. Experiment with Gradient Maps, they're awesome. These are the action details:

My B&W's are usually made of 3 Layers. I take the final color image and convert it to grayscale and then immediately back to RGB (so I don't forget later).

Then I duplicate the layer and raise the middle levels by 30% or there about. This compensates for the gradient map (which I do next) because gradient mapping over darkens but greatly deepens the sense of inky tone. It also raises contrast without blowing highlights!

I then paste another layer and do the gradient map without raising the mid-levels. Finally I use layer masks to reveal the best of each of these layers. (Are you lost yet?)

Again, the key is subtle details and layers. The other trick is (no kidding) my Wacom tablet. I value it more than any lens I own, as far as business goes, because what used to take ten hours now takes two or less. I'm telling the truth about that. I have the 9x12 intuos II. Saves a lot of time adjusting flow.

Hope this helps.
By the grace of God I'll be successful (which means changing lives).

Richard Adams Senior Member • Posts: 1,614
Thanks Spotts

I looked at but have not replied to your engagement pictures. They are bothe good looking people, which helps, but no matter the photos you took are bl00dy excellent, and I am in awe.

This thread is also very helpful, and I am sure when I get a chance to play I will be referencing your tutorial. Thanks.
Art is in the eye of the beholder
My opinion is one of many, and probably differs greatly from the norm.

OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Thanks so much, glad it helped.
Tigadee Veteran Member • Posts: 8,662
See Spott Run

...and run far you will! Excellent images you produce, lad!

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Your 4 'Cees' for photography: Crisp, Clean, Composed and Colourful

bill hansen Forum Pro • Posts: 10,025
gorgeous young woman

...and the guuy's probably okay too, though I'm no judge of that.

I've made up a couple of Velvia-like Actions, much like the one you posted. I surprises me how much they can help an image which I thought was already pretty good - though my own taste is for only a little bit of "Velvia", easily dialed in by varying the layer opacity.

I don't always use layer masks for adjusting multiple areas of an image. Often, I'll do multiple Selections, save them, and edit the separate areas of the image one at a time. It seems to me that this is often quicker, and it's easier for me to save all the resulting layers, then adjust one or more of them later on if I need to.

Where layer masks are invaluable is the situation where no other editing maneuver will do the job, except opening the RAW file with different settings. There's a bit less increase in noise when doing this, but if the Raw file settings are changed greatly as you open the file, noise is still increased.


OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Ha! Thanks (:
OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Thanks, Bill. (NT)
RBray Contributing Member • Posts: 631
raise to 30% question

I, too, am impressed with your photos and nearly blown away with your prices!! You really have some good stuff going on.

Good suggestion with the gradient map. That was nice.

I was following your B&W workflow until it got to the:

"Then I duplicate the layer and raise the middle levels by 30% or there about."

How do you raise the middle levels? Curves? Levels? Other?

And finally, I understand the layer mask idea, but really struggle with how much opacity, the brushes, etc. Is it truely just experience (and that Wacom) or can you help with pointing me in the right direction?

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Pleased 10D owner
'Never give up hope, Quantum Tunneling exists!'

OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Re: raise to 30% question...

For that second layer I do this...

Adjustments > Levels > and then grab the middle slider and pull it 1/3 to the left (or so) to brighten all of the mids.

As to "how much" opacity or flow to use... enough to notice that it helps, and not enough to notice that you've edited it? I guess part is just becoming familiar with what looks like. I spend two hours a week looking through really nice magazines at the local book seller, usually high fashion mags with clothes I'll never see on a real person inside.

Kimberly123 Regular Member • Posts: 161
Re: How to get the "Look" of my photos.

Thanks for the great tips. My photos will definately benefit from them.

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~ Kimberly
I know I have a lot to learn. That's why I'm here.

Willa Veteran Member • Posts: 7,328
Good stuff, Michael ...

I am still learning Photo Shop, and I love learning new things, but I have a LONG way to go ... there are books all over my office; it seems I can never get enough. Anyway, here is a 'painting' I did after I photographed a Xmas ornament and, starting with a white palette, came up with this. I hope to improve with practice. This is the same photo as my avatar, only bigger:

Keep up the great work, and good luck.

Left-eyed and Canonized!

See my attempts at photography at:

OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Thanks, Willa! Keep sharing! (NT)
OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
Ori Contributing Member • Posts: 568
Re: How to get the "Look" of my photos.

Your work at your web site is very good and very impressive.

I have a question about the Velvia action, the curves part is difficult to duplicate, do you have any guidelines how to do it accurately? Do you have the actions saved anywhere for d/l ?



OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143
How do I save my actions?

I was told that I can save or extract my actions somehow. If I can learn how, I'll put the actions up for download off my site.

Thanks for the compliments!

OP Spotts Senior Member • Posts: 1,143

You can download my Velvia, BW Gradient, Diffuse Glow, and Sharpening actions here!

Install the action (I think) by saving the action into the folder ProgramFiles> Adobe> PhotoShop> Presets> PhotoShop Actions>

There you are!

Ori Contributing Member • Posts: 568
Thank you so much! (nt)


ribian Senior Member • Posts: 1,196
You don't really need

to duplicate the image in your velvia action.
All you need are 2 adjustment layers
1) channell mixer adjustment layer
2) curves adjustment layer
and do the tweaks you feel like.
Since there are no real pixels selected it's faster and lighter

(you can eventually have pixels in the layer masks, if needed, if not then delete the masks).

As far as velvia is concerned you can visit some my previous posts and download my actions too
(my provia action is very similar to the velvia layers I suggested)

Glen Mitchell's L*a*b Velvia action

Paul Bleicher's Velvia-Provia action
RIccardo BIANchi (equipment in profile)
(english is not my 1st language)

Vibrio Veteran Member • Posts: 4,004
so you never paid for the velvia action then
Chromatic Aberration Contributing Member • Posts: 908
Cool, just marking the thread (nt)
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-Who are the Chromats, and why are they aberrating?-

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