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Soft Shading

Image Adjustments

I want to bring the color out just a little big more, and also push the contrast a little more.   An effective way to achieve this is with a Levels Adjustment Layer.   An adjustment layer is sort of a modular image change.   It’s like applying Brightness and Contrast changes, or Color Balances changes to an image, but you still have control of them after applying them.   To create a new adjustment layer, click on the half black and half white circle on the bottom of the layers window (4th button over for Photoshop CS2) and then select “Levels.”

This layer will be the top most layer of the image, so make sure you place it there before doing anything.   You’re going to see a window that looks like a graph with some arrows underneath it.   Levels can be used to alter the colors in an image in various ways, so go ahead and grab the white arrow on the right and slide it to the left.   Grab the black arrow on the left, and slide it to the right a little and notice the changes going on.   When you’re happy with what you have, click OK.   Remember that since we used an adjustment layer instead of just “Levels” in the menu, you can still disable or enable the layer and even change its specific settings.

Here you can see the changes that I made to my image.   Notice how much brighter the colors are, and all we had to do is just add an adjustment layer.   I also painted in a quick background, hopefully that didn’t startle you to much.   We’re almost done with the final product, just one more thing to do.

This is just a style choice, or a habit of mine, but I like to sort of unify the colors with a splash of Soft Light in a particular shade.   I’m going to add just a layer of solid Soft Light to the image, and it will give all the colors in the image a certain tint and it will help to just unify the palette a little bit.   To do this create a new layer below your Levels adjustment layer and fill it with a color.   I chose a light, grey blue for this because it matches the idea of the character being in an outdoor environment.   Set that layer’s blending mode to Soft Light and see the change.

There you have it!   Not so bad, huh?   Using a lot of layers and some Photoshop tricks can really pay off, especially when you have a hard time picking colors like I do.   A lot of my imagery makes use of soft light and levels and other tricks to make the colors stand out more and give them more variety, as I’m not very good at manually picking awesome colors.   I try, but after messing with Photoshop settings I realize that I can make images look a lot nicer, and more effectively by using some image manipulation tricks.

So once again, here’s the final image, resized down by about 60% for publishing on the internet.   I hope that this provides enough insight on Photoshop and a soft shading technique to help out with your own style.   If you have any specific questions or feedback, click on the webmaster link at the bottom of the page to shoot me an email.   If you want me to add any detail to a specific step, or if you just want to tell me how awesome or horrible the tutorial was, I would love to hear your comments.   Thanks for reading!
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