Crushing the blacks
Hello internets! It’s that time of week again! #TravelTuesday here on ScottKelby.com is #HybridDaveTuesdays, where I’ll share some top tips on photography and Photoshop from my background in travel photography. Thanks for your feedback from last week—I love hearing from you, keep it up!
Now for this week, let’s have a look at a common theme on Instagram right now. Take a look around and it’s clear to see that a distinct winner among the top photos in the explore section is photos with crushed blacks. That’s to say that the black point isn’t quite black. You only have to check out the likes of @MrWhisper (well worth a follow, a fellow Londonite) to see that the popularity of this technique is standing head and shoulders above the rest.
When describing this look, it’s common to hear ‘retro,’ ‘vintage,’ ‘milky blacks,’ or ‘crushed blacks.’ In Adobe Photoshop, there’s no button labelled ‘vintage,’ but I’ll show you the basics behind this look, so you can apply it to your own images. It’s worth noting that there’s not one right way to do it, but there are a number of techniques which all achieve similar results, depending on the look of your initial image. To put it in it’s simplest terms, it’s basically the opposite of HDR. Instead of increasing the dynamic range of our image, we decrease it. It may seem a little counterintuitive, in fact, because we’ve been rewarded by our favourite camera companies with some fantastic technological advances, which have allowed us to capture a much broader dynamic range, and we’re post processing to reduce it! We have the ability to make the blacks true black in post, then we go and brighten the blacks! This low-contrast look is popular, but it doesn’t always fit, so it’s important to know the right time to use it.
Here’s a straightforward technique that I use in Photoshop’s Curves panel:
We’ll deliberately introduce some clipping to our image using the Curves panel. For the dark areas, bring the left point of the line slightly up, which raises the brightness of the darkest areas of the image, and slightly to the right, which will reduce the detail. To bring the highlights down, do the opposite on the top right of the line.
The Curves adjustment tool can seem pretty intimidating, but if you play around with it to understand what’s happening, it can be very useful and powerful! It represents a histogram of the image, depicting the dark areas of the image on the left and the light areas on the right. The diagonal line is used to manipulate the brightness of different areas of the image.
So there you have it! Tones made simple—a top tip they don’t tell you! Show me how you get on, as you always do.