I have only been photoshopping for a little over a year, and to be honest, I haven't even begun to tap into the potential of this software. Recently, while trying to figure something out, I discovered that I've been doing things the hard way...imagine that. I have purchased hundreds of preset actions over the past year, but many times I want to achieve a particular effect without using an action since actions tend to be fairly heavy-handed and require lots of adjustments to tone them down to my liking.
I want to share with you how to use nothing but the adjustments that come in photoshop to achieve a soft, hazy edit with sunflare added in for fun.
Step 1: Pick a pic.
I chose a photo of my son in his halloween costume that I love...you can see the
SOOC (straight out of camera) on the left. It was exposed properly, but felt too heavy and dark for the light-nature of the photo...plus, I wanted it all dreamy and such.
Step 2: Adjust the lighting situation.
To begin, click the little new adjustment layer icon (see pic below) and choose Levels.
That little graph controls the exposure of your photo. I wanted to lighten up shadows and haze it up a bunch, so I slid the middle slider to the left until I liked what I saw (about 1.33). Now, you might lose some of the details in the blacks that you want back...you can slide the far left slider to the right a stop or two to darken those blacks back up. And the one on the far right..? It will perk up your highlights...I like to bump it over a bit to brighten up all of the whites. Careful, though...you might cancel out one or the other by doing both...you can preview your changes by turning the "eyeball" icon on/off next to the Levels layer.
I wanted to warm up my already pretty warm pic because my child is an albino red-head and he was pretty pale. If you click the New Adjustment Layer icon again, this time select Photo Filter (see pic). I chose the Warming Filter (85). Just play around with them. You can click the eye to turn that level on and off to see the difference it makes.
Special note: the cooling filter does wonders on orange newborn skin!! It also fixes that weird yellowish hue from indoor photos if your white balance was off! And, you can also add really artistic hues to your photos and black and white conversions with this tool! Don't forget you can adjust the opacity of the photo filter layer if the default is too strong!
Like I said, I wanted this to be a very hazy, dreamy, super light image. To get that haze, I clicked the New Adjustment Layer icon again and selected Hue/Saturation. I slid the Lightness slider until I liked what I saw. If you start to lose those blacks again, you can always adjust your levels layer by clicking on that layer and playing with the sliders. You may also benefit from opening yet another Adjustment Layer and selecting Brightness/Contrast...
Flatten your image by going to Layers>Flatten image
You might want to stop here, or if you're like me, you might want to add some sun flare for fun!
Click the Add a New Layer icon (see pic below). You will need to use the paint bucket tool to fill that layer with black.
Then, select Filter>Render>Lens Flare. A cute little dialog box will pop up giving you the choice between several different styles of lens flare. To pinpoint the origin of the flare (wherever the lightsource should be for your photo), just click the image in the pop up box to move the flare around until you like where it's at. (see second image below).
Now that your flare is how you like it, click OK. Next, change your blending mode on the flare layer to "Screen." You may adjust the opacity if necessary. If there are any weird spots on a part of the image that you don't like, you can click the icon that looks like a circle inside of a rectangle and then use a black brush to brush off any of that layer you don't like.
Lastly, I like to run a high pass filter on my image to sharpen it up a tad, and usually a noise reduction filter. To do the High Pass, flatten your image, then make a new layer by clicking CTRL+J on your keyboard. With that new layer highlighted, go to Filter>Other>High Pass. Change the blending mode to Soft Light for a subtle effect, or Vivid or Hard Light for a stronger effect. (You can adjust the opacity, too, and brush off anything that it's too much on...you'll have to click that rectangle with a circle again and use a black brush to "wipe off" the sharpness where you don't want it). After that, run a noise reduction filter by clicking Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise.