How to Add Contrast to Your Digital Paintings With Adjustment Layers

Sometimes, we can spend hours and hours perfecting a painting. And yet when we step back and look at it, the painting still looks flat and dull. And usually, it’s a lack of contrast. Contrast is really important in a painting. It makes it visually interesting. It’s like a roadmap for your eye; helps your eye in getting through the painting. If you’ve been spending hours and hours on your painting, and it’s still looking flat, you don’t have to repaint the whole thing. There’s actually a few tricks in Photoshop for you to get the contrast that you need in a few seconds. Let’s have a look at it. Here’s a painting of mine. It’s actually a work in progress. And at this point, the darker values are not dark enough, and the highlights are not light enough. Basically, everything looks a little bit flat. But it’s no problem, I got a trick for it. And the trick is, to add an adjustment layer on top of my actual layer. To do so, you just have to go on your adjustment layer, and click. And let’s have a look first at the brightness-contrast. Now the brightness-contrast has a few features. First of all, there’s a little button, which once you click on it will automatically change the values the way the computer thinks it should be. Sometimes it gives a great result, sometimes, it’s better to do it manually. In this case, let’s do it manually. So I’ll undo. First of all, I’m going to add a little bit of brightness. Now if it was too bright, I could go backwards; but in this case, I want a little bit more. About 18, sounds great. And I will add a little bit of contrast to it as well to make sure that my dark gets darker. Let’s see the result here. That seems good. So the brightness and contrast is a good way to actually get those values and make sure that you’ve got your highlights good and your shadow good. But let’s go to another trick with another adjustment layer. I will click again and I will go choose Levels. Now the Levels are a little bit different; let’s go through it. First, you got Presets. Now in the presets, you got a bunch of different presets already done. Have a try on each of them, and just have a look. You will basically move different variables that you can use. Once again I prefer to go by myself manually. So I’ll go default here. Here you have a really nice trick. With those three eyedroppers, you can choose by clicking on the first one, the darker one. By clicking on the dark, it’s going to set this one–this value–to pure black. And if I take the white one, it will change whatever I pick on to be pure white. Now, see here, I actually took on something that didn’t want it to, but if i click on the white here, it tells me that now this white it’s going to be pure white. And it’s going to put the value in between to be in between. By clicking here, I can see the result of it. Now I like it. It’s a bit subtle, but it’s kind of better. I could also, if I go back to default, go manual, by changing the dark value here on the left, and the white value on the right. And the midtone here. So here’s a good trick for you when you start your illustration. To make sure that you got your values right, and of course, you need to put the adjustment layer on top of your layer. Otherwise, it won’t have any effect. If I was to put this lower, now the effect goes with nothing under it. But if I put it on top of it, it would give the effect. And it’s a good trick if you start your illustration and you want to make sure that you have your values from the beginning. Eventually, you’ll be able to put your values from the start and you won’t need that layer. But even the pros use it. So have some fun, draw and use the tools that are there for you to get better!

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