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Special Effects Using Camera Raw

There are some really nice special effects you can apply from right within Camera Raw itself, and some of these are easier to achieve here than they are by going into the rest of Photoshop and doing it all with layers and masks. Here are two special effects that are popular in portrait and wedding photography: (1) drawing attention by turning everything black and white, but leaving one key object in full color (very popular for wedding photography and photos of kids), and (2) creating a soft, dramatic spotlight effect by “painting with light.”

Step One:

For the first effect (where we make one part of the image stand out by leaving it in color, while the rest of the image is black and white [I know it’s cheesy, you know it’s cheesy, but clients love it]), we want to set up the Adjustment Brush so it paints in black and white. Start by getting the Adjustment Brush (K), then in the Adjustment Brush options panel, click on the – (minus sign) button to the left of Saturation four times to reset all the other sliders to 0 and set the Saturation to –100. That way, whatever you paint over becomes black and white.

Step Two:

In just a moment, we’re going to paint over most of the image, and this will go a lot faster if you turn off the Auto Mask checkbox near the bottom of the panel (so it’s not trying to detect edges as you paint). Once that’s off, make your brush nice and big (drag the Size slider to the right or press the Right Bracket key), and paint over most of the image, but make sure you don’t get too close to the area right around the bouquet, as shown here, where I left about a ½″ area untouched all around the bouquet.

Step Three:

Now you’ll need to do two things: (1) make your brush size smaller, and (2) turn on the Auto Mask checkbox. The Auto Mask feature is really what makes this all work, because it will auto matically make sure you don’t accidentally make the object in your image that you want to remain color, black and white, as long as you follow one simple rule: don’t let that little plus-sign crosshair in the center of the brush touch the thing you want to stay in color (in our case, it’s the bouquet of flowers). Everything that little crosshair touches turns black and white (because we lowered the Saturation to –100), so your job is to paint close to the flowers, but don’t let that crosshair actually touch the flowers. It doesn’t matter if the edges of the brush (the round rings) extend over onto the flowers (in fact, they’ll have to, to get in really close), but just don’t let that little crosshair touch, and you’ll be fine. This works amazingly well (you just have to try it for yourself and you’ll see).

Step Four:

Here, we’ve painted right up close to the bouquet and yet the flowers and even the green leaves are still in color because we were careful not to let that crosshair stray over onto them. Okay, now let’s use a similar technique in a different way to create a dark, dramatic effect using the same image. Start by pressing the Delete (PC: Backspace) key to get rid of this adjustment pin and start over from scratch with the original color image.

Step Five:

Here’s the original full-color image again. Get the Adjustment Brush and click the – (minus sign) button beside Exposure to zero everything out. Then drag the Exposure slider almost all the way over to the left. You can also drag the Shadows slider way over to the left, too (to make sure that, when we paint, things get really dark).

Step Six:

Turn off the Auto Mask checkbox and, using a large brush, paint over the entire image (as shown here) to greatly darken it.

Step Seven:

Now, click the Erase radio button at the top of the Adjustment Brush’s options panel (or just press-and-hold the Option [PC: Alt] key to temporarily switch to the Erase tool), set your brush to a very large brush size (like the one shown here), set your Feather (softness) amount to around 90, then click once right over the area you want lit with a soft spotlight (like I did here, where I clicked on the bride’s face). What you’re doing is essentially revealing the original image in just that one spot, by erasing the darkening you added in the previous step.

Step Eight:

Click just a few more times on the image, maybe moving ½″ or so around her head and shoulders, to reveal just the areas where you want light to appear, and you’ll wind up with the image you see here as the final effect. If the effect seems too intense, undo those last few steps by pressing Command-Option-Z (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Z) a few times, then lower the Flow amount. That way, it builds up more gradually as you click the brush.

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