Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop, Part 1

I have always liked to modify small sections of images to enhance the overall balance. In this article we look at how to do this in Photoshop.
I find it is rare that the best I can get out of an image comes from simple, overall adjustments. Most images benefit from some degree of localized treatment. So in this article I offer you my way of working on images. We will go through three images, two infrared and one color.

Color
This is our starting image. The foreground is not bad but the sky and maybe the sea is weak. For this I’ve picked a clearly over exposed image that, perhaps because it is the only shot we have of a place, we want to rescue. In reality I would probably drop in another sky.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Applying Levels is a standard thing I normally do to start with most images to adjust the black and white points. In this case we already have lots of data close to black and white. Adjusting the mid grey control is similar to adjusting the curve. Pushing it right up towards the white point makes the sky and sea stunning, but is not good to the foreground.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

So the first thing is to apply the Layers -> New Adjustment Layer -> Levels.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Just in case you end up working with multiple layers, choose the Use previous layer checkbox so what you do will only apply to this layer.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Set the Levels to the most extreme change you want in the image.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

In the Layers palette you will now see a Levels adjustment layer with its own layer mask filled with white. Remember that in layer masks white means the layer or effect is shown in full, black means it is not shown and shades of grey apply it partly in proportion.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

If we now put a white to black gradient in the mask (use the gradient tool after clicking on the layer mask in the Layers palette) we can vary the effect from none to full. This gets us pretty close. You can apply the gradient several times until you get the angle and transition correct. It took about three goes to get this right.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

To then fix it up further choose the paintbrush, set a low brush opacity and a suitable sized soft brush. Select black.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Now paint into the mask, building up layers of paint where you need it to reduce the effect as needed. Zoom in and out, change the brush size and switch from black to white and back, as needed until you get what you need. You can see in the mask where we have made changes to the straight gradient.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

The edge areas can be fine tuned beyond this just by painting into the mask with smaller brushes.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Further adjustments are always possible with this approach, as you have not changed the original image.
Localized Image Enhancements in Photoshop

Continue with Part 2.

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