I’ve discovered what I think is a really neat way of producing richer, deeper colours by turning your picture into black and white… well, sort of.

If you’ve got an image which needs more contrast, the usual method is to use curves adjustments. But contrast and saturation are linked, so you get more saturated colours too, and this is often unwelcome.

Besides, Elements doesn’t offer curve adjustments in the normal sense anyway, so I was looking for a different kind of workaround – and I think the following method works very well.

Elements blend modes

I’m going to use it on this portrait shot (above) I took at a steam railway. The colour is fine – I just don’t want more of it when I increase the contrast.

01 Duplicate the layer

Elements blend modes

First, you drag the background layer on to the New layer icon at the top of the layers palette. I’ve already done this – you can see the duplicate directly above the background layer.

02 Desaturate the layer

Elements blend modes

This top layer needs to be made black and white, and the quickest way to do this is to use the ‘desaturate’ command. In this version of Elements, this is the Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color command, or you can use the shift-command/ctrl-U shortcut.

03 Overlay mode

Elements blend modes

This black and white layer currently covers up the original colour layer below, but you can fix this by changing the top layer’s blend mode from normal to overlay…

04 Modifying the effect

Elements blend modes

Now you can see the full effect. You can increase the contrast of any image by duplicating it on to a new layer and using the overlay blend mode, but if you desaturation the top layer, you get the contrast boost without the saturation boost!

If the contrast increase is too strong, there are three things you can do to tone it down:

1) Change the overlay blend mode to soft light. This also has a contrast-increasing effect, but it’s less strong.

2) Alternatively, reduce the top layer’s opacity to reduce the strength of its effect.

3) Select the top layer and adjust the levels (hit command/ctrl-L to display the dialog).

05 The finished image using overlay mode

Elements blend modes

This is a strong, powerful result which I really like. The saturation hasn’t been increased, which makes the lighting look much more natural. I don’t mind the fact that much of the train cab has darkened to a solid black, but I could use one of the methods in the previous step to tone it down a little if I did.

06 The result with soft light mode

Elements blend modes

Soft light mode works very well too. The contrast is slightly reduced, but there’s a little more detail in the shadows and it’s still a big improvement over the original picture.

See also

More Photoshop Elements tutorials