It’s very easy to rush your post processing and crank those sliders too much and too early. You are better off starting slowly and build your processing step by step. This way you have more control and can fine-tune the extra pop at the end of your editing.
Be sure to consider your composition and make it stronger with selective adjustments. Don’t only make global adjustments; you want to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition you have worked so hard for in the field. Remember to ask yourself: What is the most important element in this image?
1. Start Subdued
If you add too much saturation at the beginning of your edit, you will have a hard time controlling that when you add contrast and other adjustments later. Adding contrast also adds saturation, so wait until the end of your processing and decide then if your image needs more saturated colors.
I always go easy in Lightroom and just do to the basic adjustments there before heading over to Photoshop. That way you have more control and can add effects and adjustments in a balanced way. I usually do not touch the vibrance or the saturation sliders in Lightroom. You can always add that later.
2. Use Nik Collection’s Pro Contrast
My most used filter in the Nik Collection (download it free here) is the Pro Contrast filter in the Color Efex Pro panel. It adds contrast mainly in the midtones and it doesn’t blow out the highlights or crunch the shadows. In other words, this is a very balanced way of adding a bit more “punch” to your image.
You can always add a little too much of the effect in Nik and then fine tune it in Photoshop by adjusting the opacity of your adjustment layer. I usually go about 20 percent in Pro Contrast using the Dynamic Contrast slider but that is different from image to image. Be sure to blend the adjustment in selectively into your image using layer masks.
Your eye is drawn to areas with high contrast, so use that to your advantage.
3. Selectively Apply Color Dodging
Dodging with colors is a great way to improve specific parts of your image but make sure to only apply it on the spots where the light hits and only enhance the light that is already there.
This is a great technique to strengthen your composition; you want to lead the viewer’s eye through your image and carefully applying color dodging is a powerful way of doing that sucessfully.
Recommended Reading: How to Dodge & Burn in Photoshop
If you want to dodge (brighten) set the layer to the blending mode Overlay and if you want to burn (darken) set the blending mode to Soft Light. You can also use the Soft Light mode when dodging if the Overlay blending mode is too strong. I usually dodge through a luminosity mask, that way you are working very precise and your dodging look more natural.
Take a colour sample and fine tune your colour selection. You may want to test a bit before finding the right colour. Always use the brightest value of your color sample and be careful not to use too much saturation (when burning, however, I usually use pure black). Set the brush opacity to about 15% and start from there.
You can also duplicate the dodge layer to add more effect and you can always adjust the opacity of the layer to balance the dodging if it appears too strong. This way you add saturation and light in a very precise way and on selected areas that strenghten your composition.
4. Use Nik Collection’s Sky Filter
The sky filter in Nik’s Color Efex Pro panel is a great filter for adding a bit more pop to the sky, especially if you have captured some pinkish tones.
It adds deep contrast and provides a warm tone. However, it’s quite powerful so don’t add too much or you can end up with a strong magenta cast.
I find that it works great if you have a cool White Balance to begin with. Mask it in selectively by using Luminosity Masks, preferably only to the sky.
This is typically a filter you can use to your benefit at the end of the processing.
5. Sharpen the Important Subjects
The viewer’s eye is always drawn to the sharpest spot in your image. This is something that you should use to your advantage when working with the composition.
If your image has a strong foreground element it is crucial that this element is tack sharp. It is more natural that the sharpness wears off in the distance so you can adjust the sharpness through a gradient filter. You can also paint it into specific areas using a layer mask.
In the image below I masked out the sharpness completely in the water and in the sky as I wanted those parts silky smooth. I used a highpass filter in overlay mode to add microcontrast and sharpen the rest of image before I applied output sharpening for the web version using Raya Pro Panel before posting it online.
I hope you found these tips useful. Remember to start out subdued, build it up slowly and add that extra pop in the end. You don’t want to only use global adjustments but instead apply adjustments selectively. Lead the viewers eye through your composition and make the point of interest in your image pop.