Editing photos for a finished and polished look is no easy matter, and often, photo editors spend years honing their skills through trial and error. While nothing really makes up for years of experience, there are a few simple steps that anyone with Adobe’s incredibly versatile and almost irreplaceable Photoshop can do to make nightlife photos look as good as the pro’s do.


Using Levels is an easy way to get your photos to look brighter despite fog machine smoke and poor lighting. One easy trick to make photos in foggy rooms pop is to adjust your black levels.

  1. Open your image in Photoshop. This is sort of a given.
  2. Open your Levels Panel. There are two ways to do this. Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Levels in your menu bar, or press Ctrl+L.
  3. Set Black Point. Once the Levels panel is open, you will notice three droppers underneath the Options button. Clicking the first dropper will allow you to select the black point in your image. Like the white point selector, this tool adjusts the balance of your image so that the blackest (or whitest) point is the one you determine with your dropper.  Make sure preview is selected, then once you have clicked the black dropper click on the darkest point in your image.  You will notice that a good deal of the haziness will go away instantly.
  4. Adjust your Levels. You can then make minor adjustments with the sliders in the Levels panel. Bringing the little white marker on the right side closer to the middle of the graph will brighten the image. With preview enabled, you can pick a point that works for your image.
  5. Save or continue editing. Often, adjusting your values are just about the only changes that you really need to make.

Dodging and Burning

Often overlooked, dodging and burning are the two fundamental principles of post-production that photographers learn in a physical darkroom. With the many additional tools available to the digital photo-editor, it’s easy to understand why these two basic tools can be easily overlooked. To open either tool, navigate to the little hand icon in your tool palette and right-click it to expand the options.

Some things to keep in Mind when Burning/Dodging:

  1. Burning and Dodging are destructive processes. Overdoing it will not only make the photo look worse than better, it could potentially damage the original file you are working on if you aren’t working non-destructively. To learn more about non-destructive Photoshop work, read this article via photofocus.
  2. Always work in a new layer.  Always. There are too many reasons to list for this. For dodging and burning, it also helps if you set your layer style to overlay.
  3. Play around, but keep your focus.  Adjusting the strength of the burn and dodge tool until you get it right is a good idea. Use Photoshop’s history tool to go back to before you were testing to  make sure you start from the right point.

The Overlay Method

It could be considered cheating, but sometimes all you really need to do to make dull nightlife photos pop is add a duplicate layer in overlay mode, then adjust the transparency. This is a pretty simple process:

  1. Create a New Layer. Do this either by right clicking your layer and then selecting “Duplicate Layer” or by dragging your existing layer into the “New Layer Icon”.
  2. Set your Copy Layer to Overlay Mode.  Using the drop down at the top of the layer tool, select overlay.
  3. Adjust your Opacity.  Reduce your opacity, located directly next to the layer mode.
  4. PRO TIP: Once you have created your overlay layer and reduced the opacity, go back into your original layer and adjust your levels for clarity.

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Category: Photography, Tutorials