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3 Easy and Creative Photoshop Effects to Make Your Images Pop
March 6, 2023

3 Easy and Creative Photoshop Effects to Make Your Images Pop

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re stuck with a dull-looking image, don’t discard it. These simple Photoshop effects will breathe new life into it.

It’s easy to forget that just a few effects in Photoshop can go a long way to improving a flat-looking image. And sometimes, it’s a tool that’s rarely talked about but is quite effective in providing some extra pop.

In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to use the seldom-mentioned HDR Toning adjustment to enhance a flat image. We’ll also add a couple more creative touches that make up a simple workflow that can be used for images lacking contrast and vibrancy. Let’s get started!

1. One of Photoshop’s Best-Kept Secrets: HDR Toning

There’s a very useful and transformative tool tucked away under Image > Adjustments in the Photoshop menu called HDR Toning. This little gem is capable of taking a flat-looking image, one that’s lacking contrast and vibrancy, and providing a pop that would normally take a combination of several tools to achieve.

The best part is, it doesn’t produce the typical HDR look that gave high dynamic range editing a bad name.

This tool could arguably be used on just about any image, but we’ll apply the effect to a flat-looking image that needs a boost. You can download this image from Unsplash if you want to follow along and see for yourself how this one tool can boost the look of an image.

Let’s duplicate the background layer by pressing Ctrl + J. Then right-click on the background layer and select Convert to Smart Object. This will allow us to use non-destructive editing so that we could always go back and make changes if necessary.

Then double-click on Layer 1 to open the image as a separate document.

And now for the magic: go to Image > Adjustments > HDR Toning.

You’ll likely be prompted to proceed. Click Yes.

The HDR Toning menu will pop up. From here, you can make any number of adjustments to enhance the image. Each image may require different settings, but the one adjustment that you’ll want to make is checking the Smooth Edges box.

For this image, we only checked the Smooth Edges box and then clicked OK. You’ll notice right away that the image has more contrast and a slight boost of vibrancy. But there’s a problem area: there’s a lot of pixelization in the sky.

This frequently happens with JPEG files when certain editing techniques increase contrast in bright areas like the sky. But this isn’t a problem because, in our next effect, we’re going to replace the sky anyway.

For now, just press Ctrl + S to save the document and then close out the document by clicking on the X as you normally would to close a document in Photoshop.

2. Sky Replacement

Sky Replacement was first introduced in Photoshop version 22.0 in 2020. Since then, improvements have been made to make better selections of the sky and for better transitions between the sky and other elements in the image.

For our second creative effect, we’ll make Layer 1 active and go to Edit > Sky Replacement. In this step, we’ll not only take care of the pixelization in the sky, but we’ll completely replace the sky with something more interesting.

It’s a good practice to replace the sky with one that resembles the original to make it look believable, and also avoid a lot of additional editing. There aren’t currently many options, but there is one under the Spectacular folder that matches the gray sky with the added bonus of a rainbow.

For this image, we don’t really need to make any additional adjustments. But the image does look a little better when we check the Flip box to change the position of the rainbow.

To enable a Sky Replacement Group folder, select Output to New Layers and click OK.

Now, our layer stack is nice and organized, and we’re ready to move on to our third and final effect.

We also show you how to replace the sky in Luminar AI, which is a similar process to the newer version, Luminar Neo.

3. Photoshop Color Lookup Tables (LUTs): A Creative Finishing Touch

For our third creative effect, we’ll visit Photoshop’s Adjustments Layers found in the bottom-right corner. You’ll find Color Lookup among the available adjustments. A Color Lookup is short for Color Lookup Table, or LUT.

LUTs are great for not only video grading but also for assigning luminance and color values to an image. We explain what LUTs are in more detail, but for the sake of this tutorial, think of them as a preset that changes the overall look of an image.

Let’s choose a LUT for this image. The one we thought looked best is Fuji ETERNA 250D.

At first glance, it may not look that impressive. But we’ll double-click on the Color Lookup layer and make a Blend If adjustment to protect the shadows and restore some brightness. You can use Blend If to color grade in Photoshop, but we only made one adjustment here, as shown below.

We could stop here, but if we return to the original photo you’ll notice that the sky was brighter. We can add a Levels adjustment to fix this. But first, we’ll have to select the sky so that this adjustment won’t affect the entire image. Make Layer 1 active, then go to Select > Sky.

Now, with the selection made, make the Color Lookup layer active.

Next, we’ll create a Levels adjustment.

And then brighten up the sky using the midtones and highlights sliders.

Not every image would require adjusting the brightness of the sky, but it’s good to know that it can be easily done if you have to.

Let’s see how far along we’ve come with our three effects.



As you can see, these three very simple effects can make a big difference to an image in Photoshop! You can use them separately as needed, or combine all three to really make your image pop.

Elevate Flat-Looking Images With These Simple Photoshop Effects

If you’ve followed along with this image or one of your own, you’ve probably noticed how effective these three techniques can be for enhancing flat-looking images. You no longer have to settle for boring outdoor photos that lack that extra something. Use this workflow to fix them right up.


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