How to quickly and easily lift blacks in Photoshop and achieve a “film look”


posted Monday, October 3, 2016 at 4:29 PM EDT


Photographers and software developers spend a lot of time trying to capture the "film look." What that look means depends on who you ask, but if you're after a "crushed black" effect, then photographer Mathieu Stern has a Photoshop tutorial for you. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to refer to what is often called "crushed black" in tutorials like Stern's as "lifted black," because it isn't so much that we are losing all detail in the dark areas of an image (crushed) so much as we are making the black into a dark gray.

The trendy aesthetic we are after with Stern's tutorial is hard to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Basically, we want to make the blacks in an image appear less black. This sounds simple, but it can be somewhat tricky to achieve without assistance. Stern's video below offers three very quick and easy processes you can use in Photoshop to achieve the film aesthetic.

The first option requires a curves adjustment layer. The second utilizes a color fill and lighten blend mode. Finally, the third option uses a selective color layer. Personally, I prefer the look of the third option the best. You can even combine all three options if you'd like.

To learn more about lifting black areas in an image, check out this article from Creative Market. For more video tutorials from Mathieu Stern, see here. If you're interested in his excellent reviews of a wide variety of odd and unusual lenses, see our past coverage here.

(Seen via ISO 1200)