How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

In this tutorial we’ll go step-by-step through the process of creating an intense, dramatic effect that can be used to really make your images stand out. The steps used for this tutorial are from one of the actions in our set of Intensify Photoshop Actions. You can actually download an action for this particular effect for free here, and if you like this type of effect the full set includes a total of 8 actions.

Here is a sample photo they will be used for the tutorial.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

And here is a sneak peak at how it will look once we are done.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

The first thing we’ll do is duplicate the background layer. This way we are not making any changes to the photo/background layer and we can easily delete the changes if we decide we don’t like them. Then with the duplicated layer we will make adjustments to the shadows and highlights. Go┬áto Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights and you will see a screen like the one below.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Check the box that says “show more options” and then enter the settings shown below.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Next, we’ll add some sharpening. To do this duplicate the layer, and then go to Filter > Other > High Pass. We’ll set the radius to 5px.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Then set this layer’s blend mode to “hard light”.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

At this point the photo looks like this.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Next, we’ll add a levels adjustment layer and change the shadow input to 5 and the midtone input to 0.85. And then we’ll set the shadow output to 15.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

And then select “blue” from the dropdown and set the shadow output to 20.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Next, add a brightness and contrast adjustment layer. Set brightness to -10 and contrast to +50.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Our next step is to add a hue/saturation adjustment layer and reduce saturation to -50.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

At this stage the photo looks like this.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Our last step is to add a gradient map adjustment layer. Set a gradient that goes from violet to orange.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

Then set the layer’s blend mode to “soft light” and set the opacity to 60%.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

That completes our work, and here is the final image.

How to Create a Dramatic Effect in Photoshop

If you would like to be able to use this effect with your own photos you can download the free action here, or learn more about our set of Intensify Photoshop Actions for even more effects.