Dynamic Contrast in Photoshop

Dynamic Contrast in Photoshop

Dynamic Contrast in Photoshop made easy!

One of my favorite features in ON1 Effects 10 and Topaz Clarity is Dynamic Contrast.  Both Plugins allow you to increase the contrast in your images in ways you could only dream of in Photoshop.  Or is there a way in achieve the Dynamic Contrast look in Photoshop?

Earlier this week I was out to dinner with a buddy of mine before we went shooting.  He said he really liked plugins for the dynamic contrast look but was wondering if it were possible in Photoshop.  During out discussion, Leon brought up the Unsharp Mask, which is a great tool to enrich the contrast in an image, but alone it just isn’t enough.

After putting a few minutes of thought into it, I remembered an old technique I used in the past of applying an Unsharp Mask to a High Pass filter.  At the time I didn’t really know what I had stumbled upon, but apparently, that was the start of achieving Dynamic Contrast in Photoshop.

The idea is based on the rule of the Soft Light Blend Mode.  Whatever is Neutral Grey will remain unharmed, whatever is Black will get darker and white will get lighter, but never pure black or white.  A High Pass Sharpen gets you on the right track, but it needs the boost of the Unsharp Mask to make the contrast more prominent.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to get the Dynamic Contrast look on your images and also share with you 3 Actions that will do the heavy lifting for you.  Here is the basic rundown:

  1.  Duplicate the Background Layer
  2. Make a High Pass on the Background layer set to something rather high anywhere from 8-25 (depending on the resolution of your photo, higher for high-resolution images)
  3. Desaturate the HighPass Layer by pressing Command or Ctrl+SHIFT+U
  4. Run an Unsharp Mask on the High Pass Layer
  5. Adjust the Threshold, Radius, and Amount to Taste
  6. Using Blend Modes, Opacity and Blend If to adjust the effect.
  7. Use a clipping mask Curves Adjustment Layer to modify the effect even further.
  8. Or just download the Actions 🙂

Download the Actions

Download Photoshop Actions that were created using the concepts in the video tutorial.


Blake Rudis
Creator of f.64 Academy
Most people think I am passionate about Photography, but in reality I am not.


Wait, before you freak out, you are on a photo site, I am addicted to post processing. To be more specific, I am addicted to workflow efficiency and cracking the codes to complex systems. That's what I do here, crack the code to photo post processing and present it in a concise way, for you :)
Blake Rudis on EmailBlake Rudis on FacebookBlake Rudis on LinkedinBlake Rudis on TwitterBlake Rudis on Youtube


  1. Excellent!

    Thanks, Blake,

    • Gosh that’s good. I have downloaded the action and tried it on one of my finished prints that I was happy with. Its amazing how it has improved the image.
      Another great freebie for members. Thanks a lot

  2. I love it, tried it on a few image and wow what a difference Thanks Blake

    • Woo hoo! That is what I love to hear 🙂

  3. As a photoshop Guru usually says (I don’t remember his name but I’m pretty sure you know him) : “What plugins can do… Photoshop can do it also”. Thank you for teaching us your knowledge.

    Matt (Toulouse, France).

    PS: Can we suggest ideas for future tutorials?

    • You most certainly can suggest tutorials! Shoot me an email: blake@f64academy.com

  4. Nicely done Blake, great work as always.

    • Thank you, Ross!

  5. Thanks Blake. I really enjoyed that. Two questions:

    You’re doing a lot of sharpening here. Is this your final sharpening? Do you do additional sharpening for web or for print?

    When you use Unsharp Mask here, is there a reason you don’t use the newer Smart Sharpen, which I think of as superior in most situations?

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Bob.

      1. It appears like sharpening, but in reality, it is using sharpening methods for contrast. This is not considered sharpening really, more or less a contrast boost. Especially the medium and large boosts.

      • 2. Smart Sharpen takes FOREVER 🙂 and wouldn’t be as helpful here as it is designed for output sharpening.

        After doing this, I probably wouldn’t do any sharpening. It would be too much.

        • Thanks for your responses Blake. I still fumble with how much is enough, how much is too much.

          • I experimented a bit with this, and at least to my taste, adding the unsharp mask to the high pass large radius filter is too much. Even dialing back the opacity seems halo-y. I do like the high pass with a larger radius though.

          • It is a technique that I would only use on very specific things that need a details enhancement, i.e. Rocks, Buildings, etc. I would hesitate with skies and things of that nature.

  6. That’s pretty cool!

  7. Thanks much. Cool process and very adjustable.

  8. Thank you Blake for the Actions. Been playing with them this morning as they will be another useful arrow in the quiver. One thing that works well is if you have a clearly defined object that you want treated, use the Quick Selection tool and create a new Layer Mask of the selection, run the action, and treat the object without having to Brush out afterwards. With this tutorial, we are at page 150 of Workflow Notes and counting. PS and the Camera Raw filter are incredible tools with limitless options, combinations, and permutations. Again thanks and hope that you and the family are all well!

    • Ohh, I like your thinking with the quick selection first. Makes your life a bit easier in the end when masking. Geez! 150 pages of notes, you are intense! Hopefully it is written in Word for quick reference and keyword searching 🙂


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