I had some fun in recreating the Amaro Instagram filter. This was my first time using the “screen” layer blending mode in a long time, and also the first time I’ve ever used a gradient mask on my curves/contrast adjustment layers, though it’s easy enough of a leap to make. This post I’ll talk a little bit more about the mechanics of Photoshop adjustment layers, and maybe some of the choices that go into choosing one filter over another for the same kind of basic effect.

This picture, taken yesterday between sporadic and alternating bouts of rain and sun, is the result of applying the Amaro filter to this original (cropped) iPhone photo:

First thing to notice is that Amaro is a cooling filter.  Though large portions of the image are allowed to be weakly yellow-tinted, it’s a yellow which is not added to the photo but rather what remains after the more vibrant green is subtracted.  Another thing you see immediately is that the center of the photo is very nearly overexposed, and highlights and midtones are flattened so that they are at almost the same brightness level.  This gives the photo a “washed-out” look which does not extend to the outer edges of the photo.  There, the opposite is true, the pixels are darker than in the original image.  This already gives us a lot to do:

The bottom layer Curves palette takes care of brightening and flattening the center of the image.  Looks like this:

The layer mask (on the right of the curves icon) is there to ensure that only the center region of the image is affected.  The layer mask is a draw layer, meaning you can edit it with paint brush, paint bucket, etc, which interprets the pixel darkness values as the degree to which the adjustment layer parameters will be applied to the pixels in the layers below.  Black means completely masked (these pixels will not see this adjustment layer); white is completely unmasked (these pixels will be affected); shades of grey are in between, as you would expect.  I used the radial gradient tool to draw a white-to-black mask.

To take care of the darker pixels near the photo’s edge, I used a second Curves adjustment layer, this time with a more or less inverted layer mask (white outside; black inside).  The adjustment is an overall darken.

The overall brightness adjustments over all RGB channels over with, I moved on to manipulating the image color.  I started by guessing a dark bluish-purple(  ) and filling an entire drawing layer with it.  Now instead of exclusion, as I did in the X-Pro II manip, I chose the blending mode “screen”.  The “photo filter” tool actually produces a very similar effect to a screening layer with some subtle differences.  The “photo filter” tool mimics a physical filter placed over the lens of the camera: when photons from a scene pass through a physical filter, some are reflected or absorbed, with only photons of the “allowed” color passing through, that is to say, in our case, the Photoshop filter works by subtracting non-purple, not by adding purple.  Photoshop allows you to adjust the opacity of this filter, but no matter what you try, there is no way to add color to the darkest shadows this way, as those are regions with very little light to begin with.  The screen appears to work differently.  It’s like a mesh of color placed over the image.  And the shadows actually end up brighter and tinted.  Since this was the behavior I preferred, I used screen as opposed to photo filter.

All the layers together, plus a hue/saturation layer to slightly desaturate the image:

And the product of all that:

Side-by-side comparison:


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