Soft shadows with faded light are a popular trend in the photo editing world. People enjoy the effect because it can bring about more details in the shade, or maybe just for the aesthetic.
Regardless of the reason, let’s learn how to create a subtle and beautiful matte effect in Photoshop.
Using just a few simple adjustment layers you can create gorgeous mattes in seconds! Follow along in this tutorial for the individual steps, and check out some featured Youtube videos below from our channel with more techniques and Photoshop editing tips.
Step 1: Import Photos and Prepare Adjustment Layers
Start by opening Photoshop and importing the photo of your choice.
If you shot in RAW, you can adjust things like exposure, highlights/shadows, etc. in the Camera Raw panel. If not, feel free to add those minor adjustments at the start.
For my image I adjusted:
Basically, you want to just balance the light so later on when adding the matte effect, you can reveal some details in the shadows.
Step 2: Add Curves Layer
Add a Curves Adjustment layer to customize the light/shadows. Creating a fluid straightened ‘S’ looking shape helps to lift the shadows a bit and boost the highlights for a retro, popping effect.
When you start with the Curve, it will be a diagonal line. Start by creating the two middle points in the image above to increase the saturation. Then drag the bottom left point up. You can increase how high you drag this point up depending on your preferences. The higher up, the more faded the shadows become. Take a look at the image below to see a more extreme example when the bottom point is dragged way up!
Step 3: Adjust the Levels
Next, add a Levels Adjustment layer to lighten the blacks a bit more and make some final touches to the highlights/shadows.
By changing the middle point to 1.33 and bumping the left point to 2, the shadows lightened a bit and fully add to that faded matte look.
Step 4: Finalize Exposure Settings
This isn’t a required step, but when finishing up a matte effect, I like to add a second and final Exposure Adjustment layer to boost the shadows once more using the Offset slider. I also turned down the Exposure slightly because it was boosted from the Curves layer. Finally, you can use Gamma Correction to adjust the light in a way to make the colors more sharp or faded depending on your preference.
Conclusion & Final Effect
After completing all of the above steps, the final matte effect will look something like the before/after below.
Here are some final pro tips for getting the perfect settings with your matte effect depending on your preferences.
- Want even lighter shadows with more whiteness? Boost the Offset way up on your Exposure 2 Adjustment layer
- Want the shadows to look darker? Play with your Curves adjustment and edit the bottom left two points. These will help you change the shadows mostly, but can darken your image quite a bit
- Want a vintage film look? Check out this tutorial for adding retro tones to your images in Photoshop.
Watch more Photoshop Tutorials on Youtube!
Additional photo editing resources. Find full walkthroughs on the FilterGrade Youtube channel and learn how to create vintage effects, matte effects, hdr looks, and more in Photoshop!
How to Create a Soft Vintage Look
Faded Street Photography Effect Tutorial
FilmTone Photoshop Actions Edit by Jayden Mann
The Basics of Gradient Maps
HDR PRO Photoshop Actions Demo
Related Photoshop Actions
Recommended matte effects for Photoshop and more. Find retro and natural film looks, retouching tools for Photoshop, and some other cool looks from pro photographers.