Sometimes, a photo comes out dull looking. You know what I mean.
Some folks refer to this dullness as ‘muddiness’. The image lacks contrast and has a limited tonal range. In other words, it doesn’t show the entire range of shades between black and white.
You can see this by looking at the histogram. Remember that the far left side of the histogram represents the blacks in the photo and the far right represents the whites.
Looking at the histogram for image above, we can see that the peaks and valleys that represent its tonal values are clumped in the middle and there’s nothing at either end. This means that the photo lacks strong blacks and whites.
Dull, muddy photos can be caused by haze or fog, or it can just be the result of lighting conditions.
Whatever the reason, what might otherwise be a perfectly good image looks dull, lifeless, and boring.
Luckily these kinds of images can be brought back to life quickly and easily and in just a few steps using Photoshop. In fact, there are two ways to pep up muddy photos. We’ll look at both of them.
Fixing Dull Photos using Photoshop’s Camera Raw Filter
First let’s look at using the Dehaze feature of Photoshop’s Camera Raw.
Note: The Dehaze tool is only available for Creative Cloud users. If you aren’t a CC member, see the second method below that uses a Levels adjustment layer.
Step 1 – Convert image layer to a Smart Object
Start by converting the image layer to a Smart Object. This gives you the option to editing the filter settings in the future if you want.
To do this, right-click (or Ctrl-click if you have a one button mouse) on the Background layer in the Layers Panel and choose Convert to Smart Object from the drop down menu.
Step 2 – Add the Camera Raw Filter
To add the Camera Raw Filter, choose Filter>Camera Raw Filter from the top menu bar.
The Camera Raw Filter will open.
Step 3 – Use Dehaze
The Dehaze tool can be found in the Effects section of the Camera Raw Filter.
To use the tool, simply move the slider back and forth until you get a look you like. Move the slider to the right to remove haze; move it to the left to add haze.
When you’re happy, click OK to close the filter.
Fixing Dull Photos using Photoshop’s Levels Adjustment
Now, let’s look at a different method for cleaning up a dull image using a Levels adjustment layer. This is actually my favorite method because it gives you more control over the process. And it’s definitely the way to go if you don’t use Creative Cloud.
Step 1 – Add a Levels adjustment layer
To add a Levels adjustment layer, click on the small black and white circle at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels from the pop-up menu.
The Levels adjustment dialog box will appear. There you will see the histogram for your image and, below that, a set of input sliders. You will also see two boxes for Output Levels at the very bottom of the dialog box, but we won’t be using those.
Step 2 – Adjust the Levels Input sliders
To correct for the image dullness, first click on the left-most slider just under the histogram and slide it to the right until it gets to the left-most edge of the histogram. Be careful not to move the slider past that left-most edge.
Then click on the right slider and slide it to the left until it gets to the right-most edge of the histogram. Again, be careful not to move the slider past that right-most edge.
The image should be looking a lot better now.
Finally, move the middle slider back and forth to either lighten (to the left) or darken (to the right) the image to your liking.
And we have our fixed photo: