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  • Austin James Jackson

This Effect Gives Your Photos Depth

These days, it seems like most landscape photographers are after a way to give depth to their images. Creating depth can make your photo pop off the screen, giving it a more of a three dimensional look. Creating depth requires thoughtful processing throughout your editing process, and one adjustment won't make or break the photo. However, I have found a way to create some depth in my photographs quite effectively, and it's an effect I generally use at the end of an edit.

The best thing about this effect is that it is best done at the end of the editing process, so you can reopen your old images, and throw this right on top. In this blog post, I'll be showing you guys exactly how to use my effect that I like to call my "Final Pop".

Yosemite falls rainbow
I used this "Final Pop" effect to help give this photo some depth!

Step 1: Merge All Visible Layers on to New Layer

The first step is to create a new layer that you'll be applying the filter on. You can do this by using "Command+Alt/Option+Shift+E" on Mac, or Control+Alt/Option+Shift+E on a PC. This will merge all of your visible layers and create a copy, which you can then apply this effect on to.

Step 2: Open Unsharp Mask

With the new layer selected, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. This will bring up a pop up window where you can adjust the settings. I prefer to set the Amount to 50%, the radius to 40 pixels, and the Threshold to 0 levels. The effect will almost always be too strong at this point, but click OK and let the effect load out.

Unsharp mask to add depth to landscape photography
The settings I like to use for the Unsharp Mask

Step 3: Lower the Opacity of the Layer to Taste

Once the filter loads in, toggle the effect by using the eye in the layers panel. You should notice a strong contrast boost to the finer details of the scene. I like to slowly turn down the opacity to taste as I watch the image. Most images, I find something in the range of 30-60% to be right, but there isn't a set number that works the best. I recommend playing with this until you find what works for your image!

photoshop zooming in for depth
Adjusting the opacity of the effect. I like to be zoomed in just a touch, but not too far when I am doing this.

Step 4: Mask the Effect if Necessary

This filter is technically a sharpening filter, but the effect we are applying here is more of a micro-contrast. However, it still comes with the same precautions as sharpening. This effect can create noise, so be sure to use a layer mask to remove it from low detail areas, as well as flat areas such as water and empty skies.

photoshop interface
Masking the effect so it only hits the rock, and doesn't add unnecessary noise to the clouds.

This is an effect I've been using for years now, and I've found it to be a great way to enhance the scene, add a bit of micro-contrast, and bring the photo to life by adding depth. As with anything else, I encourage you to try the settings I use, and tweak them to your liking to find your own combination that works for you. Adding depth is one of the most challenging things when photo editing for most photographers, so I know that using this filter will help you create stunning images!