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The Matte Photography effect has been a popular image setting recently in the web, particularly because it gives pictures a vintage feel of classic chemical prints, or like the picture was printed in a design-focused magazine. Instagram and a plethora of photography mobile apps proliferated distorted camera effects to peoples daily pictures, so most publishers and photography bloggers sought to find their personal print aesthetic.

Unfortunately, finding a simple step-by-step guide to applying these image effects proved difficult, and I had a few friends ask how to achieve the effect themselves in Photoshop, so I thought I’d post my method here. These steps are not specific to any version of Photoshop, or any photo editor for that matter, and are trivial to also apply in any video editor.

  1. Prep your picture in Camera Raw Editor.
      There aren’t many general pointers as to how to set up your photos to achieve the best matte photography effect, especially at this step of the process. As you’ll see, the effect overall focuses on the tones of the shadows in the picture, so a dark photo with lots of black may end up being too dramatic. Pick an image that has a decent amount of contrast, but equal parts highlights and shadows throughout.
  2. Add a “Solid Color” Fill layer.
      Instead of creating a new layer and using the Paint Bucket tool to simply fill the space, this allows us easier flexibility to change the colors later on. However, if you want to play with textures or gradients, or apply surreal shapes and patterns, you’ll apply it as a standalone layer.
  3. Select a dark tone.
      You can select any color you want here, but as you’ll see when playing around with the effect, the darker tones will match the darker shadows of the image, and render a smoother effect that will feel more organic and natural. Some might even opt for dark grey tones, as that will have the least amount of alteration to your photo, just simply boosting down the contrast of the blacks.
  4. Apply “Lighten” Transparency Mode to the Fill Layer.
      1. Transparency modes alter your image in a number of ways- Multiply, for example, multiplies the pixel definition numbers ontop of the layers overlaying the layer,

    resulting in a darker picture

      ; Difference only reveals different pixels between the two layers, rendering identical pixels as black (an excellent quick test for compression settings).
  5. Adjust your colors accordingly.
      Now with the effect applied, you’ll want to re-adjust the color tone and saturation of your Fill Layer as you deem fit. Here is an example of an entirely different hue, however you’ll see lighter color tones will result in a stronger effect of neutralized contrast, and darker colors will render more subtle effects.

As you can see above, I use the word “play” a lot. I think Photoshop and all image manipulation is a process of discovery, not merely through trial and error, but in exploration. Some tutorials to be found online will advise to use the Curves filter, which is absolutely possible and will render very similar effects. In fact, they could be more of what you’ll want to achieve with your photo. However, personally I feel this is a simpler and faster method, and much easier to set up in a template that you can apply to several photos, or even prep as a Photoshop Action and apply to hundreds of photos with just a few clicks. And because we’re using layers and Transparency Modes, the same steps can be applied to any video editing platform, or even browser render engines.

Now go play and explore.