I am a big fan of the matte look in creative editing, but I sometimes feel like the effect is a little too heavy on the subject, making them appear darker or, in some cases, out of focus. In this tutorial, I will show you how to work with matte actions to achieve the overall effect, while keeping your subject crisp and clean.
WHAT IS MATTE?
A matte Photoshop action mimics the effect of a photograph printed on matte paper. Matte paper is completely flat, and does not have any sort of sheen to it, which creates a very distinctive look, particularly in the blacks/shadows of the print. This look is achieved in Photoshop by flattening out the blacks in an image through Curves and Levels adjustments. This can done with either color or black and white images.
Now, let's say you apply an action, and you love the overall look, but you want to reduce the matte effect on your subject because you feel as though the matte effect makes them less bright and crisp. Here's how...
COLOR MATTE ACTIONS
For this image, I am going to apply the Rich Matte action from the Luxe Newborn Workflow Collection. Be sure to also check out our Velvet Matte Collection for a wide variety of beautiful Matte Actions.
Once you have run a matte action, open up the individual layers to decipher which layer (or layers) is creating the matte effect. You can do this by clicking the small arrow in the Layers panel beside the action folder/name.
In the case of Pretty Actions, the matte layers are always clearly labeled, so I have clicked on the Rich Matte layer that is visible underneath the main Rich Matte group:
As you will above, I have reduced the opacity of this layer to 33%, which is a way to globally reduce the matte effect in the entire image, but let's get even more fine-tuned by using the layer mask and a brush to reduce the effect only on the subject.
First, click on the layer mask icon for Rich Matte, which is the white rectangle pictured below. This will allow you to non-destructively edit the file, which means that if you make a mistake, you can easily undo the changes you make without having to start over. For more on layer masks, click here.
Next, set your foreground color to black, choose a brush with a soft, diffused edge, and reduce the Opacity of the brush so that you can remove just a little bit of the matte effect at a time for a more cohesive and subtle edit:
With the Rich Matte layer mask highlighted, use the black brush on your subject, or any place where you would like to reduce the matte effect. If you remove too much, don't worry - all you will need to do is switch your foreground color to white, and brush over it again, which will undo the mistake. Then, when you are ready to begin removing the effect again, switch your foreground color back to black. Always remember: black takes away the effect, and white puts it back in.
Now that I have removed the matte effect from the subject, let's compare the difference:
As you can see, the matte effect in the image on the left makes the subject's face appear darker, whereas after removing the effect, she is much brighter and appears sharper. By only reducing the effect on the subject, the background still retains that beautiful, flattened look that we all love so much in the matte effect, and the subject "pops" a bit more.
BLACK AND WHITE MATTE ACTIONS
The matte effect looks particularly beautiful on black and white images, but you still may find that you want to tone it down just a bit.
Here is an example using the Matte Film action. After playing the action and opening the individual layers, I have selected the Matte layer mask:
I used the same technique as before, a black brush with a soft edge applied to the Matte layer mask at a low opacity to reduce the matte effect. As you can see below, the result is subtle - it's just enough to make the subject a bit more clear, while retaining the matte look throughout the image: