5 Techniques for Gritty Grungy Outdoor Portraits Pt. 1

The gritty, grungy look for people is a popular look these days and if you Googled those in search terms you would find a wide variety of approaches from other photographers.

If you shoot outdoor adventure type images you might want to add an edgy style to your images.  There are many ways to create a grungy and gritty look and I have played with 5 different approaches and they all create a slightly different visual look to images of people outdoors.

This is the first in a series of 5 posts that illustrate the different approaches and each approach differs in complexity from very easy to very involved. This first approach uses primarily the High Pass filter in Photoshop with a sepia effect.

The other approaches coming in the next 4 tutorials include: Camera Raw, HDR, Desaturation, and Topaz Adjust software.


To start with this first approach, I opened this image of a mountain man from a mountain man rendezvous I visited to photograph and this is the raw file.


Then in camera raw the only thing I adjusted here was using the Adjustment Tool to brighten his face. I love this tool as you can always go back and adjust the brightness and I had to do that later.

Then I added a B&W adjustment layer and then adjusted the individual color sliders to to lighten and darken each tone. I first make note of the default setting for each color so I can return there if change is not very evident. I then slide the sliders left and right and pretty dramatically, stopping once I find a brightness level I like.


I then added a Curves Adjustment layer and selected the targeted adjustment tool and clicked on the shirt to set a point on the curves so that area does not brighten. Then I clicked on his face and brightened a little more..

 Next I added a Levels Adjustment layer and pushed the black and white points slightly.

 Next, was the High Pass filter. This tool seems integral to most approaches to the grungy and gritty look.  I set the level to 10. Then changed the blending mode for that layer to Overlay, but sometimes I use Hard Light as well because it adds a bit more of a harsh contrasty look.

The last step I used was a Photo Filter Adjustment layer set to sepia and 100% Density, then lowered the Opacity for that layer to 50%, which I like better than 100% Sepia filter because it looks more like the Brown Tone we did with B&W prints the old days.



Of course there are many ways to create a gritty grungy look and we’ll look at 4 more approaches in upcoming posts.

If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.

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