Using Photoshop Elements to create a matte effect is a creative enhancement that can change the tone of your photo beautifully. The key to a good matte look is to start with a bright, clean edit. Then add extra contrast and saturation so that the matte look doesn’t drain the photo of all its impact.
All creative edits should start with a clean edit as a foundation and the photo above needed contrast and brightening before anything else. Two Levels Adjustment layers took care of this.
The first, Contrast & Light, increased Blacks to add contrast & saturation, and moved the Midtones to 1.64 to brighten. On the 2nd Levels layer, Contrast & Pop, I didn’t change the numbers, just set the blend mode to Soft Light and the opacity to 25%.
On Contrast & Pop, I masked out the darkest parts of her hair with a half opacity brush so prevent it from getting too dark.
The next layer in my stack is a Hue/Saturation layer to strengthen the colors. I moved the Saturation slider to 25 and masked out her skin with a half opacity brush to avoid an unnatural color tone.
Now that the edited photo has a clean, bright and colorful look, we have a good foundation to build the matte effect on. Matte is created by reducing contrast to create a softer, hazy look. I used Levels on the first layer to add contrast, and on the Matte Layer, I will use Levels to remove contrast.
In Levels, moving the sliders on the Output Levels bar towards the inside reduces contrast. Note that, just under the histogram, I also moved the blacks slider to the right. This maintains contrast and saturation that the matte look can drain.
Just like on the Contrast & Pop layer, I masked out the darkest part of the model’s hair. And now this photo is sporting a basic matte effect. There is no need to stop with that, however.
We can tweak the colors of the matte layer to add tone by adjusting the individual color channels on the Matte layer:
Or you can add a Color Fill layer to create a hazier tint. Change the blend mode to Soft Light. You will probably need to reduce the opacity of this layer as well. Experiment with the colors for subtle changes.
In addition to a creative effect, reducing the contrast can sometimes be a nice tweak to elements of your photo that might be too strong. In this photo of a newborn, I love the boldly-colored cheesecloth wrapped around the baby, but I don’t want it to detract from his sweet face. Adding a slight matte look to the blanket was a nice way to tone it down without desaturating the colors.