February 28, 2012
Tutorial Tuesday: the Dragan Effect
Welcome to Tutorial Tuesday! Sarah of Naptime Momtog and I will be bringing you a new challenge every week, to stretch your shooting and editing skills. This week, I thought we’d check out an effect I found the other week while looking for tutorials called the “Dragan Effect” inspired by Andrzej Dragan‘s work. You probably know this particular effect if you’ve seen the movie “300.” Although I never saw the movie, I’m kinda digging the moody (and a bit disturbing – my husband says that I am completely weird when it comes to my taste in art) style of Dragan’s work and think it’d be interesting to learn from an editing standpoint. 

First thing first…let’s watch the video tutorial. 

Obviously in order to fully utilize this tutorial, you’ll need some version of Photoshop. Although most of the steps can be performed in Photoshop Elements, there will be a couple of steps in this tutorial that will not work for PSE users (still try it – I’ll offer some alternative approaches).

Here’s my original shot (taken in January):
Lily Lin Riley WEB-67
I am fully expecting a few comments along the lines of, “I really like your original better.” To be honest with you, I do too…but for the sake of trying something new, just hang with me. Also, I really this this effect is better suited towards male photography. I struggled with making my client look grungy.

Step 1: Apply a Shadows and Highlights adjustment to your image. Go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows and Adjustments. Move your shadows to 10% and your highlights to 40% – feel free to experiment. When you’re happy with what you see, click okay.

Step 2: Go to Filter and make the layer a Smart Object.

Step 3: Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Adjust to 60% at a 2.0 Radius, 0 Threshold. When you’re done with that step, you’ll have something like my photo below.
1 Shadows and Highlights + Unsharp
Steps 1 – 3: Shadows and Highlights, Unsharp Mask
Step 4: Create a Color Balance adjustment layer. You’ll want to go to your shadows and move the cyan to -45 and move your yellow to -20. Be sure to keep Preserve Luminosity checked. Then, use a layer mask to remove the effect from your background.

If you are using Photoshop Elements, you won’t have an option for color balance. You can use a hue/saturation adjustment layer but it won’t quite be the same. Nonetheless, experiment a bit with your colors. When you’re done, you’ll get something like my photo below.
2 Color Balance
Step 4: Color Balance Adjustment
Step 5: Create a New Layer and set your blending mode to Overlay. From this point, grab a soft brush and adjust your opacity to 10%. Paint over the light areas of your image with a white brush and the dark areas of your image with a black brush.

It was at this point in the tutorial that I started to struggle. Had this been a male subject, I really would have played into the details of his face. However, after going that route with my female subject, it just didn’t feel right…so I went back and lightened it up. Either way, you’ll get something similar to what you see below. I encourage you to experiment.
3 Overlay Details
Step 5: Overlay – Painting Details
Step 6: Add a Curves adjustment layer. You’ll want to add three points to your curve (one at the top, midpoint and bottom). Drag the top point upwards to draw out the highlights in your image. Drag the bottom point a little lower to bring out the shadows. Drag the midpoint a little up to draw out any other areas. You’ll get something like what you see below.
4 Curves Adjustment
Step 6: Curves Adjustment
Step 7: Create a Hue/Saturation layer. Turn down your saturation to about -35. In your layer mask, use a black brush (low opacity still) to paint over the lips. You still want to see a little bit of color, like you see below. 
5 Hue Adjustment
Step 7: Hue/Saturation Adjustment
Step 8: Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Color Burn. Use a soft brush at 20% opacity and paint over the background to darken up the image. You can certainly stop here for a color version of the Dragan Effect.
6 Color Dragan - Color Burn RS
Step 8: Color Burn for Color Dragan
Step 9: If you want to take it a step further, convert your image to black and white. From here, play with your sliders a bit for a custom black and white (or feel free to use an action if you’re more comfortable with that direction). Increase your blues (+58) and magenta (+123); decrease your reds (0) and yellows (26). At this point, you’ve created a black and white version of the Dragan Effect.
7 BW Dragan RS
Step 9: Black and White Dragan
With that said, take it or leave it…but that’s the Dragan Effect. I hope you’ll take a moment to give the tutorial a chance. Here’s a final look at my original image, the Color Dragan and the Black and White Dragan effect. What do you think?

Ready to join in the fun? Here’s how to do it:

1. Watch THIS TUTORIAL on YouTube.
2. Choose your favorite shot (or more!) to share with us.
3. Don’t forget to grab the button for your post!
4. Link up between now and next Monday.

Tutorial Tuesday

PS: If you have any photography or editing suggestions, please don’t hesitate to let Sarah or me know! We would love to feature your tutorial.


    I don’t use Photoshop that much and I somehow got lost after adjusting the colors… erasing the backgrounds using the “Black Brush” is not working on my end, I don’t know what I am doing wrong. Maybe when I finally get it going, I will share my image.

    That is a really weird effect. . . it worked well in 300 but I don’t know if I am a big fan all the time but thanks for showing me how so I can when I need to use it!

    Ths was a hard one.. but maybe I will come back to it and try again.

    That’s pretty cool that you can do that to a photo, but I think I’ll leave this one to you haha ;0).

    I love Dragan’s work…have tried out his technique on selfies…which is always fun. Anyway, I have to thank you big time for your post on removing word verification. I was pulling out my hair trying to figure it out…only to realize that I had to get out of the new interface. Ugh! So thanks for your tutorial

    really interesting affect! I love the black and white version.

    Btw I came across this tutorial today for swapping colors in images. Thought it would make a good edit challenge for people!

    Very dramatic. Going to have to try this one! :)

    Haha that anonymous comment is me! Oops ;)

    Hmmm- well, I would think this would work better on men & on things like gritty urban images rather than subjects like children or the like. I will have to play with this & see what I come up with. Great tutorial Ashley!

    I do like the original, but the black and white really grabs your attention. It’s an urban look and very striking.

    uum, LOVING that black and white when it is all said and done….need to try this

    Dragan in BW is FABULOUS! Never heard of it or the movie :) BTW, I totally think your having a BOY!!!! Can’t wait to hear the news! :)