What to do with photos of hotel neon signs?

What can I do with photos of  hotel and motel neon signs? I love these old neon signs with so much character and always think they’d look great in a photo but when I return home and revisit them for the most part I end up finding these photos boring and I have no idea what to do with them. Today that all changes with the help of Adobe Photoshop and the add-on Color Efex 3.0 Pro by NIK Software. Today I’m going to create a textured vintage looking postcard with this photo.

Stardust Motel and Americana Lodge Sign
Lims Cafe Sign
Thunderbird Lodge Postcard

Here are the steps I used to create this images

Beginning Image

First I opened up the image in Photoshop and cleaned up of any sensor dust spots using the [Spot Healing Brush Tool].

Note: To preserve the original image a trick I like to use is to create a new layer for the edits I’m going to make.  To do this, first I create a new layer.  Then while in the new layer, I select the [Spot Healing Brush Tool] and change “Type” to Content-Aware and Sample all layers.  Then I do all of my cleanup in the new layer with the [Spot Healing Brush Tool].  When I’m finished I “Merge Visible” layers.

Step 1 - Thunderbird Lodge Sign

Tonal Contrast

Then I took the image into Color Efex 3.0 Pro’s “Tonal Contrast” filter to give the neon sign a little more contrast. Since I only wanted to influence the contrast on the Thunderbird Lodge sign and I didn’t want the sky or buildings to change, I added a few control points with a 0% opacity to the sky and buildings below.

I could have been a bit more accurate on which portion of the image was going to be affected by clicking on the [Brush] button and painting on only the areas I wanted contrast applied to but for this project it wasn’t necessary and I was happy with the preview using just the control points so I hit [OK].

Note: One of the nice things about Color Efex is that it creates a new layer every time you apply a filter making it easy to undo if you don’t like the results.

Step 2 - Tonal Contrast Sign Only

Cross Processing

Next I ran it through Color Efex 3.0 Pro’s “Cross Processing” filter giving the image more aged colors and a little more color contrast. After playing with different settings, I found that I liked Y02 with a strength of 65%.

Note: For more information about the history of Cross Processing (or x-pro) checkout Crossprocessing.info and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_processing.

Step 3 - Cross Processing Y02

Polaroid Transfer

In this step I used Efex 3.0 Pro’s “Polaroid Transfer” filter to give the image some imperfections and a rough border.

Here are the settings I used:
 · Border: 62%
 · Outer Color: 37%
 · Saturation: 34%
 · Smear: 0%
 · Tear Off: 0%

Step 4 - Polaroid Transfer

Levels & Curves

Next I made some adjustments to both the colors & brightness of the image using Photoshop’s “Adjustment” tool and I adjusted the “Levels” and “Curves”.

Since the adjustments are in their own layers I was able to make small tweaks to them before moving on to the next step.

Note: A great place the learn more about using Photoshop is Adobe TV.

Step 5 - Levels and Curves Adjustments

Add color contrast

I wanted to add some contrast to the background so I went back in to Color Efex 3.0 Pro’s “Tonal Contrast”. Then using Photoshop’s [Quick Select Tool] I highlighted only the neon sign and then clicked on the [Add Vector Mask] button to created a mask for the layer.

Since I had the Thunderbird Lodge sign highlighted when the mask was created the sky was hidden not the sign. I inverted the mask using the [Command+I] keys, this exposed the sky and hid the sign. I then changed the layer style by going to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options and selecting “Soft Light” with opacity set to 70%.

Step 6 - Tonal Contrast Background ON

Add Texture

I wanted to add some texture to the image to give it a weathered look so I placed a gray scale image of a flattened crumpled sheet of paper in a new layer. To do this I went to File > Place and selected the image I wanted to use for the texture, then I sized and positioned it, hit “enter” on the keyboard to apply the changes. I then rasterized the layer by going to Layer > Rasterize > Smart Object.

I wanted to apply a different level of texture to the background so I copied the mask layer I just created in the previous step (Add color contrast step) by clicking on the mask layer and holding down the ‘ALT’ key and dragging the mask layer to the crumpled paper layer. This should hide the area where the neon sign is. Finally I changed the layer style blending option to “Multiply” and set opacity to 40%.

Step 7 - Texture Sheet


Next I duplicated the layer I just created (Add texture step) using the [Command+J] shortcut. With this layer I want to add texture to the neon sign and not the background. Since I duplicated the layer the mask layer was also copied. Again using the [Command+I] shortcut on the mask layer I inverted the mask exposing the sign area. I left the Layer style blending option set to “Multiply” and changed opacity to 20% to apply less texture to the sign area.

Step 8 - Sign Texture - B-W Conversion ON

High Pass Filter

I wanted to sharpen up the image a bit so I duplicated the “Polaroid Transfer” layer and moved it to the top layer. Next I changed the new layers blending option to “Soft Light” at 100% opacity. Finally I used Photoshop’s “High Pass Filter” with a setting of Radius 3.9 pixels.

Step 9 - High Pass Filter

More Level & Curve

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the colors so I made a few more tweaks using Photoshop’s “Adjustment” tool by adjusting “Levels”, “Curves” and “Hue/Saturation”.

Step 10 - Levels, Curves, Hue Adjustments

Final Image

I saved the image in Photoshop’s .PSD format with all the layers in case I wanted to make changes. Then I flattened all the layers and saved the image in both a high-res .Tif format for my printing needs and a .jpeg for any web use.

Step 11 - Thunderbird Lodge Final

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