Using Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Uses Levels, Brightness/Contrast, Color Fills, Photo Filter
Level of Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate
Night scenes from screencaps are usually terrible to work with. What works great on high resolution television looks awful when you cap it to your computer. I've been helping another person learn how to clean up Harry Potter stills, but this technique isn't confined to it. However, this particular image has a blue dominant hue (green later), so if your night scene is full of overly warm colors, this might not help you.
1 - Take your desired image, and fit it into a blank icon. Position it where needed. I planned on working on this icon later on, but my main purpose was to show how to prepare it for that use. You need to first recognize what your icon needs, and be familiar with the main colors that will later need to pop out. With Cedric, that meant flesh tones and the yellow half of his shirt. Sometimes there's no simple solution to everything with a simple technique, so it has to be up to you to fix it manually.
Dark. Very dark. When you notice this about your icon, first take a notice at your subjects face. I noticed that highlighted area by Cedric's neck and the side of his face. Since it's blue here, it's going to stay blue if I continue to work. Take care of that first. As I always suggest, duplicate your first layer and set it to Normal. Take your eyedropper tool, and find a color that matches the surrounding area of the skin that you want to fix. After that, using your brush tool at normal level, carefully go over the areas and cover them up.
Now your subject doesn't have that highlight. Keep it, if you want. Some people like it, but I found it to be too distracting later. I removed it because the next step is to send a wash of light over your icon. Screen is the best option. Color Dodge will put too much white on your subject's skin, and Linear Dodge will heighten the highlights, but deepen the shadows. Play with those, and see if you agree or not.
This is the point where I went over Cedric's shirt with a golden color with a brush on Overlay. Do so if your subject has a rich-colored point area. However, I would not suggest doing so for dark colors. You'll work with those later.
This is where you're going to really start. Making anymore Screened layers now will make those pale blues and greens too visible, and to have the end result, it's not what you want right now. On the other hand, if you had an incredibly dark image to start with, you have to decide how light you need to have it to get to this point. Sharpen or blur where you need it.
2 - Like in my previous tutorial, I now suggest to make your flesh-tones by creating a Color Fill (Layer->New Fill Layer->Solid Color). Pale reds are great for this, if you're working with a Caucasian subject. Set the layer to Overlay, so it sticks to each individual color rather than just washing or hueing over it. Do not go overboard with joy by setting it at a high opacity. You might need to go ahead with the next steps before deciding how high or low you need to set this layer to. It really does depend on your picture. Be aware that the red might interact badly with your other colors. Mine worked well with the gold from the icon, but if yours has bad chemistry simplify the layer and cut out where it looks bad.
I like to use Levels (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels).
It's just a great tool for color enhancement and control over your highlights, shadows, and tones. For the highlights/shadows/tones, you focus on RGB. I would suggest keeping towards input levels, because I find that output can be manipulated there, too. Move the right white arrow over towards the left for highlights, and the left black arrow towards the right for shadows. Manipulate this to your discretion. Do not feel too compelled to slide the white arrow over a great deal to make your icon light, because sometimes it scratches the image.
You then have three other options to play with: Red, Green, and Blue. Take a look at your picture. What do you need to focus on? In my case, I needed the flesh tones established and I needed to begin toning down all of those greens/blues from the background. Under Red, sliding the white arrow towards the left gave me my reds that I needed to further help that afore used Overlayed Color Fill. I only tweaked the blues this time, because if you move to the left, you get more blues and to the right you get greens. I needed neither. So, I left them relatively alone for now.
I suggest keeping this as a Normal layer.
3 - I am always for trying to create contrast between the subject and the background. To do so, you can use Brightness/Contrast.
Moving the arrows to the right will increase while moving to the left will decrease. As I mentioned in another tutorial, this can be a powerful tool that will make or break. Do not expect too much from it. Edge it over left or right as you see fit. I did not need much. In fact, I really only focused on the contrast, and only by a little. If your image was unbearably dark, play with the brightness.
It will bet lighter. This is what a Screened Level Layer is for. Keep opacity under control. Keep it at about mid until you know what your image needs to look at, because you can always increase it. As the last layer, I kept my focus on RGB and Red. This will be your primary source of light, so do not be afraid to move the white arrow to the left more than you previously have. I increased mine quite a bit.
Now you can see better what the contrast layer accomplished. Also, now your subject stands out more from the background. But, those greens are too high for my taste. I wanted to cool them with blues. This is the last time I suggest you use Levels. This was just for my preference, and is not totatly required. Setting it as a Normal layer, I played one more time with RGB highlights and Reds, but this time shifted the Blues to where it took away some of the green hue.
4 - You now spot a problem. That Level that focus on blues now paled Cedric too much. It's easily fixed with the help of a Color Fill. I found this to actually be a very important step, because it securred the color tones. Setting it as Soft Light, focus around the golds/browns in your color selections. Adjust the opacity, but I found it really did not have to exceed half, or otherwise I would lose those blues I wanted. Now I feel that both the flesh tones and the blues/greens of the background are more accomplished.
I now set that in stone with a Photo Filter (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Photo Filter).
You probably want to stick with the warming filters this time, adjusting your density to accomidate for your subject's skin tone. Keep it as a Normal layer will keep it from darkening or lightening the icon too much. All it will do is secure the previous layer. If you do not have Photo Filter, you can achieve a similar effect with a Color Fill at a lower-opacity Normal layer. Stick with the same color-scheme of warming golds.
Clean up where you need to. I fixed up that green that grew on Cedric's shirt by the use of both coloring and smudging.
It takes some steps and work, but it helps you clean up your night scenes into icon bases that can be futher used for finished pieces. That's all from me for now.