Using Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Uses Gradient Fill, Color Fill, Levels
Level of Difficulty: I think a beginner can follow along.
I decided to go ahead and create a simple, finished piece for this tutorial. During the process, I was playing around with different settings than which I usually use. I found something interesting in Gradient Fill, so I decided to share it. I've always felt that Gradients, in general, are not used as often as they probably should be, and that they take second hand to a lot of other tools.
1 - After you have chosen your image and have created your base icon, think about what you're going to need. My imagw was from a magazine scan, and in such suffered quality. Colors all around were dulled, not to mention have more colors to work with this time. Mostly warms. I needed to enrich the yellows, reds, and greens. After sharpening where needed, I decided to go ahead and put in my Gradient Fill (Layer->New Fill Layer-> Gradient) and set it to Soft Light (it will enrich the image instead of covering it over).
Gradient Fill differs from Gradient Map is significant ways. It casts color over an image relying on angles rather than flatly aplying on the image. As with Gradient Map, you have many, many color options already offered to you (and twice as many as you select reverse). Pick around the colors that you want, and then select an angle that will present the most dramatic effect on your image. I kept it as orange dominant, because for now I wanted focus on the warm colors. If you want to enhance the darks, choose a darker color at this point. Now you notice that you have a style option: Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected, Diamond. Using orange/blue, here is what happen when you select the different styles:
You will notice the different stlyes make different lighting effects. Play around and change it from Soft Light and see what happens when you choose a different layer style. Soft Light is generally easier to work with when it comes to enriching colors, alongside Overlay because it's usually tame. You'll lighten up or darken your image later, but if you want to change your Gradient Fill to a different layer feel free to see what looks best for you.
2 - Working with warm colors can sometmes be overpowering, but that's just my experience. For a darkened graphic, I wanted to make sure I did not make it too bright. Rather than toy with darkening the entire image through Brightness/Contrast, I used a Color Fill. Set to Overlay/Soft Light/Hard Light, a pale gray/blue is your friend here. Keeping the opacity in check, you can later use this to control all of your reds/yellows/greens. Work on the future steps and come back to adjust the color and opacity where needed.
3 - Now I was prepared to work on touching up the overall effects of the image (color, brightness, darkness, contrast). For this, I can never highly recommend Levels enough. Levels (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels) are a wonderful tool to learn if you have Elements or earlier versions of Photoshop. They help clean up your icon to create simple yet beautiful effects (when not abused).
As always, I suggest starting with a Levels set at Normal. RGB controls your overall brightness and darkness. For this, I usually do not move my outputs too much unless I find that I'm having a difficult time geting the brightness or darkness just right. For mine, I needed brightness because of that Overlay Color Fill (which was still an important step in my book. Don't worry, it won't cancel itself out). The white input arrow shifted to the left some, and just for this icon I needed to move the black output arrow tool. Not too much. Set at Normal, it's easy to get out of hand. However, do not forget your shadows. Unless you're working with a very dark image, I would suggest moving the black input arrow at least a little.
Because of flesh tones and Harry's red shirt, reds needed to be adjusted in order to bring them out more. Here, white input arrow is important. This will be further defined with the yellows in your Blues channel (black input arrow). I usually stay out of Greens, but this time I had no choice. There was grass in the picture, and it needed to be focused on, too. Work with them all, but I can give you no easy answer for this. Your picture will probably be very different than mine, so it's up to you to find your settings.
4 - Secure these settings with a Soft Light Levels layer. It's time to get more brave with your colors. In my case, this meant turning up the greens and yellows. This was because of the grass for greens. The yellows set in the skin tones better and overall just lightened up the image more despite the natural darkening that comes automatically with Soft Light. As you can see, for this image contrasts started taking care of themselves.
5 - This was a place for me to stop coloring. I think it works well on its own without text (I'm not a huge fan of text), but I tested out some. The first thing I needed to do was to decide where the text needed to go. The grass in the front was good. I hate when people use text to cover people's faces, and the patch on the upper right side did not have enough space. For this, I needed to darken the area just a bit. An Overlayed layer will work, and choose a dark color to brush around the area where you need to cast a shadow. After that, I decided to use a bar for an underbase of the text. Since the background was darkened, a brighter bar was good for contrast.
I slanted the bar for dramatic effect, nothing more. For that, I also rotated the text to line up with it. You will need to decide what text effects you use for yours. I decided to duplicate the text. I set one to a Wow Neon effect (which automatically gave it a drop shadow and bevel). The other was set to normal but at a lower opacity. I liked the effect of it.