Photoshop Quick Tip: Create a Dragan Style Portrait Effect in 5 Steps

Photoshop Quick Tip: Create a Dragan Style Portrait Effect in 5 Steps

If you’re a photo buff of any level, you’ve most likely heard of or seen the amazing work of Andrzej Dragan. His portraits have a very high contrast and color style all their own. The effect is stunning and eye catching. It reveals a lot about the subject that the naked eye doesn’t get to see. A similar effect can be created in Photoshop with just a few simple steps. Lets take a look.

Here’s a look at what we’ll be doing with this portrait. If you want to use the same image, you can download it here.

Step 1

First up, lets add a Levels adjustment layer, and adjust the levels to something close to what I have below. Basically, we’re bumping the contrast with this adjustment.

Step 2

Now lets add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and take the saturation down. If you like, you can also adjust the color tone in this step using the Hue slider.

Step 3

Now lets add a Curves adjustment layer to further adjust the contrast and highlights. You’ll need to add three dots to the curves line and adjust to something similar to what I have below.

Step 4

Now we’re going to increase the sharpness considerably using the High Pass Filter. Make a duplicate of the original portrait layer, and select (Filter | Other | High Pass). Choose a setting of at least 10.

Now set this layer’s blending mode to Overlay.

Step 5

For this final step we’re going to bring out some of the details in his face using the dodge and burn tools. You can see from the photo below that the face is too hot.

Use the Burn Tool (O) with Exposure set to 50% to darken the following areas.

I also used the Dodge Tool to highlight the eyes.

Below is the final image. Experiment with these techniques on one of your own photos. You will be surprised by the dramatic effect you can add to your photography in a matter of minutes.


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Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown is a graphic designer who loves working with various media. He combines traditional art styles with a little experimentation and digital flare. Nathan's works have contained everything from ink and paint to leaves and a box of dirt. Everything is fare game when it comes to his approach to art. Nathan lives in Austin, Texas where he has been working as a designer for 10 years.


(+add yours)
  1. wow, great tutorial, i like this, thanks bro :)

  2. sunu

    gud tutorial .

  3. Great result, and you made it look so easy. Super helpful– thanks, Nathan!

  4. Shirin Sheida

    Wow, this is great I cenrtainly come back to see more of these tutorial. Thanks, :)

  5. estasy


  6. Kees van Kekem

    Hey Nathan or someone else,

    I kinda need a hand here, when I use the burn tool on a hot area it gets kinda purple. Not the effect I am looking for, what am I doing wrong? It does not matter which layer I work on, the original one or the High Pass one. Selected midtones, exposure 50%.
    The skin I work on is quite brown.


    • Hi Kees,
      Are you setting the exposure to 50% on the burn tool? It needs to be used sparingly, or you will get some strange colorization. If you need darker shadows, try painting black on a new layer above the image. Set that layer’s blend mode to overlay, and take the opacity down to 50% or more.

      • Kees van Kekem

        Thanks for your response!
        I set it to 50%, that didnt work. I tried painting black, got the same purpleish effect.
        Tried painting with a brown color, that worked better. Not perfect but better. I posted the result on my Deviant page, you can still somewhat see the purple shining through but not as much.

        This website is amazing btw, I really love it.

  7. Hcab

    I can’t do this. Even though I do every step, my photo loses quality and its colours are lost too, turning the photograph a little grey. But it’s not just with this tutorial, it’s with every other tutorial aswell. Every time I try to edit photos, they turn out nothing like they should look like, even though I go step-by-step. What do I do?

  8. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your post seem to
    be running off the screen in Internet explorer.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.

    The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon.

  9. Hi Nathan,
    This is an awesome tutorial!!! Would you mind if I reblogged it? of course I’d give you credit. I was thinking of putting it on my blog ar

    Thanks and please keep it up

  10. Lapor gan… FOLLBACK SUKSES…

  11. link barner master udah terpasang di blog ane…

  12. oh ya

  13. Chris

    BRILLIANT tutorial, and super easy/quick to implement….just made a few stunning edits using this treatment to some otherwise normal photo portraits. THANKS!

  14. Des

    The link to the photograph doesn’t work for me it says the image is not available. I would like to try this to see if I can reproduce this and help me learn more about PS. Thanks.

  15. Can you tell us more about this? I’d care to find out more details.

  16. Mel

    what editor do you use?


  17. Pete

    This is way too much work for this look…

    Certain Cannon lenses get you close and if you stretch the RAW Image to the limits you can get the contrast there… You can then hit it with the High Pass and you won’t have to do any burning or dodging.

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