Originally Posted by ray12
These images look to have used advanced curves, blending modes, and layer masks all together to achieve the effects. Heres what I mean:
Curves Part: The curves give you the ability to change the colors in certain parts of the image under your control. You adjust the RGB, R, G and B curves in the highlights, in the midtones, and in the shadows, to give you the coloring effect you see in these pictures...and in your own artistic mind. They are adjustment layer curves which means they are non-destructive and therefore do not alter the skin textures or the stone textures below the curve color layer...so this way... you get great image detail and image integrity without blocking up or obscuring the image below. You can have any part of a shadow, or mid tone, or highlight be any color or vibrancy that you choose if you know how to control these 3 tools mentioned.
Blending Modes: There is also evidence of using blending modes that are located in the upper left part of your layers pallet. They would also affect the way the curve colorations affect the image below and how they blend together. There are blend modes that darken the blending, lighten the effects, or control the way colors and images overlay with each other. Blending modes give you an additional way to get vibrant or moody colors that are not possible with the normal blend mode in your layer. Most artists will experiment with curves, masks, and blend modes interactively till they get the visual effect that pleases them the most.
Layer Masks: There is also strong evidence of using layer masks. The problem identified by photo2216 is that his color curves came out looking flat and not artistic. Thats because your colors and blendings were not controlled by layer masks. Layer masks allow you to artistically paint in the colors and the blendings EXACTLY where you want them, and how strong, and where the colorations begin and end. Without the control of layer masks you would just have a crazy color overlay effect from the curves you showed. Layer masks give you the complete artistic effects you want and make them infinitely controllable. You can make the dark shadow down below look very saturated in one place and then very moody in another place on the same image...but NOT have any effect on the face at all. Thats the artistic and visual power of learning Layer Masks.
The Artistic Combination: Its the combination of a good and well thought out base image... that has good design and exposure and artistry in it to begin with. These shots done in a studio environment, for example, would not look right. You have to apply these techniques to a base image that is appropriate and worthy to get the WOW effects you are looking for.
With this technique of using selective curves, blending modes and masking...then the visual photographer/artist can decide that he wants this shadow here in the bottom to be dark blue, this midtone to be ivory, and this highlight on the top to be changed into a totally vibrant yellow. The Photographer/Artist...Photoshop Craftsman...can make up almost any image their mind can imagine... by capturing thoughtful base images and modifying them to his intended vision.
This particular photographer/artist may have had 15 to 20 different layers in his image. One layer per specific effect of color, vibrancy and part of the mood of the image.
Since adjustment layers do not degrade the original image details below...you can get some amazingly complex and artistic looks that really tell a visual story rather than just depict reality. They are all blended together using masks, and all with some form of well chosen blending mode, that made the colorations look vibrant, or moody or highly exciting.
By mastering and using all 3 tool sets at the same time...thats when Photoshop can get really fun and visually exciting. Then the only limit is the quality of your artistic vision... and your intent.
Thats my .02 guess.