As you adjust the settings, pay attention to the highlights and shadows, but don’t be afraid to push them into clipping (solid black or white). You can ease the impact on these areas by using Blend If on the layer adjustments to restore detail. (See General Techniques for more details.)
Duplicate your background layer and give it a slight blur, just enough to smooth out hard edges. The duplicate should be set to Hard Mix. Then lower the Fill value until you get a pleasing blend. Try going all the way to zero and fading the values back up rather than trying to find the right balance starting from 100. Doing so will ensure that you don’t overdo the effect.
When you have a nice balance of contrast, lower the Opacity value to reduce some of the saturation. For additional refinement, drag the Blend If sliders.
An alternative approach is to use this method for balancing low-contrast image areas by applying a layer mask and painting in the effect. To do this, fill the layer mask with black, and then use a soft-edged brush to paint white directly on the mask to selectively reveal the adjustments.
- Duplicate the background layer.
- Blur the copy with Gaussian blur to about 0.5% to 1.0% of the long pixel dimension.
- Set the blend mode of the copy to Hard Mix.
- Reduce the Fill to between 20% and 70%.
- Reduce the Opacity.
- Adjust the Blend If sliders.