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Tag : photoshop

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Are you a Photographer or a Retoucher? Read these books.

Every retoucher’s first steps. 

When I was starting out, and I was retouching my own photographs, I remember I didn’t have a clue about what I should be doing. For several months, I tried to learn as much as possible from YouTube, paid tutorials, and “how-to” videos on the internet. As soon as I learned a new trick, I tried to apply it to one of my images. I felt I was getting more and more comfortable with the tools provided by Photoshop and Capture One, but I knew I was still missing the real point. 

Every time, regardless of the actual content of an image, I just went through my “trick list”:

  • Frequency Separation on skin ✅ 
  • Colorize the skin-tone to make it uniform ✅ 
  • Dodge and Burn contouring ✅ 
  • Heavily colorize shadows and highlights. ✅ 
  • Add Sharpening ✅ 
  • Add Vignette ✅ 

Yikes right?! 

I was working on autopilot, and there was absolutely no thought process behind it. After a while, I started to realize that my beloved “trick list” was just working against me. 

Where to find better sources of knowledge? 

Step by step tutorials and “how-to” videos can be great, but unless you have a solid understanding of what an image needs, they can be useless or even detrimental to your work.

Over the past couple of years, I started to do some research to improve my understanding of visual arts and increase my knowledge regarding colors and composition. 

These books that I’m about to recommend to you are not recreational reads. Most of the concepts are difficult to understand. They do not often offer a practical way to implement what you read. Nonetheless, they point you in the right direction. They force you to become more thoughtful and change your perspective. They will give you interesting insights that will inevitably question workflow, whether you are a photographer or a retoucher. It can sound daunting, but in reality, this is actually a good thing since experimenting and re-evaluating our own beliefs is the only way to improve. 

Aspects that you can improve

You will realize why a certain combination of colors works and why another does not. Also:

  • how composition rules affect the perception of your images,
  • the relativity of the human vision,
  • the importance of correct color reproduction workflows,
  • the complexity of printing processes, and much more. 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! 

Here is the list:

Theory of Colours. Goethe (1840) 

It talks about the nature, function, and psychology of colors. It is Goethe’s attempt to derive the laws of color harmony while he rejects Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum. His theories have been largely disproved over the years, so it cannot be considered a work of science; however, it is a fascinating read that illustrates the phenomena of colored shadows, after-images, and complementary colors that happen in our brain.

Point and Line to Plane. Vasilij Kandinskij (1926) 

In this book, Kandinskij analyzes the geometrical elements that form a painting and describes their characteristics. For instance, a line always indicates movement; it inevitably leads somewhere, forcing the eyes to move along its path. Depending on its correlation and position with other lines or points, the painter is able to evoke visual tension or comfort. Since we are still talking about bi-dimensional visuals, the same concepts can be used to improve your understanding of camera framing and composition.

Color Science and the Visual Arts. Roy S. Berns (2016) 

This is a highly technical book, and it covers topics like color measurement, color inconstancy, metamerism, physical characteristics of light, color management,  and color reproduction. Even though this read is mainly intended for curators, conservators or painters, the key points can be appreciated by photographers and retouchers as well.

Color Choices. Stephen Quiller (2002) 

This is both a theoretical and practical book, which shows how to use the color wheel to understand color relationships and mix colors more effectively. Then it explains how to develop five color schemes and use color in an impactful way. This book was intended to educate painters, but since it’s full of visual examples, it is highly recommended for retouchers and photographers as well to help them develop their color sensibility during their pre and post-production processes.

Interaction of Color. Joseph Albers (1963) 

This book allows us to understand the relativeness of colors thanks to its comprehensive visual examples. To the human eye, there are no “real” colors; in fact, Albers defines them as passive, unstable, but predictable. With the aid of practical exercises, he shows us how to change the perception of one color, make two colors look identical, make three colors look like two, etc. Albers does not dictate which colors you should use and how, but instead, he encourages exploration and experimentation, affirming that experience is always the best teacher.

The Art of Color. Johannes Itten (1961) 

Subjective feelings and objective color relations are the two main topics of this book. Itten defines the color’s role and function in a practical way while he analyzes the color wheel, the effects of color composition, and color expression.
In this book, he provides his famous list of seven color contrasts that can be used as inspiration to create striking effects and pleasing harmonies: the contrast of hue, of light and dark, of cold and warm, of complements, of saturation, of extension, and simultaneous contrast.

Want to read more about Johannes Itten? Check out this article: Type of artist & their behaviour with the color

Photo by ROMBO from Pexels

The concept of sharpness

You see them again and again, totally over-sharpened images. Funny Jesus halos were created, hair looks super dry, and somehow everything becomes cheap again.

What is sharpness?

Sharpness is in contrast. The contrast in the form of differences in brightness at edges and details – but also color contrast or saturation contrast. Yes – even the image content can affect image sharpness.

Adobe Photoshop looks for edges when sharpening them and makes them lighter on one side and darker on the other. Photoshop has no idea of color contrasts.
Photoshop can only make luminance contrasts:


Let’s take a closer look and do the same thing again:



Pay attention to the eye – that’s nice and sharp in this image – unfortunately, the skin texture suffered from it, the hair is strawy, and the hands “glow”.

But for luminance processing, there is an excellent, manual tool: Dodge & Burn. So here the ” manually sharpened “version:


In this example, too, the eye is sharp – and there are no side effects. Incidentally, this took almost 2 minutes.

Sharpness through color contrasts

Let’s take a look at this image here:


The two colors are very similar – the red and the orange differ only by a small offset in color. Saturation and luminance are the same. If we now change one of those color fields in hue (but leave the saturation and luminance the same), this is the result:


The separation between the two fields is so strong that even JPG compression reaches its limits and shows artifacts in the middle. The contrast is extreme here – only by changing the color tone.

Transferred to an image, you could apply it as follows:scharpen_09scharpen_10

Here the color tone was changed only minimally, and a sharper image emerged. A very subtle effect – again without side effects.


If you want to have sharp images, you can keep the contrasts and contrast edges in mind when retouching – this usually makes subsequent sharpening obsolete. At Dodge & Burn, I always try to darken the edges a few percents more and lightly lighten the other side of the edge. When it comes to colors, I pay attention to the color harmonies, so that you automatically achieve very harmonious, but at the same time, sharp contrasts.

A little hint at the end

If you sharpen while using the raw converter (meaning before retouching) or pull the saturation upwards, you will get a sharper picture, but in the end, you do twice the work. All of the problems highlighted by this global sharpening also want to be eliminated again. It is better to use the raw conversion for a somewhat flatter but balanced image and to increase the sharpness in the image during retouching deliberately.

Stay tuned for the next blog article regarding sharpness in the upcoming week.

You might also be interested in those:

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.

Foto von Dazzle Jam von Pexels

Masking with Difference masking: Easy!

When to use this masking method

There are many options for masking objects and models in Adobe Photoshop. If the current methods fail, you have to resort to unknown and creative ways to help yourself.

This method is also suitable for more complex objects and hair. The background should be as solid as possible (not white, grey, or black).

Method – Step by Step Guide

  1. Use the Eyedropper (I) tool to sample a larger area of the background (minimum of 5×5 px average).
  2. Create a solid color fill layer with the sampled color OR choose Edit>Fill…>Contents Use: Foreground Color with an empty layer (both options will work)
  3. Use blending mode Difference: Looks at the color information in each channel and subtracts either the blend color from the base color or the base color from the blend color, depending on which has the greater brightness value.
  4. The sampled color area should be now almost or entirely black. You can also add another help layer to enhance the results.
  5. Now go to the channels and check whether the red, green, or blue channel is suitable for a selection (or all together; use the same method as with paths).
  6. Either you can already use the selection and apply it to your image, OR you can duplicate the channel of your choice and edit it with the Dodge or Burn Tools, with the Brush or other tools of your choice (e.g. cmd + M (gradation curve) & cmd + L (tonal correction) until it is suitable for your selection mask.
  7. Final checks, delete the Difference layer & the new channel.
  8. Done!

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.

Camera Lenses

Capture One Pro Tips – Easy Dust Spot Finder & Removal Tools

So far, removing dust spots has been one of the first steps in post-production. Previously, there were two ways to do this: While the limited number of 100 points within the Remove Spot option in Capture One 12 was quite unflexible and, of course, limited; Photoshop was more time-consuming but more accurate and flexible in the shape of the correction area. There we used the combination of our Solar Curve (= Dust Spot Finder) and Healing Brush/Spot Healing Brush.

Some time passed, and the new upgrade to Capture One 20 was released. This has changed our workflow in that way that we prefer to Capture One for this step. But why?

The fact that these spots in the image appear very consistent in subsequent images means that we can automatically have them recalculated in all successive images of one photoshoot in Capture One (also at the early stage of tethering) – just with two small clicks and a quick check of the result.
With the new tools, Capture One 20 has eliminated the lack of flexibility and limitation, i.e., the previous negative points.

The new workflow

What we need for our Capture One cleanup

  • +1 New Filled Adjustment Layer (Dust Spot Finder/help layer -> save as preset, delete later)
  • +1 New Heal Layer (Dust Removal)

Of course, you can use different options as help layers. You can manually set our previous Solar Curve (use the input and output numbers) in Capture One (Window: Curve), or you could also use these great settings from Paul Reiffer. Maybe a mixture of both help layers works great for you (+2 New Filled Adjustment Layers with adjusted opacity). Just play around, and don’t forget to save your personal one (right-click on the layer, save as style).

Here are the adjustments from Paul Reiffer as an overview:

  • (Exposure)
    Contrast: +50
    Brightness: -10 to -20
    Saturation: -50 to -60
  • (High Dynamic Range)
    Highlight: -100
    Shadow: +100
  • (Clarity)
    Clarity: +50 to +70
    Structure: +50 to +70

If you have time, have a look at the full video of Paul Reiffer below.

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment. You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.


The “Solar Curve” (Solarization curve)

What is the “Solar Curve”?

The “Solar Curve” looks like a wave created from the normal linear curve inside of Photoshop. Normally 4 or 6 points are inserted. Mathematically one divides the entire range (0-255) into 5 or 7 parts and sets accordingly the points:

4-point Solar Curve

If you want to set 4 new points, simply divide the 255 (maximum) by five and get 51. These points result accordingly:

Input / Output


It will look like that:

6-point Solar Curve

If you want to set 6 new points, you simply divide the 255 (maximum) by seven and get 36. Accordingly, these points result in:

Input / Output
109/255 * actually 108, has been rounded up
218/0 * actually 217, has been rounded up

It will look like that:

What does the solar curve do with the image?

As you can see in the picture, the Solar Curve is used to map the small contrasts to extreme changes. This creates a very alienated but also enlightening view. This view is ideal for revealing sensor spots/freckles or a single hair, but also to be able better to judge the gentle transitions between light and shadow.

Here it reveals everything that could be somehow “dirty”. So here’s a round of criticism of your own work (from a time when the solar curve was not yet part of my standard workflow):


On the left, you can see a bit of banding; at the top, a sensor spot/freckle was overlooked, and there are still a lot of spots on the forehead. Yeah. Did you see that in the picture above?

Why do you need such precise editing?

This question often pops up (“No one sees that anyway”), and usually, that’s true.
One thing you must not forget: not every screen is the same. Those aspects that your screen may not display could be displayed on another display (possibly a disastrous low-budget discount screen that had been in the public office of the pro-chain smoker association for years and had its best times – if you can speak of it) can look completely different – and indeed by unnatural extreme shifts, such editing errors are no longer almost invisible.

Another example is backlit displays – everything that is printed and then backlit should be very smooth and clean. Mirror foil is also really mean and does not always reveal the best in retouching.

When one works for a client, you never know what he will do with the files – maybe just a brochure is planned, but a bit later could be an exhibition/fair asking for a large format display. You never know.

Working with a visible Solar Curve?

That does not sound tempting?
Immediately seeing where these minimal changes have yet to be made, seeing the little luminance issues burning in the night at Dodge & Burn, that sounds great, doesn’t it?
I use the Solar Curve for sensor spots/freckles, clone stamp, double-check, and hair. To sum up, everything you want to remove 100% clean and has very low contrasts.
Miraculously, you can use this view as a negative or with additional contrast enhancement to unmask even more of the problem areas.

For everything else: Leave it. You run the risk to retouch any naturalness away.

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.