Three tools to rule them all: How to fix anything in Photoshop with three basic tools

Jul 7, 2016

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

Three tools to rule them all: How to fix anything in Photoshop with three basic tools

Jul 7, 2016

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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I know – that title sounds a little bit like clickbait-ish. But! It’s not! (well not this time). You don’t need a lot of fancy tools to fix most common problems in digital images (it will not help you with your taxes or significant other, so everything is a bit of a stretch :) )

Let me tell you a story about me and Photoshop before we jump into the magic.

Until not too long ago I was the first one to download any new Photoshop version (I mean on the minute it was released); I read every online article about anything that was even remotely retouching related; and I spent quite some serious money on Workshops, Tutorials and Books. Some People asked me if I am a Workshopoholic Photoshopoholic or something like that. “Hello, my name is Stefan and I booked a Workshop. Again. Just this one… I’ll stop”

However, I think I am not bad in Photoshop and I spend most of my day inside of that Program. One thing is very interesting:

As better I am, as more basic are my tools.

I get quite a bit of questions, and whenever people ask me a question starting with “How can I…” I tend to say the same: “Just do it with Dodge&Burn and Color Correction”.

What about Frequency Separation, Inverted High Pass, Blurry freaky awesomeness? What about overlays, what about third party plugins?

No need for that. You just need to change the way you see an image! In the last year I had the chance to work with such awesome people like Natalia Taffarel and Conny Wallstrom and that made me rethink everything I’ve learned before. Below the line:

I am getting better in retouching while getting worse in Photoshop.

My new way to see things is based on three facts:

  • every image has structure
  • structure is just a pattern of pixels
  • Photoshop has good basic tools to manipulate pixels

So I split my image in three topics:

  • structure
  • luminosity
  • color (hue/saturation)

Since I am doing this it’s pretty straight forward, because it’s a lot easier for me to sort out the problems and I always have the solution.
Let me show you..

Structure

YouTube video

What is structure?

It is basically a pattern of changes in hue, saturation and luminosity. That pattern can be manipulated with two tools very easily:

The Tools:

  • spot healing brush (or any other healing tool – but the normal healing brush is the most controllable for me)
  • clone stamp tool (you can use it as it is or combine it with layer modes, which gives you a bit more control)

What are the risks with these tools?

If you use them with soft edge, you will ruin your texture/structure/pattern because you are blending it with the original one.
You might end up with luminosity and/or color problems – but you should just don’t care about this for now. Just care about the structure.

Luminosity

YouTube video

What is luminosity?

Basically it’s some kind of “perceived brightness”.

(I think Conny can explain this way better and also shows the difference between brightness and luminosity here)

A blue and a yellow with the same brightness don’t have the same luminosity. Yellow will always look brighter because it has a higher luminosity. Please go and watch the video above, I am having a hard time explaining this, but I don’t have any problems in manipulating it with basic tools.

The Tools:

  • Dodge and Burn

Whatever you use for D&B, it’s good for one thing: changing the luminosity. Sounds not like a big deal but it’s powerful as hell. The three things that “makes” the image (pixelwise spoken) are: HUE – SATURATION – LUMINOSITY.

Now imagine a black and white image – a beautiful portrait, telling the story of a life… whatever.

There is no Saturation and so is no hue (Hue needs Saturation to be visible. These two are not easy to separate).

  • EVERYTHING is LUMINOSITY.
  • EVERYTHING is changeable with D&B.

What is the risk of D&B?

With great power comes great responsibility. You need to learn a lot about light and shadow to manipulate it in a good way. You need to learn about anatomy to change the light on a human. You need to be a doctor, not a mechanic.

And of course you run the risk of destroying the structure and there is an even bigger risk in of creating saturation shifts.

The saturation shifts are based on the fact, that areas with light have less saturation and shadow-areas are more saturated. If you manipulate that, you have to take care about it. But not now – now you only work on light and shadow.

COLOR

YouTube video

What is Color?

I don’t want to answer that question, because it will be wrong. I think I understand a lot about the concept about color, but there are so many people out there, writing articles I don’t even understand… keep this in mind: “Someone will always be better in color, regardless how good you are”. Jump into this video to get an hour of crazy color theory.

Color is technically spoken based on hue and saturation and luminosity. Hue and saturation are kind of married (Yes, they are happy together and I think the Hue is the male because Hue always thinks “I am in control of everything” but if saturation is gone the hue alone is meaningless… back to topic). You can’t split them like you can split the luminosity.

What are the Tools?

Basically most of your adjustment layers are the tools you can use. in 95% I am using curves. They are powerful and – with a little bit of practice – kind of easy to understand.

What are the the risks?

Well, there are no real risks. You just need to make sure you don’t alter the luminosity. You can do this by putting the adjustment layer in color layer mode or you just keep it in mind and make sure to account for it. I tend to do the second one.

One thing that’s very important (Thanks to Natalia!):

Saturation and Luminosity changes the composition. Hue doesn’t.

I am gonna make me an tattoo of this.

Conclusion

Before doing anything, I ask myself: is this a problem I can fix in that way? The answer is in 95% of all problems: Yes.

If someone has an solution like that for problems outside of Photoshop, please let me know in the comments…

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Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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3 responses to “Three tools to rule them all: How to fix anything in Photoshop with three basic tools”

  1. Territory Hobby Pics Avatar
    Territory Hobby Pics

    I always adore everything like this

  2. cbenci Avatar
    cbenci

    Great Videos. :)

  3. Head Cold Avatar
    Head Cold

    What kinda of pen and tablet are you using in those videos?