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3 Curves To Help Check Your Work Is Ready For Publication | Photoshop Tutorial

By Dennis Dunbar on January 24th 2017

Seasoned Pros know how critical it is to double, or even triple check their retouching to make sure they haven’t missed anything. Over the years of working as a high-end retoucher I’ve traded lots of “war stories” with my other retoucher friends and, inevitably, we all have one or two stories about how some small imperfection in a job we did was discovered too late.

The biggest lesson that comes from these stories is the necessity of checking your work to make sure everything is as it should be. And, as you might think, professional retouchers have a few tricks up their sleeve to make catching these little things easier. The basic idea is to find ways to exaggerate any issues that may be hiding from view making it easier to see and fix them before releasing the final retouched image.

Here we’ll take a look at 3 different Curves settings that many pros use to check their work.


Method 1: Darkening Curves

For the shot below a great deal of the background and foreground are very light tones, and, especially if your monitor is set to a fairly bright level, light tones like these can be a favorite hiding place for spots and specks. The last place you’d want these spots and specks to show up is in the pages of a magazine, or on a billboard.

© Emilie Elizabeth

To make it easier to see any spots or specks that may be lurking simply add a Curves Adjustment layer to the top of your layer stack and pull way down on the Curve to darken the image as shown below:

This will darken your image enabling to find those pesky spots so you eliminate them. Here is that same image with the darkening Curve turned on, the red circles highlight some of the spots found on the canvas foreground in front of and beside the bicycle.

Method 2: Lightening Curves

© Stewart Cohen

While the first shot had lots of very light areas this one is dominated by shadows, another favorite hiding place for spots and specks that should be vanquished before sending the final image off to the client.

Just as with the previous shot the solution is to add a Curves Adjustment layer on top of your layer stack. But instead of pulling down on the Curve to darken the image pull up on it to lighten your image as shown below:

With this Curve sitting on top of your layer stack you can more easily see into the shadows where those bothersome spots are hiding.

Method 3: ‘Ed’s Curves’

Back in the early days of digital imaging the high end work was primarily done on very, very expensive machines like the Quantel Paintbox. These million dollar machines used a 25 inch monitor as a display for viewing the work and the final images were output to 8×10 transparencies that cost upwards of $600 each.

Naturally, since these transparencies were so expensive it became critical find ways to check the image and make sure there were no errant smudges or issues that would really only be visible on the final transparency before sending the file to output. Enter Ed’s Curves:

Ed’s Curves  are Curves settings nicknamed after the sales rep for the Quantel machines who pioneered the idea so his clients would be able to catch any problems with their images before wasting money on expensive output after output.

In actuality these Curves are basically Solarization Curves that have wild adjustments made to them grossly exaggerating the gradations and tones of the image making it easier to find any problems that need to be addressed.

In the image below the model was shot on a white background which looks pretty clean.

©Dante Dauz

Darkening the image like we did with Method 1 did not show any issues, so maybe we’re safe, right?

Not quite. This time instead of pulling up or down on the Curve we’re going to pull several points on the Curve up and down making our Curve look more like a series of mountains and valleys as you can see below:

Curves like really make for a wild looking image. But these wild colors can also make very subtle issues like out of place smudges in gradations a lot easier to see. Here is what our image looks like with these Solarization Curves applied:

As with the previous two examples the red circles mark those errant spots that were so hard to see in the white background. Now that we know where they are we can take care and make sure our image is perfect before it goes to print.

Note* – If you’re a Lightroom user you can still do this and if you use the SLR Lounge Preset System it’s as easy as one click. Check it out here.

Of course, some images have lots of light and dark areas so often times experienced retouchers will use all 3 of these Curves variations to check their work. And fortunately it’s easy to save Curves Presets for these different Curves settings (especially those wild Solarization Curves) making it a simple task to check your work before sending it off for publication.

Dennis Dunbar’s work as a Digital Artist/Retoucher is all about collaboration. For over 25 years he has been working with top Photographers and Art Directors to create compelling images for the Advertising and Entertainment industries. With projects ranging from One Sheet Posters for top movies to National Ad Campaigns for major clients his approach as a collaborator is to make it easy for his clients to realize their vision in creating the finished art.


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    I will definitely use this in my workflow. Cheers

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  2. Daniel Ott

    Great tips, thanks!

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