Fine-tune images in Photoshop

Prepare to print!

You’ve made major changes to your RAW image file; now it’s time to open it in Photoshop CS or Elements and fine-tune it.

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Photoshop’s outstanding selection, masking, and adjustments tools used with layers (or smart object ability) give you great control. Typically, you should adjust images in this sequence:

  • Crop and straighten the image
  • Adjust overall color if needed
  • Adjust overall tonality/contrast if needed
  • Fine-tune color in specific areas
  • Fine-tune tonality in specific areas
  • Retouch the picture
  • Sharpen it

Use techniques that are non-destructive and that can be undone. Use layers for adjustments (or Smart Objects) so you don’t alter the pixel data of the image. Although I talk in terms of tweaking the image, you can certainly make bold creative adjustments that fit your vision.

Tweaking small areas for color, saturation, tonality

Tweak these adjustments however you prefer. Make sure subjects with known neutrals (white picket fences, wedding dresses, eggs, etc) and memory colors (such as grass, flesh tones, clouds) look appropriate for the scene lighting. Use the Curves or Levels function.

Make a habit of using adjustments layers so you can easily make changes.

Use an adjustment layer for each of these adjustments. If you want to adjust specific smaller subjects, such as an egg, first select it using the Lasso (press L) or Quick Selection tool (press W) and a feather of one or two pixels. While the selection is active, click on the half moon icon in the Layer palette to create the corresponding adjustment layer. Then simply make your adjustment. If it seems a bit strong, try lowering the opacity of the layer using the opacity adjustment function at the top of the Layers palette.

Tweaking the sharpness of a small area

Select the area to be sharpened, using a feather of one or two pixels. Go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. Sharpen it slightly to moderately, being careful not to call obvious attention to this small area. Typical setting for selective sharpness: Amount-90%, Radius-1 pixel, Threshold-3. You could, of course, use the Smart Sharpen filter if that’s your preference.

Retouching the picture

Now’s the time to go through and eliminate dust spots, minor intrusive elements, such as a stray hair over an eyeball, and so forth. Use the normal retouching tools, such as the Cloning Stamp and Healing Brush.


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