HOW TO RETOUCH Pt. 7: Moody Contrast and Tone Adjustments

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Let’s talk about getting the tone and contrast of the overall photo just perfect in this part 7 of our 12-part retouching series! I’ll cover Adjustment Layers, Curves, Levels, reducing contrast, Black and White Multiplied layers, and more! If you want smooth and beautiful and moody cinematic tones in your images, you’re going to love this tutorial!

See All 12 Parts!

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Part 1: Camera RAW Processing

Part 2: How to Liquify & Pushing Pixels

Part 3: How to Retouch the Skin

Part 4: How to Retouch Eyes, Lips, & Eyebrows

Part 5: How to Retouch Hair

Part 6: Dodging and Burning the Photo

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Part 7: How to Get Moody Contrast & Tone

Part 8: How to Color Grade the Photo

Part 9: How to Sharpen the Photo

Part 10: The Benefits of Destructive Editing

Part 11: Create Lens Flare and Digital Lighting

Part 12: Tone Smoothing Grain and Finishing

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Download: Click here on this link to download the action to automatically place all the Adjustment Layers that I do so you can get started with the same tones and effects!

1. Add Contrast with Curves Adjustment

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Add a Curves Adjustment Layer and pull a decent little “S” curve into the curve line to increase the contrast of your image.

2. Midtone Punch with High Pass

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This effect is kind of like what the “Clarity” slider does in the Camera RAW by adding a midtone punch to your image. Merge all layers to a new layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E and desaturate the layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U. Next go Filter>Other>High Pass and set the Radius to 15px. Next set that layer to the blend mode Soft Light and reduce the opacity to around 45-50%. This however is probably not the method I want in this case, I just wanted to share the process so you have something you can try for your image.

3. Reduce Contrast with Levels

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Next, add a Levels Adjustment layer and set the black input handle to “4”, the midtone input handle to “1.35”, and the white input handle remains at “255”. Also, set your black output point to “3” and leave the white output point at “255”.

4. Channel Mixer to Add Drama

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Add a Channel Mixer Adjustment layer and tick on the “monochrome” box and boost the sliders until the image is very bright, but not so bright that all the highlights are turning into solid white. See my screenshot for how bright I made my image. Next, set this Adjustment layer to the blend mode Multiply and reduce the opacity to 45%

5. Selective Contrast with Curves + Masking

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Add another Curves Adjustment layer and apply another “S” curve as we did with our other Curves layer and fill that mask with black. Grab the Brush tool (B) and set that tool to the opacity of 40% or so and paint gently over just the areas that need a little more contrast. I added more contrast to the skin tones, the dress, and a little to the buildings in the background.

6. Reduce Contrast and Multiply Merged Layer

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Add a Brightness/Contrast layer and reduce the contrast slider to “-50” then use that hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all of these up to a new layer and then set this new merged layer to the blend mode of Multiply.

7. Contrast and Black and White for Merged Layer

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This now has done some serious damage to our overall image so we need to lighten the Multiply layer with a couple Adjustment layers clipped to this Multiply layer. Add a Levels adjustment layer and boost the black output slider to about “35” and the input midtone slider should be set to “2.10”. Clip this layer to the Multiply layer below by using the hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G. If the color is too intense, add a Black and White Adjustment layer and clip that as well. TIP: Reduce the opacity of this Black and White Adjustment layer to really hone in the saturation of the effect.

Nathaniel Dodson
I make videos about being creative with photography, design, and filmmaking. I'm a commercial photographer, a logo designer, a camera nerd, an artist, a wannabe thinker, and I like to read books. I arrived on planet earth in the year 1989.