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Get better backgrounds.


You know you are guilty of it. Trying to retouch the background flat white (or black) and you missed a spot. Now your prints are back from the lab and you have an ugly dark spot that didn’t show up on the screen but there it is on the print, clear as day. Trust me, this happens more than you might think. (Working at a busy lab, I see lots of bad retouch jobs.)

Here is a QUICK helper. On your next high key (or low key) shoot, you can use a Levels adjustment layer to help you see what needs a little extra clone brush to fix before submitting the finished files to print. For those using older versions of Photoshop without adjustment layers, you have a few extra steps to do but it works just the same.

Example Image

Example Image

Here is our starting image, an almost pure white hooded shirt on a slightly off-white background. If that’s not hard on the eyes to retouch, I don’t know what is.

Levels Adjustment Layer

Levels Adjustment Layer

First, add a Levels adjustment layer over the background layer (or at the top of your layers if you have multiple working layers). Now drag the middle slider over to the right until the image is extremely contrasty. This should make any anomalies in the otherwise white background VERY clear on the screen. Thus making them easy to spot and retouch. Then simply go to your background layer and retouch them out or if you prefer, create a blank layer above your background layer (below the adjustment layer) and go to work. Be sure the brush properties are set to “Current Layer” or “Current & Below” for clone tools, otherwise you are in for another surprise later. (The kind that makes you shout four letter words.)

Lastly, you can hide or delete the adjustment layer to check your changes and just delete the adjustment layer when finished. Simple huh? This trick really makes it easier on the eyes when working with bright white backgrounds. Plus, those white floors are really dirty so fix them! (And save your eyesight.)

Example with Levels

Example with Levels

To use the trick on a low key image with a dark background, simply drag the middle slider towards the shadows and it will brighten up the image making any areas of the background that are uneven stand out as a lighter area. Do your retouching as you would and discard the adjustment layer when done.

For those using older (pre-CS) versions of Photoshop, start by duplicating the background layer and then set the blend mode of the copy to either Multiply or I also find Color Burn works well (if that is even an option in older versions). With the copy layer active, use the levels as above to darken the image. Do your retouching on the original background layer or a blank layer between the two. Be sure you remove the “Background Copy” layer before flattening.

This also works well to find out how even your lighting is on your studio backdrops so you can make adjustments to the lights easier.

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