Ben Secret

…is a London-based journalist & designer.

He can usually be found writing for The Huffington Post, Computer Arts magazine and Practical Photoshop. He can also be reached via , or followed on Twitter, Instagram and Google+.

PS excuse the mess – I’m giving the site a spring clean.



News and updates

New Site

Hi, it’s been a while. I’ve got a new site with many of the Photoshop Actions I’ve collected and developed over the years. It’s new, so let me know if you have any problems.

Computer Arts online tutorials

Check out my new site for retouching presets. I’ll slowly be migrating content over to it.

The other way to copy colour
Retouch images using frequency separation link
Stylised gradient effects using Photoshop’s channels link
Get to grips with layer groups link
Desaturation? Desaturation’s for amateurs. Use the Black & White filter link
Skin Smoothing – SmartFilter Inverted High-Pass Technique link
Tone and Colour Stylising in Photoshop link
Frequency Separation Sharpening in Photoshop link
Create a vintage toy camera look in Photoshop (Part.1) link
Create a vintage toy camera look in Photoshop (Part.2) link
Create a pseudo-HDR effect with local contrast link
Fix frizzy hair with Photoshop’s Oil Paint filter link
Match tone and colour in Photoshop link
Controlling saturation in Photoshop link
Create a Kodak-inspired film aesthetic in Camera RAW link
Balance colours and tones with local Curves correction link
Composites: Harmonise tricky tones and colours link
Turn day into night in Photoshop with colour-shifted exposure link
Colourise a black and white photo in Photoshop link

A better way to Saturate – (film colour cracked in Photoshop!)

I’d been looking at the way film handles colour for ages, particularly in cinematography. If you’ve ever noticed, turning up the saturation in Photoshop (with HSL or Vibrance), things tend to get garish and noisy. Yet in film, it seems you can get incredibly vivid colours which really define their own space and don’t seem to lead to the same kind of bleed and artefacts as you get when you try to push digital in that direction.

And you can see in modern cinematography and fashion photography, we’ve brought colour back by drastically limiting the palette and keeping colours very tonally separated. The classic example being the Teal and Orange look. We put loads of blues in the shadows, and reds/yellows in the highlights. It’s very one-dimensional colour, it doesn’t bleed or clash into itself – the mid-tones are a sort of dull breakwater.

And I’d been sure there was a way to do this in Photoshop. If you could define and separate the colours first, with a colour map, then maybe you could saturate them more cleanly and mix them back in.

Then I stumbled across it the other day, colour grading some film footage, and it behaves more like film than I’d ever expected.

What I’m looking for in this example is which method reconstructs the original colour circles best. The image was a grey background with 6 coloured circles, and Gaussian blurred heavily to make it nice and vague.

All you do is create a Colour Map and set its blending mode to Overlay. Then use Opacity to mix it in or out. Or duplicate it to strengthen.

My favourite way to make a Colour Map is to create this preset in Channel Mixer:
R +70
G -59
B -11
Constant 50

R -30
G +41
B -11
Constant 50

R -30
G -59
B +89
Constant 50

And save that as a preset, because you never know when it’ll come in useful.

Simple way to use it: Channel Mixer adjustment layer with Overlay blending.

It has a slight tonal effect too. If you just want the colour effect, create a Curves adjustment layer first; set its blending mode to Colour; then put your Channel Mixer w/ Overlay blending above it and attach it onto the Curves as a clipping mask (Alt+click between the two layers in the layers palette).

I’m calling it BenColour. It’s so simple I’d be almost amazed if no one else has discovered it before. But, maybe no one realised what was wrong with the regular saturation?

A quirky way to match skin tones using set grey point

This works best if you’re trying to match two fairly similar skin tones.

Curves has a function that lets you set the grey point – it’s the middle eyedropper icon in the curves bit. Select it, and then whatever you click on in the scene becomes grey by virtue of having it adjust the red, green and blue curves of the whole image for you. It’s obviously meant to be used ON grey things to colour correct an image, but anyway…

So create a Curves layer and set the grey point on a clear area of skin (a mid-tone) of the image which has the skin tone you want to copy. Save that as a curves preset (‘destination’).

Now take it off. Set the grey point in the same way on the Source image (the image which has the skin tone you want to change).

Add an Invert adjustment layer above it.

Add a Curves layer and load the ‘destination’ preset.

Add another Invert layer.

photoshop thing

It doesn’t always work perfectly, but what it’s done is take your image’s skin mid-tone to grey; then apply the opposite of what has to happen to take the destination image to grey, i.e. an imprint of its own colour make-up, (and that’s done by inverting the image and applying the curve to it when the light’s dark and the dark’s light).

Does that make sense to anyone?

Local contrast for descriptive tones

Local contrast can help give images more descriptive and well balanced tones. What you’re doing is making a vague/blurred version of the image; using that to lighten/darken the image underneath; then inverting the effect.

So light areas get darker, and dark areas get lighter, but with this kind of area-based effect. Similar to what you can do with Unsharp mask, and you can try it with different blur modes too, like surface blur.

Original photo by David Slijper

Layers from bottom to top:
– Original picture
– Copy of the original -> Filter (Convert for Smart Filters); Gaussian Blur set to something high. Set this layer to Overlay. (This will put more light in the dark areas, to bring detail out in shadows)
– Clip an Invert filter to it
– Then another copy of the original image with Linear Light blending, and a low opacity. (This brings the contrast back)
– Curves layer set to Color blending with a flat RGB curve. (But a desat layer or just a white Solid Color set to Color would work the same)

A better way to desaturate

Going all the way to B&W with the saturation filter gives you dull, subdued images (which is why we don’t use it for B&W conversion of course). And yet desaturation’s something I use in every picture.

The first thing you can do is simply change the blending mode of your saturation adjustment layer to Color. Straight away you get the dynamic range and contrast back.

But the saturation filter’s limited. It’ll just take you from having colour to not having colour. So why not use a curves layer instead?

Set its blending mode to Color. Now the steepness of the RGB curve affects how much saturation you’ve got. Remember if you make a horizontal line anywhere with a normal curves layer it goes grey? Well grey with Color blending just desaturates. Putting a curve in it allows you to control the saturation contour (how saturation responds over the tonal range), and adjusting the colour curves allows you to colour balance.

Original photo by David Slijper

An S-curve will give you saturated midtones and desaturated highlights and shadows.


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