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Creating  depth, better separation, and detail can be accomplished a number of ways.  Most retouchers use multiple curves and other dodge and burn techniques.  But by teaming your curves adjustments with channel mixing you can get a lot more from your images. 

Without a solid tonal structure to begin with, your creating a lot of extra work for yourself. Not to mention missing out on all kinds of juicy detail that may be hiding in the RGB channels.  So, next time you start your curve adjustments, take a look at the channels. Make sure you’re really working with the best possible Channel mix.


Dolomites Italy

Before adjustments, Dolomites Italy

  *The more colors in the image the more one has control over the channels.


STEP 1:    If it’s not already open go to window -> Channels.  Cycle through each channel ( ⌘3 , 4, 5 ) taking careful note as to which channel has the best contrast, and separation of foreground and background elements.  In my case the red channel has nice contrast for the background.


STEP 2:  Create a new Channel Mixer adjustment layer by clicking on the half circle icon in the base of the layers palette then -> Channel Mixer.  





STEP 3:  Set the Blend Mode from normal to Luminosity.  This is located in the top left of the Layers Palette.  This will allow you to enhance the contrast without botching up the color.

STEP 4:  It’s time to remember what you saw in step one.  Since our red channel had the most contrast we adjusted our channel mixer to get more of the channel we liked (Red ) and less of the channels that were flat (Blue)

*Continue this process for each Output Channel Red Green and Blue.


Keep an eye on the Total at the bottom. If this total goes over 100% you may be clipping highlights.  I like to adjust the sliders until I hit 100 in each channel, then season to taste, which may require going over or under 100% in each output channel.  You have to watch the image closely to make sure its giving you what you want.



*Click the visibility of your new adjustment layer on and off a few times to see if you like your mix.

STEP 5:   I could have ended this at the last step but I decided to take it a step further.  I noticed that the red channel worked great on the mountains in the background but it made the boards in the foreground flat.  Cycling through the channels again, I notice that the Blue channel made the board pop.  So I created another Channel Mixer layer and adjusted to add blues and subtract reds.

STEP 6:  I painted in a mask for both the foreground and the background adjustment layers to isolate them.  Also i noticed that my new foreground contrast was a bit too much as it took away from the crispness of the mountains in the background.  The quick fix was simply to reduce the opacity on the foreground Channel mix.   mixlayers



Now that you’ve got a much better foundation, you’re ready to dive into the rest of your retouching.

After Adjustments

After Adjustments, Dolomites Italy


  1. Josh says:

    This is really great, Thanks for posting!

  2. Mack Bowden says:

    Not bad. Not bad at all.

  3. Matthew says:

    Nice, thanks for the great tutorial!