Simplified Toolkit

 
Simplify!

 

In this article I want to explain to you why I’m using the toolkit in a very minimalistic way and how it benefits my day-to-day work.

This obviously reflects my opinion and the experiences I’ve made over the years using the Retouching Toolkit.

 

Why did I pick the Retouching Toolkit?

For several years now – I don’t know how many exactly and as I’m sitting in a cafe right now, I’m too lazy to look and find out – I’ve worked as a freelance retoucher. The majority of my work is in the beauty and fashion industry for small and big-name brands, agencies, and freelance photographers. Besides that, I’m also doing several post production jobs in the product and real-estate segment. 

 

Why am I telling you that? Because in all that time and doing different jobs, the work boiled down to a very similar workflow for me. Whether I’m working on people, objects or fabrics, the tools are more or less the same, and so is the workflow.

I’ve been using Conny Wallström’s Retouching Toolkit for several years now — around the time that version 2 was released — and it has always been a great addon to Photoshop for its versatility and usability. It’s been sturdy, thanks to macros, therefore it doesn’t matter which language I’m using photoshop in, or whether I’m using it on a MAC or PC. The macros don’t break like actions do, whenever there’s something different compared to what the action’s creator did.

Apart from that, it has always been following a “no-bullshit-approach” in regards to techniques. It won’t sell you, for example, frequency separation as the ONE solution to everything, but it also won’t stigmatize it. The reason for that is neither sugarcoating nor people pleasing. It simply is the logical reason, that it has its purpose and is very helpful in certain situations, despite often being misused for tasks better suited for other tools.

 

This unemotional approach is one thing that stood out to me. No dreams are being sold — just tried-and-true techniques that use their actual, industry-standard names!

With version 3, the Panel Maker came to be, which was life-changing for me!  (Okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was still pretty significant!)

 

It gave me the power to customize my toolkit to my individual needs and specific workflow, all without having several predefined tools I never use cluttering up my workspace.

 

My minimalistic Toolkit

Again – this is my opinion – but as a bit of a minimalist, I love having only what I need on my screen. I know there are other people who are the exact opposite and that is totally fine!

Now, what does my personal Retouching Tookit actually look like?

 
The Daily-Work-Tab

I have one tab for my active work on an image and it is built like a waterfall, starting with my most used tools on top, and my least used in the bottom.

Why, you ask?  Simple!  Muscle memory!  I could probably find the buttons blindfolded as I click on them so many times each day!

This is extremely beneficial for daily work as it allows you to not have to focus 100% on every single aspect – especially during the rough work of basic cleanups and D&B. 

Do you know that feeling when you drive a car to or from work, arrive and can’t remember anything about the drive, as your brain was on autopilot? It’s the same thing, and having a decluttered toolkit supports that.

So what am I using?

I ALWAYS create the eye help layers. Do I use them every time? No, but I have it in my brain to create them as soon as I open a file. It’s just helpful to have it there when I need it and doesn’t break my thought by having to wonder whether I need it now or not. I just use it when I feel I should – and it’s there for me to do so.

Next thing I do is create the healing layer and D&B. This is also something I do in literally every file. I use these tools in nearly every image (yes, some images don’t even require one or the other).

So these 3 buttons are the ones I use in any images without excuse.

Not as frequent but common enough, is the use of Smart Liquify, as there’s often something to be liquified, be it clothes that are too big or throw a fold or wrinkle, hair that could have a better shape or something more exotic like a bottle that has some distortion going on that couldn’t be fixed otherwise. (This is rare).

The “Smart” in “Smart Liquify” is one of my favourite features, but that’s for another blog post on another day!

The rest of my tools are 3 different Frequency Separations for different occasions, and the gradient map maker.

None of those are one-size-fits-all, and should be used carefully and with the right circumstances in mind, and as always, back up your work frequently before you try to use a tool you may not be as familiar with!

 

The Export-Tab

The second tab is my export tab.

“Duplicate Merged” is something I often use when I need to quickly export big files. Nothing is worse than waiting for a huge file to get ready for export.

The next two are for sharpening. I don’t use these a lot as most of the time, as sharpening isn’t necessary at all. More about that in a different post!

I have several resize options that I don’t use that often anymore as my final exports mostly come from Capture One. However it’s helpful when I for example prepare images for Instagram.

Last but not least is “Save For Web”. It’s hands down what I use the most, especially in combination with “Duplicate Merged”, for a quick sRGB export of ongoing work.

I know, in the second tab I contradict myself a bit with my “waterfall” idea, but again, it comes down to muscle memory.

I’m so used to having the buttons there and some buttons that I don’t use, that I don’t want to shake it up. Maybe I should one day, or add buttons I might use more.  Maybe it’s just my brain’s way of saving space for new features that get added to the toolkit later!

So this sums up my tiny minimalistic Retouching Toolkit that I use on a day-to-day basis, while still having access to the full panels when I need them.

 

What about other panels?

This also isn’t the only panel you can simplify and make more lean!

The layout also works well with the Luminosity Panel as well as the Color Wheels – although there isn’t as much meat on them.

Here’s what my Luminosity Panel looks like:

 

 
My Luminosity Panel

In the Blend-If-Tab, I use the eye-help as I do with the toolkit as well. It’s always good to have layers like that at your disposal because there are always times that they are needed.

I reduced to just three zones – Shadows, Midtones, Highlights. I picked those because they are the ones that I use the most when I create looks with the Luminosity Panel.  It allows me to quickly access those different pockets of light that I can adjust colors on.

Everything else in the Blend-If stayed as it was, as it’s all very useful and I don’t want to miss out on important tools.

Much leaner is my Working-Mask-Tab.

The Eye-Help stayed in again and this time I left the more detailed luminosity pockets in.  This is because it  is a more precise starting point and a quicker way to fine-tune my selection.

The rest that I leave is the switch between Luminosity and Saturation as well as the almighty Dither switch which allows for smooth transitions.

In the end, it’s possible to simplify it even further to just a single slider, but I like to have more control in my kit.

I’ve shown you mine, you show me yours!

Now, of course I’ve exported my personal Toolkit as well as my custom Luminosity Panel for you to download!

I’m also very curious to see how your personal toolkit layouts are set up! Minimalistic? Excessive? Or do you just use a prebuilt one? If so, I encourage you to pay attention to your daily workflow and build one for yourself that focuses and utilizes the tools you use the most!

Kai Gut

Kai Gut

Kai Gut is a full time retoucher and the founder of Aurora Retouch, a high end retouching house based in Germany. Aurora Retouch specializes in the post production of fashion photography as well as beauty and portraits, for editorials and commercial purposes.