Wanna hear a story? It’s a story about pixels and portraits and the things that happen to them. The story begins with a set of scripts and an unassuming panel, the kind of panel you might not look twice at if you met it in a pub down in the Gaslamp. Ok, it’s not a very deep story, but if you retouch human subjects, this is going to be of interest to you whether or not you have ever been to the Gaslamp.
A few months ago, I was offered the opportunity to review Conny Wallstrom’s Retouching Toolkit. It’s a collection of fast scripts accessed by a sleek panel to make life easier for professional retouchers.
What’s clear right away is that this kit is put together by someone who has spent untold hours on setting things up to edit hundreds to thousands of portraits and fashion shots. In a nutshell, 80% of what you need is right there in the panel, including cropping guides, preset brushes for cloning and healing, and staged layer groups for frequency separation and dodging and burning. I’m just getting used to the check layers, which are there to help you visualize your corrections and edits in different ways. More on that in a bit.
It’s important to realize this is not a plugin or magic button for any corrections or special effects. Instead, Conny’s Retouching Toolkit is aimed squarely at professional and advanced users who rely on powerful techniques being applied quickly and uniformly each and every time. This is a serious efficiency boost that can save you minutes on each retouch. That may not sound like a lot, but if you’re working on a catalog while the model is still on the set, those minutes count. And they also count when you’re churning through dozens or hundreds of images for a variety of clients.
What this toolkit does is place layers and groups into your document, pausing only long enough for you to dial in settings as needed. The layers are set up for specific tasks, and include things like locking movement, blending modes, and in some cases advanced blending characteristics. Adjustment layers come preloaded for things like dodging and burning, and their layer masks are already filled with black, so you just have to gently paint in your corrections.
Other features might seem even smaller, such as placing a blank layer and naming it ‘Healing’. This only saves you a few clicks and key strokes, but believe it or not, I really appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to stop to type in a layer name when working on removing some wrinkles from fabric. The power here is that you can hide every panel except your layers and the Toolkit, but still have everything you need. Decluttering your workspace is far more valuable than you think.
Two gems here are the Gradient Maker and Average Color. The Gradient Maker gives you a fast way to build up maps for correcting color, especially in skin. Select however many values you want after you’ve done a basic balance and color correction, and it builds a gradient map that you can use to smooth out uneven makeup or skin color. Average color lets you select a region, reduce it to the average color (duh) and returns a value for that color as the name of a Color Fill adjustment layer with advanced blending. Again, use this for local corrections or for applying an overall tone to your image based on a sample color.
A few other features are available that I have to admit I haven’t really put to the test such as Smart Liquify and Band Pass. I just don’t use these techniques very often right now anyway, but I plan to dig in to them on my next model project.
The going price is about $60 US, and I feel it’s totally worth the cost (disclaimer – I was given a review copy for free, but I absolutely would buy this panel at full value). This is coming from a guy who normally avoids any kind of plugin or panel. The reason I endorse this kit is because it’s not set up to give you special effects or processed looks, but instead to speed up your work. That’s something I am always interested in paying for.
There is a ton going on under the hood, here. These aren’t simple actions bundled together for ease; they’re full scripts that actually take your image content into account. Flexible naming, selectable parameters during the process, and blistering speed for most images all add up to a powerhouse that will pay for itself on your first image.
So there wasn’t much of a story, but I bet you found it interesting 🙂
Get it here: Conny Wallstrom’s Retouching Toolkit