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Levels, curves, brighten/contrast, exposure, something else?

I tried levels and brightness/contrast, but they don't appear to be working well and make it too contrasting and different from the original. Curves and exposure seem to provide better results, but I am still not sure if that is the best way to do it.

Here is the texture provided, I would like to make a light pale version of it without losing too much detail.

Best result I managed to get using only Curves

Brightness & contrast and Levels created too high contrast so it doesn't look similar to the original. Exposure destroyed too many bright colors in histogram. That's what I tried so far, the latest one is 3 Curve layers which seems to produce somewhat believable results, but is there a better way?

  • I don't quite understand what part is the "texture" in the image you provided. Are you referring to her skin as "texture" or the entire image being considered as one? Texture is applied to another image to provide, well, texture like wood, grass, concrete, .... – user45605 Dec 6 '15 at 13:45
  • It is a skin texture for a 3d character model. The whole image is a texture. – Twoopah Dec 6 '15 at 13:55
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    Hi Twoopah, Welcome to GD.SE. Upping the brightness of an image really strongly depends on the image in question, so I don't think there's a best way. And it seems to me you're already doing pretty well. What is it exactly that you don't want to lose? – PieBie Dec 7 '15 at 15:13
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Here is another approach and it is reasonably simple to apply and tweak:

  1. When the image is opened, press Ctrl-J to make a new layer by copy
  2. Change the blend mode of this layer to "Screen" which should open up the tonality
  3. If you want even lighter version, click on the new layer with the blend mode changed to Screen and press Ctrl-J again which will yield even lighter tones yet.

Tweaking:

First try this with one layer with Screen blend mode. Target the screen layer and reduce the opacity to taste. This should give you a range between the original and the full Screen blend mode layer. Then, try it with the second Screen layer if you like

If you like you can add a luminosity mask to apply less screening which will protect the highlights. To do that:

  1. Turn off any new layer you might have created
  2. Display the Channels panel, Ctrl-Click on the RGB channel to select the luminosity information, switch back to the layers palette; don't worry if you do not see the crawling ants, you may see a warning message which is OK
  3. Press Shift-Ctrl-I to invert the selection
  4. Turn on and target the new layer, its blend mode was changed to Screen
  5. While the selection is active, click on the Mask icon at the bottom, it looks like a white rectangle with a circle in it

This will mask the highlights and prevent them from burning out.

Here are some images to show you what the layers panel looks like and the results they yield.

Original image

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The layers palette

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Screened image

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Screened image layers palette

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Luminosity masked layers result

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Luminosity masked layers palette

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  • I was hoping you'd post an answer on this, thanks! The OP did an amazing job and I was wondering how to make it even better without using the levels and curves. – go-junta Dec 8 '15 at 5:38
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    I am a big fan of Photoshop blend modes whenever possible. When combined with easily created luminosity masks, Photoshop ends up doing all the heavy lifting. I hope it works for the owner of the question. – user45605 Dec 8 '15 at 14:32
  • This seems like a best combination so far with Screen and Curves, thanks! Gonna wait a bit in case anyone else posts something – Twoopah Dec 8 '15 at 23:32
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A common though a bit complicated technique is known as Frequency Separation.

To summarize it very very briefly. You separate out the High Frequencies from the Low Frequencies. You can then lighten the Low Frequency areas which contains the color information while keeping your High Frequency area containing texture in tact.

I won't go into details on the how since there are hundreds of tutorials out there already on the topic. I will say if this is a regular part of your work you might want to look at Affinity Photo. They built in Frequency Separation tools making it a much easier process. Here's a tutorial showing it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGV6ilkB41g

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