Post-processing: Playing with the Tone Curve & High Pass filter

A little while ago Kiki asked me about the post processing of the image below which I took at a flea market in Amsterdam. I love it when the visitors of my website ask me questions, and I enjoy answering them. In this post I will explain how I achieved the effect in this photo.

For Sale?

Shoes at the flea market in the Ij-Hallen in Amsterdam.

The most notable adjustment in the image above, is the tone of black and white. The whites are very bright, the blacks are very dark. But there is more. It is almost as if the number of black tints is limited. This is done by the Tone Curve, one of the most powerful tools in post processing used to boost and reduce contrast in different light regions.

The more advanced photo editing software all have this option, whether it’s free like and Gimp, or paid like Photoshop and Lightroom.

During post processing in Lightroom, go to the Tone Curve option in the right side of the screen. Move the sliders and see how they impact the photo.

Shoe settings 2

Move the sliders and control the brightness of the light and dark tones in the photo.

Now click on the graphics icon in the right bottom corner of the Tone Curve panel (1). Click anywhere on the diagonal line to lock it (2). Whatever you change now, this point is locked. For the effect in the photo of the boots click somewhere on the left bottom, on approximately a quarter of the line. The left bottom corner is for changing the dark tones, while the right top corner is to alter the highlights of the photo. Now click at the beginning of the line in the left bottom corner, hold it and drag it up (3). Go as far as needed for the desired effect.

Shoe settings 3

Open your image in LR and go to Tone Curve. Now, take the next steps: 1. Click on the icon of the graph in the right bottom corner 2. Click on the line to lock the position. Whatever you change now, this point is locked. 3. Click the left bottom of the line and hold your mouse button while rising it.

In my opinion, the best way to learn is to try. So click and drag every single item in your photo editing software, and see how it affects your photo.

A second example is the picture of Luvo. For this example I’ll go deeper in to details. My first step in Lightroom always is to enable Lens Corrections. This takes care of the most common issues for your lens (distortion, vignette, and chromatic aberration).

Luvo Settings 1

I always turn on lens correction.

Then I start with editing the basics. For this portrait of our new puppy, I wanted to emphasize the light tones of the dog. I never touch the saturation, the results seem very unnatural to me.

Luvo Settings

I boosted the light and dark parts, added a little clarity and made it a bit more vivid.

After adjusting the basic settings, I usually punch the tones by slightly changing the Tone Curve Sliders. I am very careful with this, as changing too much reduces quality of the photo.

Luvo Settings

I try to never over do the settings in Lightroom.

Now click on the chart icon on the bottom (1). Lock a position near the left bottom corner to change the dark tones (2). By dragging the end of the line up, I reduced the darkness of the black tones (3).

Luvo Settings

To alter Tone Curves click the icon of the chart (1), lock a position (2), and move the line (3).

The final touches to a photo are done by minor alterations. For example, I use the brush to whiten teeth and brighten eyes. The eyes are most important in a portrait, so they deserve most attention.

Luvo Settings

In portraits, I brush the eyes and make them brighter to gain more attention.

My final steps are adding sharpness in Photoshop. Open the image in Photoshop and duplicate the layer.

Luvo Settings

Duplicate the layer.

Now go to the Filter menu and choose for Other -> High Pass. This is the most natural way to enhance sharpness in a photo.

Luvo Settings

Select the High Pass filter to increase sharpness.

Enter a value between 1 and 3. A higher number will emphasize lines more than any lower number.

Luvo Settings

Choose a value between 1 and 3.

Do not be afraid that the photo is messed up now. There is one more step to turn the grey layer into a sharp photo. Select the grey layer and change the layer mode to “Overlay”.

Luvo Settings

Change the mode to “Overlay” to show the original layer.

My final steps are always to play with the settings of the Brightness, Levels, Curves, Exposure, and Vibrance. Do this by selecting the original layer, and choose any of the Adjustment options in the Image menu.

Luvo Settings

Select the original layer and play with the Brightness, Levels, Curves, Exposure, and Vibrance.

The result is the image below.


The light coming from the window behind Luvo adds a great contour to his golden fur.

I hope these tips are useful for you! What is your flow during post processing? I look forward to your comments below!

Kind regards,



  1. As usual, great explanations, Tieme! I’ll have to play with layers next, something I haven’t done before. Luckily you can’t really mess up in LR as it’s non-destructive 🙂

    • Thanks a lot Kiki! Playing with layers in Photoshop is tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it can be powerful!

      But I’d go as far today that LR is basically the only software you need for photography 😉


  2. My workflow? Hmmmm… I don’t use Adobe products these days. I start with Phase One to do my basic processing. I think the files are creamer (an old term for less contrasty highlights and shadows) and then I use OnOne (an entirely separate company) for finishing. In many ways, OnOne is just creating filters and layer actions, but after years and many hours doing that work on Photoshop, I much happier spending a lot less time processing my work.

    • Hi Ray! Thank you for that comment! I haven’t heard of both software companies before, I’ll take a closer look into it, seems interesting!

      I agree, the less time spent post processing, the more time spent photographing 🙂

      Have a great weekend!


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