Forgive me my followers, it has been a while since my last post…..

As promised, here is the Photoshop technique I used to create the image at the top of this post. A request was made from a potential client (who is booked in now for March next year) if I did a particular style of photo processing she liked. I was sent a link to another photographer’s folio and asked if I could do this style. This style I have practiced before on a few automotive shoots I did a year or two ago and also for a gallery of images I did to cover a couple of car shows in New South Wales and Canberra. The style only suits certain subject matter, not an entire wedding for example as for one it would be too time consuming and the client would tire of the look over time.

After the jump (Click on the Title of the article) I have a series of screenshots taking you through the steps taken to achieve this look, so feel free to apply this to your own photographs.

Step 1: Camera RAW/Lightroom

Firstly the image is opened in Adobe Camera RAW (in this case the Photoshop CS4 version) to do the adjustments to the RAW file that came from the camera. This step can easily be done in Lightroom if that is your preferred workflow as all of the settings are pretty much identical. This shot was taken in the shade on an overcast day so I needed to bump up the white balance to make it appear warmer. The basis for this edgy look is mainly achieved right in Camera RAW by bumping up the recovery slider to 70 or higher to to tame the highlights. Fill Light is also bumped up, along with the Blacks and Clarity. This gives the dark contrasty look with heavy detail. Setting the fill light too high will result in heavy noise in the shadows and fringing will occur on the edges, so be restrained in the approach. The key to getting the flat look in the colours is to reduce the saturation slider substantially (-48 in this case) and set the Vibrance slider to taste to give the colours some tone (+75). Standard Capture Sharpening is applied along with some noise reduction in the 3rd Adjustment Panel very much like any other photo I would work on. A heavy Vignette is applied as well to darken the edges and give focus to the subjects. You can use the Tinting panel if desired, but further colour work can be done in Photoshop easy enough.

Step 2: Open in Photoshop

By clicking Open Image in Camera RAW (or right click->open in Photoshop in Lightroom) the image will open in your version of Photoshop. I apologise for the small nature of the menus and toolbars, this is a screen shot from a 27″ monitor. The colour space I normally use in all stages of my workflow is sRGB 8Bit, which is the smallest colour gamut, but that is the colour space my photo lab uses, and it is used on the web as well. I only use Adobe RGB 16Bit when I’m working on a very critical piece, like a landscape shot I’ll be printing on large scale. The sRGB colour space is often much smaller in file size so it is not so much a burden on your computer.

Step 3: Selective Brightening Using Blend Layers

This step you can do a number of ways and this way is by far the quickest, easiest and the least stress on the computer because you will be using an adjustment layer rather than a duplicate of the original file which doubles in size every time you do so. Firstly you apply an adjustment layer (either a Curves or Levels layer) by clicking on half black, half white circle and select form the popup menu. Change the layer’s blend mode to ‘Screen’ in the drop down box at the top of the Layers Palette. The new adjustment layer has its own inbuilt mask, which is the key to this step. The mask is white as default, but we need to change it to black by inverting it. The short cut CMD+I (Ctrl+I on PC) will invert the colour. Select the brush tool from the layers palette or press the letter ‘B’ and in the brush tool bar at the top left of the screen, click on the second box along to adjust the brush settings. Set the hardness to 0 to get soft brush edges. Make sure the brush colour is set to white by pressing on your keyboard ‘D’ for default brush colours and ‘X’ to swap the colours from black to white. Adjust the size of the brush using the square bracket keys on your keyboard (above the ‘Enter’ key) to the desired size. Adjust the brushes opacity to about 8-10% and then paint on the areas you want to brighten up. The more you stroke the brush on the same spot the more pronounced the effect.

In this photograph I painted in (or brightened up) the eyes of the couple, their entire bodies and their faces. Over painting can make the adjustment look overdone, so it is best to progressively paint and not be heavy handed. Make sure you colour in the lines too as the subjects can get an obvious halo around them. You can often see in poorly retouched photos this effect and this distracts from the overall photo. This step shouldn’t take more that 3 minutes.

Step 4: Selective Colour Reduction

Sometimes colour can be a distracting element in a photo, such as, if someone is wearing a really brightly coloured shirt in the background of your photo, but you want it less obvious so the viewer is not distracted from the main subject you can use this technique. You first add a ‘Hue/Saturation’ adjustment layer and in the adjustment dialogue that opens, select from the drop down menu the colour you want to remove. In this case it was Yellows. Once you have selected a colour group you will notice the eye dropper tools become active, click on the left one and this tool is used to sample the colour you want to adjust. The purpose of this layer was to reduce the yellow tone in the skin as in Camera RAW I added some yellow toning to the highlights to make it look warmer, but this gave the couple overly yellow skin so by clicking on the skin I sampled a colour to work with. Photoshop will decide where on the hue scale the selection will be. Reduce the Saturation slider to the desired point, here I only took it to -15. If there was any reason to use a mask, there is one already inbuilt into the adjustment layer.

Step 5: Removing Distracting Elements

This step is not crucial to this overall Photoshop effect, but I wanted to remove the vent in wall in the background. As I shot from a fair distance away with a long lens the depth of field wasn’t shallow enough to loose the wall in soft focus. The first step here is to create a flatten version of the file you are working on. The keyboard short cut requires you to have flexible fingers, but this is how I know how to do it. Press CMD+OPT+Shift+E (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on PC) and this creates a new layer of all the below layers. Essentially a snap shot of all the adjustments you have made already on the photo. You can now do destructive editing of this new layer rather that damaging the original background layer at the bottom of the stack, so make sure you have it selected (highlighted in light blue). I then use the ‘Polygonal Lasoo Tool’ (shortcut ‘L’) and clicked around a similar shaped brick to the vent. In the tool settings at the top of the screen set you feathering to 1 pixel to get a soft edge to the selection (do this before you click to make a selection). Once I had made a circuit around the brick the marching ants showed me there was an active selection made.

I duplicate the layer the pressing CMD+J (Ctrl+J on PC) and this moves a copy of the selected brick to another layer. The ‘Move Tool’ (Shortcut ‘V’) was used to drag it over the vent. I tweaked its shape by using ‘Free Transform’ shortcut CMD+T (Ctrl+T in PC) and used the warp mode to shape it (right click on the shape and select ‘Warp’). The selection wasn’t perfect but enough not to be noticeable in the final print.

Step 6: Vignette

In almost every photo I work on for a creative print , I will add a vignette or edge darkening as it also known as. This technique has been around since the dawn of the darkroom era to focus the viewers eye to the subject in the photograph as the eye is drawn to the lighter parts of photograph first. This technique is much the same as Step 3, but this time we are darkening, so I added a new adjustment layer (Curves or Levels) and changed its Blend Mode to ‘Multiply’ which is much like combining two versions of the picture and darkening the light values. The photo will turn dark, but we invert the mask (CMD or Ctrl+I) and paint with a white brush the areas we want to make darker, namely the wall and the edges of the photo in this case.

Step 7: Skin Smoothing

This processing technique brings out heaps of detail in the photograph, especially when the Black and Detail sliders are cranked up in Camera RAW, so the bi-product here is emphasised wrinkles, spots and imperfections in the skin of the subject. To alleviate this I created a flattened duplicate layer using the short cut CMD+OPT+Shift+E (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on PC) and then I duplicated that layer again using CMD+J (Ctrl+J on PC). I have a Skin Smoothing Action I downloaded from the internet for free which makes quick work of this step. I won’t get into how you go about actions as that is beyond the scope of this article, but what it does is simply apply a Surface Blur (Filter->Blur->Surface Blur) to the photo and then it removes it. I then use what is called the ‘History Brush’ using keyboard shortcut ‘Y’ and paint back with a soft brush set to 100% Opacity and 5% Flow the skin, avoiding areas of detail, like the eyes, ears and mouth. If the effect is too strong I lower the layers opacity in the Layers Palette (that is why I duplicated it, so the layer below shows through). Now the skin looks more appealing by being smoother in texture and having less detail.

Step 8: Assess If I Need To Keep Going

There is always a time in a retouching workflow where I stop, zoom out and look at the picture to see if I need to do anymore to the photo. One thing that struck me in this case was the Groom’s suit had an odd colour cast. This can come from the mixed lighting (shade and the overcast sky, which are different in colour temperature to each other) and possibly by the extensive and drastic changes to the RAW file in Camera RAW. I used the Desaturation technique like in Step 4, but I just used the global colour adjustment instead of a certain colour. The layer comes with a layer mask, that I just inverted and then painted in the suit with a white brush to paint away the colour. This gave the suit a more believable colour. I also wanted to darken it slightly to hide the noise present in the shadows of the suit that became pronounced when the Fill Light in Camera RAW was increased. I simply added another Layer Adjustment like in Step 6 and then clicked on the Mask in the Desaturated layer below. I held down OPT (Alt on PC) and dragged with the mouse the layer mask to layer above. It will ask you if you want to replace the mask, so just click ‘Yes.’ Now the suit looks more neutral and doesn’t distract from the beautiful bride.

Step 9: Sharpening

Sharpening is a crucial step in the retouching workflow, whether the photo is for web display or for print. There a many ways to skin a cat, but this technique I used here is especially suited to the look I was going for as it exaggerates the detail and edges in the photo. This technique is called ‘High Pass Sharpening’ and from what I know it applies a filter to the darker light values and adds contrast to the edges of light values to make the edges standout. To apply it I add yet another flattened layer (you should know the shortcut by now) and went to the Menu bar of Photoshop and clicked on Filter->Other->High Pass, which brings up a dialogue box with a slider. The photo will also receive a milky appearance when the High Pass is applied. By sliding the slider to the right the effect becomes more pronounced, so it is a matter of personal choice of how much. In this case I used a value of 67.7 Pixels,which is quite high. Practise with this technique is needed to fully understand what the values will do to a photo.

Once I am happy with the amount, I click OK and then change the layer’s blending mode to ‘Soft Light.’ Don’t ask me what it does, but the results removes the milky overlay and leaves the overly sharpened image behind. you can reduce the layer opacity if it is too aggressive or drag the layer to the trash and start again.

Here is a closeup of the layer stack to show you all the layers used and a better look at the mask thumbnails to give you a sense of the areas painted in the masks. I try to make a habit of renaming the layers (by double clicking on the word) to something meaningful that I understand, so when I return to the Photoshop work file in the future I know what they are.

Here is a sample of the RAW file straight out of camera, which by all means is not much to look at in terms of colour, detail and contrast. This lighting scenario was quite difficult to work to with here, but I used a pop of fill flash to brighten their faces a little as the main source of light was the overcast sky over the top right of the frame.

So I hope you got something out of this, as some of the techniques described here are a staple of retouching, such as the brightening and darkening using Blend Layers and the Selective Desaturation. Over time I will be posting more and more tips like this and eventually they turn into videos. Be sure to become a Facebook fan by clicking the link at the top of the page to get notified of new posts right on your wall.

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