I’ve been getting tons of questions about my editing techniques lately, so I’ve decided to put together this step by step guide that will hopefully serve as a useful resource and reference tool.
First of all, as I’m sure you all know by now, my style drifts towards the fine art photography genre. The techniques you will see here can, of course, be adapted to many other styles of photography, so pull up a chair, grab a bag of potato chips or even a beer (if it’s that time of the day) and as my old pal Liam (Gallagher) would say…………‘get soaked in it!’
Liam’s not actually an old friend, but I have met him, chatted and shared a few good-natured expletives with him! I have met and looked after many of the world’s A through to Z list celebrities in my previous career in the world of executive aviation, but that’s another story altogether. Today we’re talking about editing…..and I LOVE editing baby………more than Oasis, but only just.
First things first………..here’s the video to follow along with.
We’re going to edit an image from a photoshoot with a very talented and versatile model and photographer, Arabella.
I’ve chosen the image at random for the purpose of creating this work through.
The corresponding video time codes for each step are also listed in the titles.
Let’s get started.
STEP 1 [00:10]
In Lightroom, my first step is to check the ‘Remove Chromatic Aberration’ and ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ tick boxes as a matter of good practice. Doing so will correct any barrel distortion and vignetting that is a characteristic of the lens you are using. The chromatic aberration tick box is to help with the reduction of purple fringing, it shouldn’t be a factor in this type of image but I always just put a check in it all the same.
STEP 2 [00:19]
I’m just making a few basic adjustments. Upping the exposure, the shadows and then the blacks and that’s it for Lightroom. Time to open the image in Photoshop.
STEP 3 [01:22]
First I’m going to adjust the backdrop and crop to my taste and I’m doing this with the crop tool. Duplicate the background layer by pressing Cmd+J or Ctrl +J. Now make sure that the ‘content-aware’ tick box is checked. This way, when I adjust the crop of the image Photoshop will do it’s best to add a seamless extension of the backdrop to my new cropped canvas. I often use the crop tool to make an image bigger as opposed to cropping it smaller, so keep your mind open to this……it’s a good weapon to have in your arsenal. The crop works well in this instance……it doesn’t always get it right though, so keep a close eye on it.
STEP 4 [02:38]
The liquify tool is one of my favourite tools in Photoshop. We can do many things with it, but in the case of this image, we’re going to fix the back of the dress which bulges a little (notice, I’ve used the ‘freeze mask tool’ to protect certain areas from getting distorted by the ‘forward warp tool’) and also we’re going to plump up the hair. I love to plump my subject’s hair…..so much so that I made an easy to follow tutorial on it here. That’s as far as we’re going to go with liquify in this instance. I’ll be discussing it in further detail in a future post.
STEP 5 [04:07]
I’m sure you are aware of this technique for retouching skin. It works by means of separating the skin texture/blemishes and colouration/blotches on separate layers so we can work on either independently. I use the ‘healing brush’ to do some blemish removal (very little actually) on the ‘high’ layer and then I make selections on the ‘low’ layer with the ‘lasso’ tool to blur blotchy areas of skin using the ‘gaussian blur filter’
So, if you remember that the high layer is for the blemishes and that the low layer is for the colour, then you’ll be off to a good start.
I like to use the ‘clone stamp tool’ set to ‘lighten’ to sample around the eye area, and with a low flow of 5 percent, I start to lighten any dark patches. Now, because the clone stamp has been set to lighten, it will only affect any areas that are darker than the area which you have sampled for your cloning.
You’ll notice that I’ve also added a blank layer in-between the high and the low layers. This step is to paint over patches of skin with a brush set to a very low flow. Use the brush tool and take a sample of an area of coloured skin which you would like to replicate by pressing the ‘alt’ key whilst pressing the brush down. You should see the sampled skin colour appear in the brush swatches. Next, set the brush opacity to 100 percent and the flow to 2 percent and gently colour the area you wish to affect, building the effect up gradually.
Be sure to do a similar amount of skin work to all areas of the body to give the image a coherent look.
Frequency Separation itself could well be a whole blog post on its own, but suffice it to say that if this concept is new to you, then I would suggest watching a few YouTube tutorials on the subject (there are lots of very good ones out there) and practising it until you get the hang of it.
STEP 6 [11:35]
‘DODGE AND BURN’
I love to dodge and burn as I love the extra dimension it gives to a portrait.
Create a new blank layer and go to Edit > Fill > 50 Percent Grey with the blend mode soft light. We are left with a grey layer, so to make our subject visible we need to once again convert the blending mode to soft light. Okay, now we’re in business. We can use the dodge tool to paint on and brighten our highlights, and the burn tool to darken our shadows. Be sure to switch off the background layer and add a little gaussian blur to blend the dodge and burn strokes together more seamlessly.
If you wish to build up the effect, you can also duplicate the dodge and burn layer by pressing Ctrl+J. This doubles the effect, so adjust the strength of the duplicate layer by using the layer opacity slider. One other option is to add a white layer mask and paint the effect away from areas you don’t want it to be visible. We do this using the black brush.
In the next step, I’m going to do a more global dodge effect and boost the exposure on the face, hair and upper body. First, we open a new curves adjustment layer, but we change the blend mode to ‘screen’. See what happens? The image exposure increases dramatically, but we don’t want that at this stage. So we invert the layer by pressing Cmd+I or Ctrl+I. Now, we’re going to grab the white brush and paint on the effect where we want it. SO set the brush opacity to 100 and the flow to 4. Again, build up the effect gradually. I love this little trick. In fact, my whole dodge and burn process, including this, is explained in an easy to follow tutorial here.
STEP 7 [15:09]
‘GLOBAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT’
I’m literally repeating the last step here, but instead of inverting the curves layer (set to screen), I’m applying it to the whole image, but reducing the opacity to my own taste.
STEP 8 [15:34]
In this step, we’re going to make a selection of Arabella for the purpose of preserving some of her skin tones during the colour grading process. First of all, we need to add a new ‘stamp visible layer’ at the top of the layer stack. We do this with the keyboard shortcut ‘Ctrl-Alt-Shift+E’. Next, I’m making a selection of Arabella (with the ‘quick selection tool’ selected) using the ‘select subject’ button.
I’m going to further refine my selection by manually adding in or subtracting areas that the tool has missed. Hold down the ‘alt’ key to subtract from the selection whilst using this tool. Next, we’re going to take it a step further by going into the ‘select and mask’ mode, by pressing the corresponding button at the top of the screen.
In select and mask, I’m going to paint around the hair with the ‘refine edge brush tool’ to try to pick up some of the stray hairs. It usually does a reasonable job but I’m going to go one step further and launch into ‘quick mask mode’.
You will notice that both the subject and the layer are now highlighted in red.
With a black brush selected (to add to the selection……white to take away) we can paint over parts of Arabella which are missing from the selection. This is a really nice way to refine our final selection.
When that step is complete and you are happy, go to Select > Save Selection and give your selection a name before saving it. I’ve used ‘1’.
We can go ahead and de-select our selection now that we have it saved. Press Cmd+D or Ctrl+D. We will come back to our selection again shortly.
STEP 9 [20:23]
I use a mixture of colour lookup tables (LUTs) and Nik Color Efex filters to do the bulk of my colour grading. I like to do it in Photoshop as it gives me so much control over it, by utilising the layers. There are many different ways of colouring your images…….this is the way I do it.
First of all, I’m colourblind, so I tend to use tried and tested methods and just tweak them a little here and there.
The LUT recipes I use most frequently are from the Photographer’s Creativity Pack 3 by one of my favourite photographers and educators, Glyn Dewis. There are some fantastic LUTs in this pack and I use them in conjunction with other LUTs and filters to craft my own signature style.
Once I’ve gathered together a combination of colour lookup layers and adjusted the opacity of each layer to find the sweet spot, I then group them together by pressing Cmd+G or Ctrl +G.
I further adjust the opacity of the entire group to my taste and then add a white layer mask to the group. This is to adjust the strength of the effect on our subject. So, we load our selection. Go to Select > Load Selection and select ‘1’. The next step is to invert the selection by pressing Cmd+I or Ctrl+I………..and as if by magic, the colour is now only affecting the background and not our subject.
I usually bring back some of the colour grading onto my subject just as a matter of personal preference. To do this, we click on the layer mask, then we go to the ‘layer density slider’.
I’ve dropped it to 65 percent opacity in this case, but it’s different with every image and is purely a decision to be made based on personal taste.
STEP 10 [25:33]
I regularly use the ‘Glamor Glow’ filter in Nik Color Efex Pro. It’s a nice little feature which desaturates the image, whilst also adding a matte effect and a skin glow. I’ve warmed up the glow a little and as always, with Photoshop, used the layers to adjust the opacity of the filter. You will also notice that I’ve also used the layer mask to paint the effect away from the model’s hair………again, just a matter of personal choice.
STEP 11 [27:43]
The next Nik Color Efex Pro filter does exactly what it says on the tin. I use the ‘dynamic contrast’ slider inside the ‘Pro Contrast’ module to give the image a nice punch. It also gives the skin a real lift.
STEP 12 [29:00]
Purely optional and not really needed in this case.
Open a new blank layer and use the ‘lasso tool’ to make a rough selection of the teeth. Next open a ‘hue/saturation’ adjustment layer and notice that the selection now appears on the layer mask of the ‘hue/saturation’ layer. I’ve also added a clipping mask to clip this adjustment directly to the targeted area (our lasso tool selection).
Next, select ‘yellows’ from the ‘master’ drop-down menu and lower the saturation. Increase the lightness slider to taste and yep, that’s done. Nice and easy way to gently whiten the teeth in Photoshop.
STEP 13 [29:51]
‘PAINTERLY NOISE REDUCTION’
I’ve done a full video tutorial on this simple yet massively effective technique here.
We’re basically running a noise reduction on the image but bringing back some of the details using the ‘high pass filter’. It’s a technique I regularly use to give my images a painterly look. It also gives a pleasing skin smoothing effect, so please do take the time to watch the tutorial above, as this truly is a great technique to have in your workflow.
STEP 14 [31:28]
This is one seriously fantastic plugin from Topaz Labs.
It adds contrast and dimension to an image like no other plugin I’ve seen.
Here’s the interface.
I go into the ‘precision contrast’ module and set the ‘micro-contrast’ to 0.28 and the ‘low contrast’ to 0.14. I use it so often in this combination that I have it saved as a preset.
I use sometimes use it globally, but in this instance I’ve applied the effect and then inverted it, brushing it on the layer mask, on to the places where I need it in the picture.
STEP 15 [33:22]
One more round of Pro Contrast in Nik. Apply globally and then reduce the opacity to taste.
We’re getting there now…………….
STEP 16 [34:50]
Last sortie into the Nik Software filters and one to be used with caution…….Tonal Contrast.
I’m using this on a very low opacity and just to add a little detail to the background.
I’ve selected the filter set to ‘fine’ and reduced the saturation to zero.
When applied in photoshop I have dropped the opacity right down. Then I’ve used the brush on the layer mask to erase the effect from the subject, leaving it only slightly visible on the backdrop.
STEP 17 [37:01]
‘CAMERA RAW VIGNETTE’
At this point I’m adding a little vignette, using the Camera Raw filter.
Open Camera Raw and drag a ‘radial filter’ around the subject in a kind of elliptical shape. The next step is to simply drag the exposure slider down to create a nice feathered vignette effect. This helps to focus the viewer’s attention even more on the subject.
STEP 18 [37:44]
‘HIGH PASS SHARPENING’
My preferred sharpening method. I brush the sharpening on, gradually building the effect in the areas that I want.
This method of sharpening is described perfectly here.
STEP 19 [38:52]
‘MAKE THE EYES POP’
I almost forgot this step!
I’ve done a full tutorial on giving the eyes that extra bit of punch…….it’s easy to follow and a great technique to utilise. You can find the tutorial here.
That’s it for Photoshop.
My full editing workflow.
I save the image back to Lightroom and in this case, cropped it slightly and that’s ‘all she wrote’ as they say.
I hope you like the image, and if you found this combined tutorial useful, then I’d also love to hear about it in the comments below.
‘Seduction of Orpheus’ featuring Arabella.
I’m a fine art portrait photographer based in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Specialising in creative and styled portraiture, fitness photography, headshots, family portraits and personal branding for you, for actors, for athletes and for business professionals alike.
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