Sara is the daughter of of a co-worker I have known for many years. I hate to say it, but I remember when Sara was born. She is a senior this year and has grown into a beautiful young lady. We had a great time shooting – we did an in-studio shoot and then we went down to Portland’s Pearl District and created some ‘urban’ photos. We also went to the same park where I photographed her sister three years ago. We found the same tree with nearly the same lighting so I photographed Sara on the other side of the tree from where her sister was. You can see Sara’s gallery showing a few of her previews – most of these have not been retouched (click on the photo).
As we were wrapping up the in-studio shoot Sara told me she had a pair of earrings that she really liked and wanted to show off in a portrait. I love it when seniors (or any client) has ideas about what they want and tells me. It’s particularly nice when they bring some things of their own – it really helps to personalize the photographs. I love the final results of this portrait and thought I would share some of the process I used.
no images were foundHere is the original photo – straight out of the camera. Although I wanted to focus on her face and her earrings, I also wanted to have enough space for several different cropping options. This is a single-light setup with one reflector. I have Sara standing very close to a 4 foot soft-box. If I remember correctly, she is only about 6″ away – in fact in the alternate shot for this the edge of the soft-box is in the photo. The light is slightly above her and to camera-left. In this position it is creating a very soft light that wraps around her face. There is also a white panel camera-right providing some reflected fill light on her left cheek. Her earrings are in shadow and don’t stand out. We’ll fix that in a few minutes. This is shot with one of my favorite portrait lenses – my Nikkor 105mm AF DC – at ISO 100, 1/250 sec at f11.
no images were foundThe first thing I do when processing a photo is to make any needed exposure and white balance adjustments. I do all my initial post processing steps in Adobe Lightroom. With Lightoom I often don’t have to even take photos into Adobe Photoshop at all. Here’s the first step in glamorizing Sara – I believe the colors and contrast are much better now. It’s cropped to an 8×10 aspect ratio which is what I usually start with for any portrait. Clearly, just cropping the full frame to a standard 8×10 doesn’t make a compelling image. Not to mention I’ve cropped out most of her dress – which mom isn’t going to like very much. Cropping is a very important part of creating a well-balanced and interesting portrait. Cropping is subjective and sometimes a struggle to get right. For this image, it is apparent that either more of the image needs to be included so we get some of that dress back, or it needs a tighter crop.
There are a number of factors that indicate this photo needs a tighter crop:
- I know from the set of photos I’ve taken that I have lots of great photos of Sara – so I can afford to crop close on her face and show off her earrings.
- It will still be Sara – we’ll just be getting a really good look at her.
- I don’t like ‘un-painting’ tan lines ;-)
- The light is falling so beautifully on her face – I want to highlight that.
- Sara is looking right into the camera. The photo will be more compelling if I focus in on her face and the intensity of her expression.
no images were foundHere is the crop I want to use for this portrait. I did spend a while trying out different crops for this image. I tried a number of portrait versions (since the original photograph was taken in portrait.) but I couldn’t find a compelling portrait version. Additionally, all the well-cropped portrait versions make Sara look like she isn’t wearing anything – not a good look for a senior photo. Normally, I’m opposed to cutting the tops of peoples heads off in photos. I’ve seen way too many thoughtless pictures with the tops of peoples heads (or other body parts) missing. However, when done with intent it can work really well, and I think it works well here.
no images were foundSo far I’ve set the white-balance and tones, determined the crop to be used and have a much stronger portrait of Sara. Now I want to work on her earrings. Remember, she really likes these and I am creating the portrait for her to show them off. Looking at the photo and thinking about what is there too much of, or not enough of, I decide the next thing to do is highlight her left earring (on the right). That earring is on the shadow side of her face in this portrait, so it only got light from the reflector to the right. In Lightroom I used the adjustment brush to paint on her left earring and increased the exposure, brightness, clarity and saturation slightly.
no images were foundSara’s right earring (on the left) is largely hidden, however, we did make special effort to ensure it was facing the camera when I took the picture. It’s there, but really hiding in the shadow of her hair. I don’t want it blaring at us or looking radioactive. We do want to see it though. In fact, now that I have brightened her left earring it’s calling for some attention because the photo looks unbalanced. The next step is a little dodging work. This needs to be subtle – after all this earring is in the shadows, but we do want to know it’s there.
no images were foundIf you have been following along and clicked on any of the previous images you will have noticed that although Sara is a beautiful girl and I have her in some nice, soft light there are a few blemishes that are highlighted by the light skimming across her face. Often when someone has a bad acne or blemish problem I use Photoshop’s healing brush to enhance the photo. Sara doesn’t really have a problem so I can eliminate much of what is exaggerated by our close head-shot and the light transitioning on the left part of her face. The Lightroom spot removal brush in healing mode is just the ticket. In just a few minutes it takes care of these minor blemishes and we are left with good clean skin that still looks real – we can see skin texture and pores and her face has depth and doesn’t look like plastic.
no images were foundFor a ‘normal’ portrait I might stop here – everything looks pretty good. However, along with the ‘urban’ photos Sara wanted at least one ‘glamour’ portrait and this one stood above the rest to fit that bill. I already know I’ll be taking this portrait into Photoshop, but before I do that there is one more significant thing I want to do in Lightroom. The highlight on her hair is really nice and if I were just to remove stray hairs I think it would be just right. Since I plan on lightening a lot of the photo during the ‘glamorization’ process I want to darken her hair close to the light and get some detail back so it’s not lost later. In Lightoom I grab the adjustment brush again and reduce the exposure slightly and increase the clarity. This brings Sara’s hair back to a nice golden color with lots of fine detail.
no images were foundWhen I’ve done everything in Lightroom I think I can (or need to), I usually stare at the photo for a while thinking about what there might be too much of or too little of – or just what might bug me. Sometimes it’s late at night, as was the case here, and I’ll put it away for a day and usually when I come back I’ll see something right away. In this case when I came back to work on Sara’s glamour portrait what I realized instantly was that if she ordered a 4×6 or 5×7 aspect photo I had no room for additional cropping. Usually with the crops I do on 8×10 photos I leave enough room that if someone orders wallets, 5×7, 10×12, 11×14 or some other size that is more rectangular then an 8×10 I just crop off a bit more of the long edges and everything is fine. In this case I thought if Sara orders wallets or 5×7’s (she did) I’d have to crop off more of her head or crop closer to her chin. I didn’t like either of those options because I already had it where I wanted the crop top to bottom. However, both the right and left sides are completely black so I re-cropped to accommodate that possibility, re-centered her to a more pleasing balance and made some final small adjustments, which is one thing that is great about raw image editing in Lightroom – it’s totally non-destructive and I can always get back to a previous stage.
no images were foundNow, it’s on to Photoshop. One thing that has been bugging me the whole time I’ve worked on this portrait in Lightroom is the fly-away hair. Often it’s not too noticeable depending on the person’s hair color and background. Sara has beautiful golden hair and was shot against a black background. That makes great contrast but all the fly-aways are very evident. Also, she has two prominent hairs crossing the edge of her right eye along with a few other minor stray hairs around the edges of her face. The first order of business in Photoshop is create a healing layer and paint out all the fly-aways and stray hairs crossing her face. The result makes me much more relaxed. Because this is a glamorized portrait I also darkened some of her lashes and filled in a few that were missing mascara. Shhh – don’t tell her I did that (it’s pretty subtle).
no images were foundBecause of all the adjustments I’ve made getting everything in the photo to balance it is now missing something. Some of the original brilliance of Sara’s eyes is missing – partly because I’ve increased the saturation and brightness of her peacock-feather earrings and partly because of the Lightroom adjustments I’ve made for her skin and hair. In any case, a little eye sharpening, color enhancement and pop is in order. So, on another layer in Photoshop I do a bit of dodge and burn and color vibrance editing. The result is here to the left.
Now, finally, all the photo edits and adjustments are done. Everything is finished and normally I wouldn’t go any further. I don’t like making skin look like plastic or unnatural. However, I think with some careful edits and some judicious use of softened skin and reducing the opacity of softening masks we can get that glamour glow Sara is looking for without making her look like plastic. To try this I made three masks from light, medium and dark tones in the image. I did this because I want to treat all three zones slightly differently and may want to set each layers’ opacity differently. You can see the three masks I created below. I put the masks on white here so they are easier to see. In Photoshop everything you see that is white is actually transparent so the lower layers are exposed. Additionally, I’m showing all three layers at 100% opacity and in Photoshop they are actually around 80% which makes them fairly transparent.
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no images were foundAll three masks are in a Photoshop layer group and the group is set at only 75% opacity. To the right you can see what all the masks look like when they are combined. To show it here I’ve darkened the layer so that you can see it. In Photoshop it is pretty light because I want a lot of Sara’s natural skin to be visible in the final portrait. You will also notice that I’ve very carefully erased anything in the layers that I want to remain as sharp as possible. In this portrait I don’t want to soften Sara’s eyes or her earrings. When I first started photo editing years ago I was always disturbed by looking at layers portraits with no eyes. I’ve gotten used to it long ago, but it can look a little freaky if you haven’t seen them much. Hope it doesn’t bother you too much Sara :-)
no images were foundAnd finally! Combining the last photo of Sara above with the combined masks results in this final image – Glamorized Sara.
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