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    Portrait Processing: Good to Great
    by lovethelight

    This tutorial will take you step by step through the process I use to edit a portrait with Photoshop CS3 (the tools are also included in other versions of photoshop.) I will take you through the following steps:

    • Cloning stray hairs

    • Using selective hue saturation to eliminate unwanted colors/patterns

    • Advantages of working from raw to restore details in blown highlights

    • Using magnetic lasso 

    • Layer blending mode "overlay" and how to use it to add contrast and sharpness when combined with a "high pass filter"

    • Use the unsharpen mask tool to accentuate water droplets.

    • Liquify tool

    • Dodging and burning for portraits

    • BW conversion using calculations method

    • Altering your color exposure using black and white conversion

    • Layer blending mode "soft light" and different ways to use it

    I chose this portrait to work with because it is natural and well exposed, but lacks an extra something that would make it really stand out. It was lit with only natural light on a cloudy day and didn't require any light modifiers. You don't need any fancy equipment to take a portrait like this. This tutorial will take you step by step to take this original:

    to this BW:

    and this color:

    Much of the processing on this photo is subtle, but details are often key to great processing.

    Step 1: Cloning out stray hairs

    When I clone out stray hairs I look for hairs that run perpendicular to the rest of the hair. Along the edges of her head I cloned out individual hairs and but did not get rid of the messy clumps of hair. This kept the windswept feel while still cleaning up the overall look. There was also a hair running right through her eye. This took a very tiny clone brush to remedy, but freed up her eye to look more emotive. I marked some of the changes with red circles to help point out specific hairs I eliminated. Even though these small changes aren't obvious in the full size version, when printed large it makes a difference, and careful cloning can be even more useful in closer headshots.

    Step 2: Use the hue saturation tool to eliminate green and blue stripes on her bikini without disturbing the pattern of the wrap

    Since the blue and green colors are exclusive to the bright stripes on her bikini, it was easy to just desaturate the green and cyan channels with the hue saturation tool to eliminate the stripes. Just taking down the saturation left dark gray stripes, so I increased the lightness in the green and cyan channels to eliminate them almost completely.

    This tool can be used for all kinds of applications. Sometimes black tshirts or black backgrounds have a hue to them, depending on the white balance used for the photograph. Using selective hue saturation can quickly tone down the color of the black without influencing the entire photo.

    Step 3: Shooting in raw is great for regaining highlights

    I wanted to do something to make the twisted bikini strap on her neck less obvious. In the original exposure it was blown out, but darkening the raw file brought back the details in that highlight area. I exported a separate darker file and used it to add the details back in to the small area. I then used the liquify tool to make the wide section of the strap slightly thinner so that the twist wasn't as obvious.

    Step 4: Cloning out background distractions and using the lasso tool to help you out

    In order to make the rocks in the background look a little cleaner I cloned out some of the blemishes on them. There was also a bit of bokeh on the water that I wanted to get rid of because it was a little too prominent for my taste. Whenever I clone out objects thate are right along an edge like this I like to use the magnetic lasso to make the cloning precise and clean. Magnetic lasso is quite harsh unless you apply a 2-3px feather to it, so make sure to add that in for some good edges.

    Step 5: Overlay blending mode and high pass filters

    A long time ago I asked user Larus how he did his grunge processing and he introduced me to sharpening using a high pass filter: Duplicated the edited layer set the layer to overlay. Then click the "filter" tab and go to "other" and click on "high pass filter." Depending on the radius you use you can get different effects. Experimenting with it one day I tried adding a blur to the high pass filter layer and really liked the effect it had. The high pass filter added an interesting contrast but wasn't so harshly sharp when blurred a bit. I used this technique to add more depth/texture to the background.

    I added a mask to this layer to tone down the effect on her face and eliminate the haloing effect by her arms on the water. These filters can be used at a variety of strengths to achieve different effects.


    Step 6: Unsharpen mask to accentuate the water droplets on her hand.

    I wanted to accentuate the fact that her hand was wet, so I used the unsharpen mask tool to sharpen the skin and droplets on her hand and used a layer mask to apply the change only to her hand. I also cloned out the some hairs and blemishes.


    Step 7: Liquify tool to clean up edges of cloth

    I then turned my attention to the wrap she is holding. I cloned out unwanted wrinkles and then used the liquify tool to slightly alter the edge of the wrap to make the curves rounder and larger to look a little more planned. The liquify tool allows you to push around features in a photo easily without looking too unnatural. These are the settings I used but you can change  the brush pressure and density to make the brush work faster or slower. I use the liquify tool often to correct bulges along the edges of shirts and other clothing anomalies.

    Step 8: Another use for "overlay" blending mode

    Now that I had most of my detail cloning and liquify work done I turned my attention to the lighting. I wanted to add more depth to the ripples in the water, so I duplicated my edited layer and set it to overlay. I then applied a high pass filter with a of radius 35. This added the texture I wanted in the water. I added layer mask too apply changes mostly to the water and lowered the opacity of the layer to make it more subtle.

    To add drama to the background I duplicated my current layer and set the blend mode to "overlay." This added contrast but also made the colors a little oversaturated. I desaturated the layer and the colors became more desirable for the photo. I softened the look just a tiny bit by applying a 3px blur to the layer.


    I then used a layer mask to apply the layer only to the background and then lowered the opacity of the entire layer to about 60% so that the effect wasn't so drastic. 

    Step 9: Dodge and burn

    Dodging and burning using curves layers is one of my favorite techniques for accentuating facial features in a portrait. I did some minor dodging and burning on this to darken her face and accentuate her jaw line a little more. I used 2 curve adjustment layers:

    Step 10: Calculations method for black and white conversion

    This is my absolute favorite method of black and white conversion. You can find "Calculations" under the "Image" tab.

    This shows the calculations window. Make sure that at the bottom of the window the "Result" is "New Channel." The only variables I normally change are the channel colors and blending mode. The default blending mode is normally set to "Multiply." This is normally too dark for my taste. For most portraits I set the top channel to red and bottom channel to green with the "soft light" blending mode, but for this photo her skin was too bright, so I changed the colors to green and blue. You can change the blending mode to result in different effects, just experiment and see what you come up with. After you apply the calculations to the layer it will look bw. Select all, copy the layer, go backwards in the history to before the application of calculations so the layer is color again, and then paste the black and white calculations in a new layer. Another way to apply calculations would be to select "New Document" instead of "New Channel." This way, when you apply the calculations it will open a new document in a separate window. You can copy the results from there if you like.

    So now I am left with a black and white version with a background that is too dark. I made a new calculations layer using red and red.

    I used a layer mask to use the foreground from the first calculations and background from the second, which left me with this:

    While I love the depth and contrast this had, I wanted to restore some details to the shadows. I created a bw adjustment layer between the color layer and calculations layer. I then set the opacity of the calculations layer to 65%. This brought back more details in the shadows. I almost never just use only calculations for my bw photos. I use normal black and white conversion with no filters or a green filter and then put the calculations layer over it at whatever opacity looks best to me.

    Step 11: Use your black and white conversion so improve your color version!

    Since sometimes it helps me to adjust lighting and contrast without the distraction of color, I used my black and white conversion to add contrast and depth to my color version. I duplicated the black and white layer 2 times. I set the bottom black and white layer to "soft light." This creates a layer that has contrast so high that you lose most of the details in the shadows. This is why I set the bw layer above it to "luminosity." This brings back the details in the shadows. Here is what the result looked like:

    I lowered the opacity of these a tiny bit and then turned my attention to the color balance:

    This was a little too much change so I lowered the opacity of the color balance layer a bit. My final touch was to soften her wrap a bit. I used a new layer set to "soft light" with a gaussian blur added to get a little more softness and then masked out everything but the wrap and lowered the opacity a bit so the effect wasn't as strong.



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