Tuesday Tips – Workflow
I have fought this post. I mean, I have really fought it. In fact, this is the first time this month that I have less than 12 hours before I want this post to go live, and I am JUST now writing it. It isn’t that I don’t want to share. I have spent countless hours writing DETAILED emails to random photographers over the course of the last 6ish years explaining my different techniques, which someone in this house thinks I should have had a form email reply as I really did take too much work time to answer them. I care not who knows, as I don’t think that there is any magic pill or formula that will make a clone of me. (If there was, I would do it right now and have a free photographer photograph me with my family!) No, it isn’t a matter of keeping a “secret recipe” a secret. Instead, it is more of a hesitation about announcing to the public that I have received countless emails asking me what I do to my images to get them the way they look… because, to me, making such an announcement is somehow making me into a quintessential conceited photographer that assumes everyone wants to be like me. Alright, now that you know I don’t think that… and now that you know I have hesitated for just this reason… here it goes! My workflow…
I haven’t posted an unfinished image on here in ages, so this is a little scary for me. I am going to post 3 image examples from my shoot with Ariel & Josh. This first is a backlit shot, which generally take the most post-processing for me unless I used a reflector, which I try to do as much as possible. It isn’t terrible straight out of camera, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.
So, the first thing I do with a portrait session is to take ALL of the images into Lightroom to cull (or narrow down) them. I used to browse in Adobe Bridge to find the images I wanted to put on the blog, but I have found that step to be a big time-waster. So, I cull them in Lightroom first. I then decide whether the images should be in color or black and white. This is very methodical and very specific. If color is distracting, unflattering or simply doesn’t help the image, then I usually convert it to B&W. I have some presets that I recently bought from Kubota, and I hate about 95% of them (no offense to him!). Most of them over saturate or heavily tone or do other crazy filter-ish things that I just don’t love. So, I stick to some B&W presets that make it easier for me to have a flatter image. I know this may sound backwards, but I want to see the FULL tonal range in an image for most of my images. So, having a flatter B&W preset helps me later. I do try to get some true black and some true white in Lightroom, but I really don’t spend much time at all in there. This is what the image looked like in “proof” format (ie. what the client would see on their private site before an order is placed). Sorry, this image had to be blown up a bit since the proof was smaller than the dimensions for my site.
Still not fabulous, but getting better… since that yellowish highlight on that leaf was distracting across Ariel’s face. So, now, I take this image into Photoshop. I first desaturate the image since all of those presets have tones to them, and I don’t want the tones to get weird in my alterations. Next step was to add a duplicate layer as “multiply.” I also add a duplicate layer as “screen.” I use the multiply layer as my “burning” layer, and I take a brush eraser to the areas that I want to stay light. I do the same with the screen layer as my “dodging” layer for what I want to stay dark. I do this on many, if not most, of my images when I am doing my finishing touches.
The next step is some skin smoothing at reduced opacity (via Boutwell’s Totally Rad Retouch- I’ve had these since 2008, so I don’t know if they’re still the same). I then do selective sharpening. I use some actions (Amazing Detail Finder or Smarter Sharp by Kubota that I believe are no longer sold – back from 2006, no joke!). I usually only sharpen around the face where the retouching may have softened it a touch. After those things, I add Antique Tone (Boutwell) at 10-30%.
The second image had hardly an adjustment; seriously, all I did was a little skin retouching and TINY sharpening. So, most of you would not be able to tell the difference between the image straight out of camera and the image I put on the blog. I am posting it so that you know that you CAN (and should) have a great image straight out of camera.
The last one was in even shade and needed a pop! I should admit that I JUST updated my Lightroom from the FIRST version to the latest (version FOUR). As in, I did this about a month ago. It was doing what I needed it to do, so why update it, right? Well, Chris convinced me, and I am pumped of some changes we’ve already discovered. But, I will be the first to admit that I have a ton to learn about Lightroom. There are some people that probably could make my images do the same thing in Lightroom that I do in Photoshop, especially now that you can apply masks! (Don’t tell me how many versions ago they added that!) ha! Anyhow… my changes to this next image in Lightroom were minimal, so there isn’t even a preview of it, as they barely look different.
Alright, I am not cheating here, but I am going to tell you that the same thing I did on the first image, I did here… trying to push and pull the highlights and shadows so that the subjects pop more away from the background. I added a warming filter at 50%, cross process at 10% and Derelict (Boutwells) at 20%. I almost never use a filter at its 100% opacity, as I really want my images to be believable.
One thing I left out is this… I ALWAYS search for the true black and the true white in every image. I do this by going into levels (option L) in Photoshop. I hold down the control key and drag the tiny black arrow until the blacks show up in the image (goal is to get the pupils as the true black, but sometimes it is eyeliner or a shadow in the hair) and then I do the whites (goal is to get a tiny tiny reddish spot on the face for the highlight, but sometimes it is the highlight around the hair or the bride’s gown). Again, the goal is to show appropriate contrast and a true white and true black in almost every image. If finding the true white requires blasting out the background (or vice versa with the black), then I use duplicate layers and delete with a brush the appropriate areas that got too much contrast or white. I know this may not make sense entirely if you don’t have experience in Photoshop. Maybe someday I will do a video tutorial. :-) Maybe…
I am sure there are easier ways to do all of these things. I welcome tips, but I want you all to know that I am the kind of person that… well… “old habits die hard.” If I find something that works for me, and I get used to it, then I usually stick to it. Chris has always been a real encourager for me to try new techniques: like digital cameras. ;-)