Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Photo retouching - How to finish a photo

As a professional photographer and teacher of photography, I am asked to evaluate a lot of photos. It is not uncommon to see good photos with great subject matter and sharp focus, but the photo is just good, not great. As I look at these photos, there are many times when I think "This could be a great photo with the proper retouching".

Before I talk about photo retouching, let me set the record straight. I am not saying that you can take a bad photo and make it good with Photoshop. I am also not a proponent of shooting all my photos and thinking "I can fix this later". But, there are many times when a photo is 75% complete and needs to be tweaked to be complete. And in the case of the photos in this blog post, there are times when the lighting is such that you have to tweak the image to make it a useable photo.

With that said, let me show you some photos from this last week in Nelson, NV and show you how I retouched them.

This is a photo I took of my good friend, Wes. He was my stand-in so that we could test the composition and lighting, before photographing our model. If you look at this photo, the lighting is nice and even with both Wes and the sky properly exposed. But all of you shooting with digital cameras know that it is very difficult to get both the sky and subject lit correctly in this situation. So...how did I get this shot?

Let me show you the original.

Here is how I shot the photo of Wes. I was using my Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens and 600EX-RT flash. My goal was to properly expose this photo for the highlights. In other words, I wanted to make sure that the sky was not blown out (overexposed). But in doing so, this caused Wes to be dark. There are two ways to fix this problem. I could use a flash to light the subject (which I did later), or I could fix this later in Photoshop. Here is what I did to fix this photo in Adobe Photoshop.

If you look at these screen grabs (above and below), you can see how I manipulated the photo in Adobe Camera Raw. They key to "fixing" this photo was the adjustment of the highlights and shadows.

Sliding the highlight slider to the left, I was able to recover (darken) the sky. Sliding the shadows slider to the right allowed me to open up (lighten) the shadows so that you can see Wes' face, the mountains, and the truck.

Now. let me show you another photo, taken in the same location, but later in the evening.

Here is the completed photo of our model, Skylar.

Now, let me take you through the shooting and editing process for this image.

Here is the original untouched RAW photo. You will notice that my light source is coming from my left. My goal was to light Skylar, but not too much of the truck. If I had used the on-camera flash pointed straight at her, the entire truck bed would be overly lit and distract from her. My friend was using some studio lights in a large white softbox to my left, but since I am simple guy, I was mainly using my Canon 600EX-RT flash. I pointed my on-camera flash head towards the softbox and used that as a large reflector, getting the results I was hoping for.

When I looked at the RAW image on my computer, the first thing I noticed is that my flash lit Skylar with light that was a bit on the cool side. So I used the white balance slider to warm her up. I also noticed that there were some key areas which needed to be (burned) darkened. Since the human eye is drawn towards the brightest area of a photo, I wanted to darken the sky so that it did not draw the viewer from Skylar. Once again, I used the highlight slider to recover the details in the sky and clouds. I also used the adjustment brush in ACR to darken her and the truck bed a bit, since I felt that they were a tad too bright. I chose to slightly lighten the green cab of the truck and the Texaco sign. Once in Photoshop, I also made some other small modifications. You will notice that the reflection (above the benches on the right side of the image) has been removed. I felt that it too was distracting.

Compare the two photos and see how much the mood changes between the two.

Here is another photo, taken about the same time, but in a different location.

Looking at the completed photo (above) as compared to the original RAW photo (below) you will see that I made some slight adjustments to enhance this image.

Starting in Adobe Camera RAW, I started by warming the white balance of the image to give Skylar a more pleasing skin tone. I then used the radial filter and adjustment brush to selectively darken the sky and surrounding environment around her. Again, I want Skylar to be the focus of the photo, so having her in perfect focus and being the brighter element in the frame, your eye goes right to her. You will also notice that I removed the front of the car on the right side of the photo. I tried to avoid that when shooting, but knew that I could fix that later.

For those of you thinking that all of this is creating an unrealistic representation of the truth, please keep this in mind: Most of what you see in the final image is actually closer to the truth than the RAW file. The human eye can see much more dynamic range than a digital camera, so I was attempting to show you what I was seeing there.

For this photo of Skylar, I once again used the large white softbox to bounce my flash. This is why her face is brighter on the left and goes to shadow on the right (her left). This creates dimension in the photo and is much more interesting than a flat, evenly lit photo of her. This lighting also accentuates her curves.

I was done shooting by 8:30pm, but the other guys kept shooting well into the darkness. They had just finished up, and were about to pack up, when I asked them to stay in place. They had the modeling (constant) light turned on, on the ProFoto B2 strobe, so I used that as my light source. I set my camera on my Gitzo tripod, adjusted my Acratech ballhead, set the 10 second timer, and ran into the shot. We all stood still for about 4 seconds and voila! Everyone loved this shot.

Here is the original RAW capture of the same photo. You will notice that there is very little detail in the shadows and the people closest to the light source are overly lit. Using the highlight and shadow adjustments in ACR let me correct all that.

I hope that this example will help all of you next time that you look at your RAW photos after shooting and downloading. Hopefully you will evaluate your photos and turn a good photo into a great one!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

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Dhe Basith said...

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soulone1000 said...

Thanks Jeff for describing how you did this, it really helps!! and hurts because I have deleted a couple that I now wish I didn't . Can't wait to try these techniques! Cheers!

Richard Mauro Ricchiuti said...

Good basic but powerful reminders of how wonderful Photoshop is. Nice work. I found you through another site about memory cards and wonder if you have any information on memory cards specific to care and application as a photographer.

Photo Retouching Experts said...

Thanks for your excellent blog , this is really very much helpful for who want to learn photo retouching.

Joshua said...

Clever techniques, easy to follow. Really appreciate your time spent writing this.
Now time to go restore some photos.

Adam Clak said...

To recover old images is to recover old remembrances. Your kid's first day of university, your own 16th marriage, your mother and father wedding- all these are remembrances you never want to get rid of. Even for those who want for making genealogy, images are necessary.
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Oliver said...

It is amazing how photograph can be changed from simple tools. It keeps the original quality but increase the beauty.All I can say is the power of real estate photo retouching or photo editing.

Yuga Bharathi said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It was really helpful.

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Atiqur said...

Sometimes I feel like if the camera setup can be done more precisely then the post processing task may not needed at all, or may reduced to great extent. Thank you for showing the steps with images here.

Samuel said...

Thanks for such detailed article. I am a mac user, but for all actions with my photos I use hdr editing soft http://softwarehdr.com/mapp/. It helps me to retouch my pics if I need it.

Deborah Richards said...

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Anonymous said...

This blog is sueprb with excellent techniques. Thanks for sharing.

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Trevor C. Owens said...

Recently, I've tried to make a HDR picture in photoshop with auroras' tutorials and editing tools https://aurorahdr.com/make-hdr-in-photoshop-cc15.. It took me a lot of time, I must say. However, the result was stunning. I've never thought that picture may change that way.

Abdullah Allamin said...

I think each and every photographer should have the basic knowledge about photo retouch. Camera always can't capture the expectation but we can convert those photos at a desired level using photo editing software. Thanks for sharing this excellent article about photo retouching technic.

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photo editing service said...

Outstanding. All the photos are looks so gorgeous. Thanks for sharing your whole story with us. It's really helpful to me too.

Fiona said...

I'm not a designer, but I've lost my fair share of hours zooming in and tracing to photo retouching. I had no idea that feature existed! Thanks for saving me a few hours in the future :).

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clipping path service said...

photo retouching is obviously a good work for a graphic designer. It can change the scene of a picture. There are lots of tutorial on the internet for it. But this tutorial is really outstanding. Thanks for share.

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Solaiman Sumon said...

Very good photo editing tips and tricks you have done here . Liked and appreciate it .

Rajesh Sharma said...

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Rajesh Sharma said...

Informative blog on image editing and retouching Thank you for sharing it

Solaiman Sumon said...

Photoshop image retouching is a advanced level job . I'm a also a photo editor . So i feel glad after seeing your tutorials base post , thanks .