Professional photographer Jamie Maldonado reflects on photography assignments, and shares tips and hints on how to improve your photography. 

A little post-processing walkthrough

Jade, the finished image.

Jade, the finished image.

I was asked on Facebook if I could explain how I edited this photo. In classic style, I overdid my explanation. Here it is! (And of course the blog editor is being an outrageous pain tonight and I mysteriously have no captions at the moment.)

First, here's my shooting/lighting roundup from Flickr (slightly modified): Key light is a Calumet Travelite 750 through a medium softbox, camera right and about 5 feet away. Fill is a Powerlight at 1/32 in a beauty dish at about 8 feet away and just camera left (and this light was triggered by the Pocket Wizard, which set off the optical triggers built into all of the other lights). A small Genesis 250 was probably at 1/2 power and boomed above her for a hair light and the back light was an old tungsten hot light. I shot at a show shutter speed to allow blur. Camera settings were: 1/8 shutter, f/11 at 100 ISO. My Nikon 70-200 VRI was at 180mm. 


Why did I fill with a beauty dish? To get more texture from the hard light. That's paramount to the look of this shot. Also, I used a hot light for the warmth and to provide the painterly motion in the background and the edge of her shoulder. The reason her face isn't blurry is because it was lit entirely by the flash, which fires at a speed more than fast enough to capture the image without motion blur. However, the background light was controlled largely by the shutter speed … it's science stuff. I'm not great at explaining that part. Whilst your f/stop can control your ambient light, your shutter speed only affects your flash output if you go over your sync speed (and then it leaves ugly dark spots). 



The reason I'm going through all of this mess is because this picture was accomplished mostly at the camera. Though you will see that it was a bit of a warm mess when it came to my computer. The strange mixture of lighting and the fact that I don't usually do custom white balances in camera show here. I did know I wanted a warm and harmonious color pallet. It also shows I should have had some hairspray on hand for poor Jade. The weather was not playing nice with her, but that's why we have Photoshop, right? (Note, it is HARD to remove frizzy hair from a gradiated background. It is ALWAYS best to handle that on camera. And I'm sorry Jade, I'm keeping the photos smaller so you won't be embarrassed.) 

After getting my White Balance in Lightroom, I set my white and black points (alt+ white slider and alt+blacks slider) and did some spot adjusting on her eyes and maybe a gentle radial adjustment on her face … just to pop it out lighting wise. I did a little sharpening and a mild vignette with the Post-Crop vignetting tool. From there, I tossed out a few Replichrome settings, fading the colors just a bit to soften the contrast between the highs and lows, and adding a bit of an S-curve to it. So basically, the best way I can say it, is that I smoothed the range of tones within the highlights and the shadows. I have a hard time describing this, but it's a lot of reasons why I'll bring the black point of the curve up almost an entire zone. It gets the hip "faded black" thing, but also kind of squashes together the rest of the tones in my eye. It makes it more film-like to me, and less harsh and digital. I also did a little tweak in the Luminance portion of the HSL sliders ... I brightened the orange tones in her skin. (For warmth, of course.)

After some spot removals and the addition of a tiny bit of grain (to enhance the grain-like look of her skin from the hard fill light), I jump over to Photoshop, where I have almost nothing left but retouching.  

Jade. After, in Photoshop CS6.

Jade. After, in Photoshop CS6.

In Photoshop, I cloned out all the frizzy hair and and big "blemish" that was left. Then I did a retouching technique called Frequency Separation … which could have its own blog post. I highly recommend looking it up, and mastering all the steps, even if it takes a while. I don't use it on every photo, but it certainly is amazing for shots like this. 

You'll notice that Hue/Saturation layer between my retouching channels … and it is there only to whiten her eyes. It's between the channels because I figured it didn't need to affect any other layer above it. Probably a useless placement. 

Finally, my other favorite Photoshop trick: Selective color. I worked my way through every color channel, conservatively correcting the color until it fully reached harmony. It basically all got a little bit more golden, and I added that same quality just slightly to the blacks. The main contribution to this image, however, was that it took a tiny bit of red out of her face, and made it more golden/yellow. 

I added one last curve (pictured) to re-soften the blacks and add a tiny bit of contrast. 

I'm not sure if there's anything of educational value in here, but I hope it helps!