[TECH TALK] Darkroom: Retouching 101 (Portraits)
Wow, I'm finally sitting down to type out a new TECH TALK thread. After only something like six months. I'm actually surprised Tiny hasn't hung me yet, but deep down he's a pretty mellow guy. And of course I know I still have to finish the second half of Sharpening which I'll get to, hopefully within the next six months.
So for this installment, another series (this is the first one), we'll be looking at retouching. I'll quickly go over the initial image review, then breakdown into pieces what I tend to do to various types of images. For this thread, we'll take a look at portraits. Of course, the next thread will be landscapes. Not sure about a third, since that about covers my fairly limited repertoire of subject matter. But in any regard, hopefully you'll find some useful information buried somewhere in the paragraphs to follow. So let's begin.
I'll be taking a look at this portrait I quickly snapped of my son during a backpacking trip last fall. He was playing around, jumping amongst the jumbled granite and I stopped him long enough to have him smile and click before he was off again. So, like I'm sure we all do with each of our images before we actually do anything else, let's take a look at it to determine what we want to do (after, of course, we've figured out what we should have done before clicking the shutter, like - in this case - fixed his left pant leg) -
This was taken raw with a Canon G2, which I've found has very good color in both raw and JPEG modes with little fussing. It nails the white balance dead-on nearly every shot, and the tweaks I tend to do in raw mainly have to do with maximizing dynamic range by adjusting the exposure. That being said, what I notice for this shot, besides the pant leg, is the following -
1) the background is busy
2) the über-blue saturated streams of water flowing down the rocks
3) slight pinkishness and lack of contrast to his skintones (face)
4) lack of separation between subject and background
5) annoying clumps of I'm guessing plants or something right up against the top of the frame on the right and a spot on the bottom of his left pant leg
I think that's about it. And I noticed all of that in about three seconds. So, let's roll up our sleeves and fix all of it.
Here's a shot of the final layers palette from PS -
(note - anything with a '*' is just my way of noting that the Blending Mode is anything but Normal so I can tell just by looking at the palette, nothing more)
It sort of goes in order (yeah, that was planned) so from the bottom ...
In order to take the background back so it's not competing so much with the subject, I've used a couple of layers. First, I duped the Background layer and made a mask of the subject (to make masks, typically I use Quick Mask mode and a brush, flipping between inverted views to clean it up before exiting and saving the selection - for main areas of an image, I'll make the selection and save it so I can load it again later in case, like I'll do to this layer, I end up adding to the mask, thus making it impossible to easily pull up that selection again). On the new duped background, I went to Filter/Blur/Lens Blur - if you notice, in the original it's too stopped down so the background is just as in focus as the subject and thus competing for attention. I chose a radius of 10 and ran the filter. Of course, having a tight selection of just the subject and the rest blurred would look weird since the rock under his feet would have been in the same focal plane as he was, so (take a look at the mask for clarification) I brushed in at around 40-50% opacity right around his feet, layering it more right under his feet and less as it went out (the lighter grey towards the left side and bottom of the mask).
In addition to slightly blurring the background, I then loaded my selection of just the subject, inverted it and hit an action I have to add an empty Levels layer set to the Screen blending mode. At 100%, this of course dropped the weight of the background much too far, so I lowered the opacity of the layer to 30%. I also warmed up the rocks slightly by adding some R+Y.
Next, that blue saturation looks a bit intense and also competes for attention with the subject, so I drew a quick marquee from the top of the cascades across the image and all the way to the bottom and then went to Select/Color Range. Color Range is a little known tool that is ten times more powerful then the Magic Wand (which I never use anymore) because it creates a finely-tuned (feathered) selection that is unbeatable. By first making a selection with the Marquee tool (or, say, the Lasso tool), you limit the area the Color Range will effect (useful if there's similar hues in the image that you don't want in your Color Range selection). You can adjust the Fuzziness of the selection, which expands or contracts the range of hues it selects. If you choose Quick Mask from the Selection Preview options, you'll notice it won't create a Black/White mask - it has subtlety in it (as a Quick Mask, the lighter areas of pink). This is why it's such a powerful tool. Anyways, once the selection was made, I simply opened a Hue/Saturation layer and adjusted the hue to the right by 4 points (left=G, right=R - maybe that'll help you remember which hue changes with either direction of the slider) and then the saturation by 80%. This made the hue/saturation blend in with the rocks and look like it was just stains from past cascades which I was OK with.
With the background pretty much taken care of, you should notice that the subject stands out quite a bit more through focusing and lack of intense color behind. Now, I'll go in and create a quick mask (with Quick Mask, lol) of his face and add a Curves layer that bumps up the Y and takes out G in the midtones slightly. I wanted good skin tones without making him look sick, or dead, or pale etc. When adjusting skin tones, I tend to shy away from adjusting the G channel except in cases where I know it's warranted (like this) because it'll make someone look sick really quick. The R and Y channels are much easier to work with and I find I can usually get good results by adjusting one or both of those. No matter what, don't ever adjust more than two individual channels (basic color theory, which I may post a thread for at some point).
Once I warmed up his face slightly, I again loaded my selection of him and chose an action I have set up to create an empty Levels layer set to the Soft Light blending mode at 40%. This has the effect of boosting contrast, because Soft Light by definition ignores any 50% grey (value = 128) while lightening values from 129-255 and darkening ones from 127-0 (in other words, adding contrast, and less-so than Overlay or Hard Light). The action places the layer at 40% because 100% is almost always way to strong. In this case, even 40% was too strong of an effect so I brought the layer opacity down to 20%.
With the subject now mostly taken care of, I attended to those little annoying bushes and the spot on his pants by creating an empty layer above all others (note: I only put it on top because I had already created the High Pass sharpening layer - called HP 2.0 - and cloning beneath that leaves artifacting around the edges; without a HP layer, I would put the cloning layer just above the Background layer - or any dupes of it). I then went in with the view at 100% and finely cloned out those areas. At the top, I had to use the History Brush after setting the History State at the point where I created the empty layer (the little icon of a brush with an arrow going around it is the history state icon). This just means that from that point on down the History palette, PS will redo/undo. In this case, it brings back the original image from what I had cloned out because I had been a little sloppy with the Clone tool. Make sense?
And here's the image after cloning -
Now, finally I created a High Pass sharpening layer (here, beneath the clone layer). Then I picked up the selection from the 'focus' layer by Cmd-clicking it (ctrl-clicking it on PC) and created an inverted layer mask of that selection on the High Pass layer by Opt-clicking the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. The High Pass sharpening layer is something I'll go into detail on in the second installment of the Sharpening TECH TALK thread, but for now - basically it's a layer created by merging all visible layers, running the High Pass filter on at a given radius and setting the Blending Mode (in this case) to Soft Light. I tend to sharpen all images by this means, rather than using USM or Smart Sharpen filters, but - like I mentioned - more on that later.
In any case, here then is the final image -
By opening an image and first examining what it is we want to accomplish, we can lay out the order of our retouching quite systematically. This example of course didn't touch on every aspect of retouching, but it did bring up several key things to look for when eyeballing a portrait image you've taken in an attempt to figure out what might need to be done, including -
• separating the subject from the background by means of desaturating, softening/blurring, taking the density down, etc. to the background, along with boosting contrast, sharpening, etc. to the subject
• removing pesky little details like dirt on clothes, annoying or eye-catching things in the background, etc.
• fixing skintone hue and saturation (and I do realize I didn't really touch on airbrushing skintones, which wasn't necessary on this shot but is a good topic for a future thread)
I hope that quickly demonstrated some things that might be new or that were helpful and, as always, please let me know if you have any questions.
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Originally posted at 10:42PM, 20 January 2008 PDT
koaflashboy edited this topic 66 months ago.