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This week reminded me of a valuable lesson, I’ve learned time and again along the way. A photographers work extends beyond the click of a shutter. Whether the darkroom or the computer, the beauty of a final image finds completion in our post production.
I recently shot for a talented band called, The Lovely Few. They needed promos for an ethereal and spacial themed ep. I came into the shoot with some large ideas, a few new techniques, and diagrams. We shot everything I needed and then some takeaway shots, I never intended to use, beside a metal railway housing.
Four weeks into post, I realized all the shots I had diagrammed, laid out, and schemed were falling flat and I wasn’t at all happy with what I was creating. In an email, Mike mentioned that he was excited about the potential in those throw away shots, so I figured I’d humor him and work on one. This is the orignal image:
The first step in my post process is to go through and remove any distracting spots, lines, or tell tale signs of a late night or long shoot. This step really starts the “knocking the dirt off” process of an image and can quickly tell me if I should go further. For this, the content aware, patch, and clone tools are invaluable.
After cleaning up the image, I saw some great potential. The random metal box look was now a nice textured background. An SNL skit this past weekend about Greek gods was fresh in my mind and the idea of a heavenly glow and almost godly portrait shot, started forming. From here, I smoothed the skin tones and added depth to the eyes using a combination of surface blur, high pass, and my brush tool.
From here, I really wanted to start bringing out that Greek god stature. With a neutral density layer and dodge and burn with the brush tool I brought out each members strong lines and added depth to the crowns for a slight shimmer.
Now that I had the content where I wanted it, it was time to focus on the color tone to achieve the glow effect and bring it all home. I wanted an antiquity feel, but didn’t want to compromise my skin tones too much, so before using an exclusion filter to slightly crush the depths of my blacks, I amped up the master saturation.
Now there were many ways to add the warm glow I wanted. At first I played with some fill color layers with a few different blending modes, before finally deciding to use the photo filter mode to warm the image. This allowed me to get away from degrading the line fidelity with additional color layers and better custom tone the warmth I was adding.
After finding a tone I felt gave the sun glow I wanted, the image felt good but a little airy. A slight curve adjustment brought some needed contrast and depth. I had isolated space on the right for copy, but the left negative space still wasn’t really working for me. I decide to use a simple trick to border the image. Using the flat fan high bristle brush, I simply painted a border that added subtle texture and helped anchor the image. I went heavy on the left side of the image to close off the negative space, and stayed light on the right side to not take away from any future copy and to add some visual relief. Tip: to paint a straight stroke in PS, click where you want your stroke to begin, then holding shift click where you want it to end, PS does the rest.
The final part of the process was all about editing. I had ideas for adding some shimmer and other textures to the background, but forced myself to walk away from the image. Coming back, I was confident I didn’t need to go any further. Know when to stop yourself!
So there you have it, an image destined for the scrap heap ends up becoming the signature image for the shoot. If you have any questions on any of the steps I mentioned above, feel free to drop a comment. Also, take a moment to check out The Lovely Few and their awesome ep, The Perseids. And download a high-res final copy of this image, here.