A few little Photoshop tricks that end up in a lot of my photographs.

Here’s another short one about personal style and noticing trends in the photoshop which goes into my images. Now I’m not incredibly competent at Photoshop and I try to use it less and less, but here are a few of the things I use regularly:

First: Preparation.
I generally expose my photographs to the right both for more editing latitude and because I generally prefer exposing skin a little brighter. I also have a horrible habit of forgetting to set my white balance, and in order to remedy both of these I find it imperative to always shoot in RAW (Not that there’s really any excuse to forget to set your white balance). When shooting in RAW it’s much easier to make these changes to exposure and white balance as well as most other edits.

Curves.

The next thing I’ll usually do is mess around with the colour curves in my photograph. My staple for this is an S shape to the Red and Green channels to increase the contrast then a Z for the Blue channel.

This gives a nice amount of contrast to the image, sort of like a cross processing effect but not as harsh or green. From here I’ll make adjustments until I get the look I’m after, and if you use the curves as it’s own layer it’s very easy to reduce the opacity or mask out certain parts of the image. Below is an image what the resulting colours are like without any adjustments.

Black and White Overlay and Sharpening.

For a lot of my photographs of guys I use a black and white layer set to multiply, if your version of Photoshop doesn’t have the black and white adjustment you can use a hue/saturation or channel mixer layer instead. This often darkens the image quite a bit and so I’ll usually lessen the opacity to around 80% and in some cases add another layer set to screen.

To the left is an image using both of the aforementioned techniques.

This technique is often accompanied with a not-so-subtle Unsharp mask or a duplicate overlay layer set through the ‘high pass’ filter.

Skin.

Working with skin is fairly tricky, especially if like me you don’t work with a lot or often any makeup, what’s important is to have your model or client’s skin looking the way they want. As I don’t personally mind imperfections my self portraits usually receive no skin adjustments, for others however I ask them what they want, and the response is generally “Can you get rid of my pimples?” Sean Armenta has a great selection of videos which I’ll link in the further reading which show the very precise methods used in fashion photography. I generally do not invest as much effort into my post production as he does and really only want to do as little as I can get away with as I’m not being commissioned by a fashion company with exacting standards.

When removing skin imperfections there are two techniques which I use, most commonly used is a combination of the Spot removal, patch and clone stamp tools. How I use these is:


Spot Removal: You can change the spot removal brush to be thinner, more like the calligraphy brush, as the brush works by sampling around the selection this generally results in less interference from other parts of the image and makes it easier to work around edges. Both the Proximity Match and CS5’s Content Aware modes work quite well, I find the Proximity match mode to be faster and so use this unless around complex edges or hair.

Patch: The Patch tool is fairly similar to the spot removal tool except you choose exactly where the sample area is. It works great for larger blemishes and some cases where the Spot removal tool isn’t working.

Clone Stamp: I only really use the Clone Stamp tool in it’s Colour and Lighten blending modes. When set to colour it’s great for removing redness of skin, and set to lighten it is good for lessening wrinkles and under eye shadows. Just make sure to not go above around 50% for opacity.


Curves, Black and white Multiply layer and skin edits. I also used the liquify tool, which I rarely touch as I don’t like my photographs to look unrealistic, in this photo however I was aiming for a more surreal look and the bulge in the eyes and shrunk lips contributed to this.

The second method for skin is what can really be only called the ‘turn them into a doll’ method. It’s in some cases quicker and is generally leads to a more stylised look, I now rarely use the technique however as it’s less versatile. To employ the ‘turn them into a doll’ method duplicate your layer and go to Filters>Noise>Dust and Scratches, from here leave the radius at 0 and turn up the radius until the subject’s skin imperfections are gone. Do this the same as you would when dodging or burning with a curves layer, ignoring everything else which has now turned into a blurry mess, and concentrating on the skin only. After this mask the background, eyes, hair and some of the nose out, then change your brushes opacity to 50% for the edges of the face, then again to around 25% and go over every edge.
The ‘make them look like a doll’ method in action.

What about Actions?

Photoshop actions can be great, there are a lot of very talented photographers and retouchers who offer a variety of free or cheap actions which can turn your photo into something you hardly recognise from the original. I’ve found that they generally do not allow you to tailor the methods to your specific image however, and this can mean they only work in one particular situation and the image the action was based around may not be the same as yours. For these reasons I usually use actions either as an overlay layer or with a lowered opacity, or better yet if you have the time, check the box to the side of the  action, take notes and reverse engineer the action, you may even be able to add it into your own post processing repertoire.

Why it’s important to notice your own post processing trends:

This section was originally going to be titled “A plethora of editing mistakes”, but what is really important when editing is to look at the techniques which feature prominently in your own editing and for that matter when taking photos, from here look at which trends you want to be included in your style and which are bad habits. I also have a collage of all the editing processes I’ve rejected from my own repertoire here.

Further Reading:

Sean Armenta has an excellent video on how to use the Patch, Clone Stamp and Healing brush tools. Check out the rest of his channel for other great staples in fashion editing.

For any particular technique or style it’s worth having a Google search, there are tons of great tutorials out there for just about everything.

For Photoshop actions look no further than Deviant Art which has a huge collection of all sorts of actions. Including my favourite, Demolitionn‘s Action 2 (Just be sure to go into the history and click the second last time the image is flattened, I’ve always found it to look better than the final product). And manicho‘s 50 Photoshop Postwork Actions, from which I still use the “Ready to submit” actions to resize and frame every one of my images for flickr.


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