Randy Kepple Photographs Photoshop Post Production Technique
Art and Inspiration, Photo Geek 10

Before and After Portrait of Dean – Photoshop Post Production

Randy Kepple Photographs Photoshop Post Production Technique

Meet Dean. Art director for a commercial advertising client. We were scouting a location for an upcoming photo shoot. As we were talking, I turned around and saw this image. Behind Dean was the paint bay for a city transit bus (if that gives you any idea of it’s size). A visual scene taken straight out of a Kubrick film.

If you’d like to read about how this photo was created and the technique used to achieve the look presented in the before and after image, meet me on the other side.

I literally snapped this image of Dean as we were talking. Something for the visual idea file. Thankfully, Dean is a very gracious (if not begrudging) model and understanding of my creative process. His masked curiosity is evident in this photo.

I’ve been thinking of incorporating a new style into my work next year. A conceptual, photo illustrative look for a series of portraits. While editing, this image of Dean jumped out at me. As a very long day was finally ending, I poured a glass of cabernet and started playing. It’s rare these days that I take time to creatively play with my images. Practice what you preach, right? This is the result of that creative time, exploring in Photoshop.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

As this was a reference shoot— a scouting expedition, I was limited to the lighting in the natural environment. Also known as “ambient” light. A mixture of florescent and daylight. This image was captured on a Canon 5D with an EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II lens. It was captured as a RAW file at 16mm ( 1/125 sec.— f/4.0 @ 400 ISO).

Randy Kepple Photographs Photoshop Post Production Technique

The RAW conversion was handled by Canon DPP. I generally prefer Canon Digital Photo Professional for my RAW conversions when shooting people. Adobe Lightroom 3 is a wonderful tool for a production workflow, but I continually battle how it renders skin tones. Once the image was exported into Adobe Photoshop CS5, the first thing I did was an auto color correction. The next step was to open the new Lens Correction tool in CS5 and correct the ultra-wide angle distortion from the 16mm lens.

Next, I went over the image in exacting detail with the healing brush and the clone tool. The door on the left hand side was really distracting, so I decided to try the new Content Aware Fill. To be honest, nearly every time I’ve tried to use this greatly hyped tool, it’s failed miserably. I’m sure much of it has to do with learning how it thinks and I clearly haven’t figured that out. But in this instance, it worked surprisingly well. It even added a bit of perspective transform to the window. I then cleaned up any stray elements using the clone tool.

Then, I started working on the color elements. I corrected the skin tones and masked this separately from the background, which had it’s own color corrections applied. After this, I created several subtle color shifts, using layers of color fill set to different layer blending modes and adjusting the opacity until I was happy with it. All of this involved using layer masks to place color or keep color.

Once I was happy with the overall color tonality, I started playing with the high pass filter. This increases edge contrast and dramatically enhances detail. Again, this was painted in using a layer mask and a paint brush set to varying opacities. It also makes any pores or wrinkles very pronounced. Not flattering to most models, but a stylistic choice. Thankfully Dean is very accommodating.

The last step involved desaturating the color overall and selectively reducing the saturation of reds in Dean’s skin. A bit of local dodging and burning using the lasso tool and a curves adjustment layer. Finally, I increased mid-tone contrast and selectively applied it to his face. Finally, I desaturated the color in his shirt and using the history brush, painted it back into my image.

At this point, I decided to stop and let it rest. It’s easy to get carried away and go too far when you’re playing. As a first step towards a new style, I’m very happy with the results. I think it’s important to point out that this image worked on it’s own visually, before any Photoshop work was done to it. For a visual artist, post production is merely a means to realize your vision. But that vision has to be in place as no amount of post production can rescue a poorly executed image.

What do you think? What do you like or not like about this image?

Many thanks to Dean for his permission to publicly humiliate his beautiful face with it’s well earned wrinkles. You are a wonderful model and an even better human being with a quirky, sarcastic sense of humor.

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  • Colleen says: December 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Love the portrait, the location and your post processing. I think I’d also eliminate the hoses and smudges on the side walls.

  • Randy says: December 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Thanks Colleen!

    It’s funny you mention that! I was actually going to eliminate the hoses and smudges and decided that it would make it too clinical. May have to revisit that.

    Hmmm…

  • Jon says: December 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Nice! Can you talk more about your RAW conversion process? How do you do it exactly? I’ve been importing with LR and just going from there. Do you import with CPP?

    Thanks man

  • Jamie Bosworth says: December 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Please keep the smudges and the hoses… they keep this fabulous face grounded in what might otherwise become clinical verging into Star Trekkkish… I like this very, very much Mr. Kepple!

  • Randy says: December 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Jamie… thank you! I really went back and forth with the hoses and smudges. I may do it and post just to see what you guys think. But I like the organic untidiness of it all. I was beginning to feel I’d gone too far already. Definitely thinking of the sterile world of Star Wars…

    Jon… Not exactly sure what you’re asking, but if you’d clarify, I’d be happy to share with you any information.

    Yes, I do import my RAW files into DPP (Canon Digital Photo Professional). There is obviously some proprietary conversion algorithm happening. As wonderful as Lightroom and ACR are with RAW conversions, when it comes to skin tones, the Canon software seems to nail it perfectly with Canon files.

    I was thinking of writing a post on a typical post process workflow. From ingesting the card to final delivery to the client. Is that what you’re interested in hearing?

    I use Photo Mechanic to ingest my cards after a shoot and import them into DPP. For most jobs however, I’ve been using LR3 as it’s the best production workflow solution. There are so many tools in LR3 that just don’t exist with the manufacturers software. If they’d actually listen to the photographers who purchase and support their business, they’d take the time to retool their software. I’d even be willing to pay for it. 🙂

  • Jon says: December 11, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    My whole workflow is in LR right now. Would love to see your end to end workflow. Always looking for ways to improve.

    Something like?
    1. Import from card to computer using DPP
    2. Add to LR catalog
    3. Export to JPEG?

  • Brian Laurent says: December 11, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Killer, great example of taking a good image and making it that much better. I’m particularly amazed at how you were able to pull all those top-of-head-hairs out of the highlight/blur spectrum and burn and sharpen them into the visible one. You might not be giving him a Cover Girl complexion, but at least he got some Hair Club love.

    About the workflow, I’m so curious. As a Nikon shooter, I’ve been reluctant to add their proprietary Capture NX2 to the flow, since batching appears to be a pain and it’s a whole other big step, but I see the problems with skin tones in LR2 (I know, there’s a 3). I end up using downloaded profiles for my camera and also boosting orange luminance while dropping saturation on orange, red and magenta. It’s like everybody defaults to “spray tan sunburn” or something. Steve Z out in Colorado wrote a good blog post about the same thing, so I took a similar approach that’s been good enough to get me to PS with a workable image. Is it really impossible for The Camera Companies to play nice with Adobe? I mean seriously, I have a hard time imagining that their software realm could even pay for itself given the R&D it must take vs. the market share.

    Thanks for sharing your techniques and thought process. Keep the smudges and hoses, hoseur!

  • Randy says: December 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Jon… After the holidays have passed and I’m sitting here with nothing to do… I am planning to share my entire workflow. I hosted a “Production Summit” a couple of years ago for a group of local professional photographers. I discovered that nearly everyone is struggling with the technology and managing their post production time more efficiently. My workflow is a bit more involved than yours! 🙂

    Brian… I agree. I wish I could talk to someone deep inside Canon and find out what the real issues are. I keep hoping that change will happen, but it always ends up being about corporate issues and making money. I guess the professional photography market is a small part of the overall machine at Canon and Nikon. From our perspective, it seems huge, but it’s not. More on that later. Thanks for the comments! Back at ya hoseur!

  • Rod says: February 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Love it!

  • Rod says: February 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Actually, I’ve discovered your secret ingredient Randy – it was the Cabernet all along!