Step by step editing of a natural light street portrait

10 August 2016

Over the course of my second round in the 100 Strangers project, I’ve been meaning to be bolder and try new things. This post shows an example of me trying a slightly different style from my usual bright, light, vibrant portraits for this project. It was a slightly overcast day with amazing light in Soho. Pippa was the 116th person to say yes to a portrait for this series, and she is a model who doesn’t really need much editing, but let’s see what we can do in Photoshop!

The RAW file

Note that RAW files are always flat and lifeless unless you apply presets to adjust them, either in camera or in Lightroom during import. I haven’t done either – I like to start from a blank canvas. I had Pippa hold a small silver reflector to create catchlights in her eyes and lighten shadows under her chin.

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Step 1: Lightroom tone adjustments

I’ve dialled the exposure down and adjusted vibrance, contrast and the tone curve to get a good base for my Photoshop tinkering.

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Step 2: Minor retouching

I’ve used frequency separation and a combination of the clone and heal brushes to reduce the shadows under Pippa’s eyes and remove a few small skin imperfections. I still kept 99% of the skin untouched, but removal of a few tiny marks can make a big difference in the overall cohesiveness of the image.

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Step 3: Dodging and burning

I created a new soft light layer filled with 50% grey, and used the dodge tool on Highlights, 8% strength to brighten the light areas of the cheeks and the pupils of the eyes. Then the burn tool on Shadows, 5% strength was used to darken the darkest shadows on the face a bit more.

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Step 4: Skin smoothing

I used the Imagenomic Portraiture plugin on a new duplicate layer, and dialed it down to 75%. This blends the skin tones nicely while retaining some texture in a clean way. It’s an amazing plugin, saves so much time when you have to add just that little final touch to your portraits. I don’t use it on 100 Strangers portraits normally, but I felt that since we’re now creating something that looks ‘more’ than a street portrait, it’s acceptable (you are welcome to disagree but I have no qualms about it).

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Step 5: Sharpening

Using the Unsharp Mask filter at 250-300% strength, 0.4 pixel radius and 0 threshold helps create a nice skin finish – zoom in to see the effects properly when doing this.

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And that’s it! 🙂

Final image

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Compare the before and after once again to see how easily you can take your photos to the next level. Even if you only do Step 1, and possibly Step 3, it makes a big difference!

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