Image Processing: From Start to Finish 2

Well, here I am again with another post describing my image processing techniques. This time I decided to spare you the self portrait, and instead, use a proper model. Once again, this post will also be part of the After-Before Friday series, curated by Stacy over at Visual Venturing.

Here is the final image, but I will walk you through my editing process below. And please note that I have left the stray hairs in the image, because I do all of my image processing in Lightroom, and I have NO idea how to use Photoshop.

image processing sara

As I’ve mentioned in several posts before, I absolutely love shooting people and using off-camera flash. and oddly enough, this image came from only my second strobist-style shoot.

Though I enjoy scanning Instagram for those bright, natural light, vintage-style images that are used by so many wedding and lifestyle photographers, I personally like to play with the balance and relationship between shadow and light. At the time of this shoot, I owned nothing more than one flash unit, the Yongnuo YN-560 II, and a basic Westcott shoot-through umbrella.


Here is the image straight out of the camera. You can read a lot about the importance of the histogram and setting the correct white balance in your camera, but I find those points to be largely irrelevant. As you can see, the auto white balance brought out more of the blue tones, and made this image appear slightly colder than it should be, but that’s easily fixed in Lightroom. The histogram leads you to believe that the image is largely under exposed, but you can see that it is actually fairly well exposed, and very appropriate for the mood I was aiming for. Her dark hair, the shadow on her back, and the grey background largely contribute to the skewed histogram interpretation of the image.

Sara 1 import


My first step when working with an image is to always correct the white balance and exposure. When shooting with flash, you can often get a pleasing result when you adjust the white balance to Daylight. I also felt that the exposure only need a slight increase… about an 8th of a stop.

Sara 2 wb & exposure


When using Lightroom, I typically work my way down the adjustment panel beginning with white balance and exposure, as mentioned above. Here I dive a little deeper into the image by heavily increasing the highlights and shadows, slightly increasing the whites, and dropping the blacks. This is me basically creating my own “contrast” mix.

In my previous post, people found this next step slightly unusual, but I increased the clarity to +31. I did this to help bring out the highlights and shadows a bit more and make the image slightly more three dimensional.

Sara 3 highlight shadow clarity etc

BRUSH STROKE – hair and highlights

I wanted to make the model’s hair less flat, and give it a boost of contrast. Using the adjustment brush, I painted over the hair and slightly increased the exposure, highlights, clarity, and sharpness.

Sara 4 brush stroke hair adjustments

In the image below, you can see that the model’s hair in the image on the left lacks detail and shine, whereas the highlight streak in the image on the right is brighter and more defined, and her hair now has more detail in it.

hair before after


I next painted over the shadow areas of her face and darkened the shadows a little. You’ll notice from the red highlighted areas that I was relatively specific about which areas I wanted to bring out more shadows. You’ll see the adjustment in the next image.

Sara 5 brush stroke face shadow

Here is the before and after of the shadow treatment. It is a fairly subtle adjustment, but it helps add further depth to the model’s facial structure.

shadow before after

ADJUSTMENT BRISH – soften skin

Though you saw me increase the clarity of the overall image, I tend to like to slightly soften the skin of my female subjects. Though Sara is young, and has very nice smooth skin to begin with, it doesn’t hurt to enhance that ever so slightly. With men though, it often helps to do the opposite and increase the clarity.

The amount of softening you do will depend on your model and the look you’re hoping to achieve, but I find that an adjustment somewhere in the -30 to -50 range often creates a nice, but still very realistic result.

Sara 6 brush stroke face soften skin

Below, you can see the before and after of the skin softening. It’s a subtle adjustment, but I feel like you shouldn’t really be able to see that the adjustment has been made.

clarity before afterFINAL TOUCHES

Lastly, I made a slightly closer crop on the image, made one more minor clarity adjustment, and adjusted the vibrance and saturation to get the slightly desaturated look I like. I finished it off with a slight  vignette, and you have the final image that can be seen at the top of the post.

Sara 7 crop vibrance saturation vignette- final

I hope you found this little tutorial helpful, and I hope that I was able to bring something different than I had in my last image processing post. Looking at this image, there are a lot of things I would do differently if I was shooting it over again, but those things also include using the additional flashes and accessories I now own. But that’s a story for another day.










Image Processing: From Start to Finish

How in the heck did I go from this image on the left, to the image on the right…


Disclaimer: I am not obsessed with my looks, and I am the furthest from being a model. However, I am my only readily available model, and am willing to work for free 🙂

This is a post inspired by one of my favorite bloggers on WordPress, Stacy over at Visual Venturing.

Stacy and I have been blogger buddies for quite a while, and we’ve watched each other improve our photography skills over that time… at least, I’ve seen Stacy drastically improve the quality of her photography. For nearly six months, she has been running a weekly feature on her blog called “After-Before Friday” where she she shares her post-processing techniques in a video, as well as the image processing of other fellow bloggers. I’ve wanted to participate for quite a while, and I felt that this was the perfect time to jump in.

As you can see from the image on the left, there’s only a hint of a subject in the image. The funny thing is that that same image looked a lot nicer on the back of my camera, which goes to show that you should never fully trust what you see on the tiny screen on your camera… which is actually a compressed jpeg version of your RAW file.

Being a RAW shooter, I thought I’d take on the challenge of trying to bring this image back to life, and through this post I’ll show you how I did it.

My original intent with this lighting setup was to create a dramatic low-key black and white image, but when I converted the image, something just didn’t feel right. So I started over.


Often when I’m not sure of the direction I’d like to take with an image, I’ll press the “Auto” button and let Lightroom begin my journey. What Auto does, is look at all the light and dark areas, and make it’s best guess on the exposure, and in this instance it added five stops of exposure, removed a lot of contrast, and adjusted the light and dark sliders. Unfortunately, this resulted in a well lit, unfocused, and dull image.

auto tone


If you’ve ever seen one of my images, you’ll know that I love adding clarity and contrast to my images. In an attempt to draw attention back to my face and my “intense stare” (insert laughs and insulting jokes here), I reduced exposure by two stops, increased clarity to 100%, and manually added contrast by drastically adjusting the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders. This instantly brings the focus back to my face.

clarity adjust


To black out the background and maintain the low-key effect I envisioned, I brought in a radial filter and two graduated filters so I could reduce the background exposure by nearly three stops and create a black backdrop to my scene.

radial filter


After a couple more highlight/shadow adjustments, an increase to vibrance, and a decrease in saturation, I completed my “movie poster” look by cropping the image to a 16×9 aspect ratio.


EYE ENHANCEMENTS (Adjustment Brush)

I next used the adjustment brush to make the eyes pop! Here, I basically boosted the exposure, highlights, and clarity slightly, so that they catch light was more visible and they eyes looked more alive.

eye adjust


Lastly, I made a few slight adjustments to the orange and red tones in my skin, made a slight increase to overall exposure, a reduction on the highlights slider, and the image was complete!

final retouch

Thank you so much for following along on this longer than normal blog post, but I had fun sharing how I worked on this image. I probably won’t do this every week, but I’ll definitely participate in Stacy’s forum again soon. In the meantime, click on over to Visual Venturing to see Stacy’s work… I know you’ll like what you see.

I’d love to hear what you thought of the post – what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you would have done differently. My favorite posts are the ones that generate great discussion in the comments, so please chime in.

Black (& White) Friday: Fade to Black

Not having had the chance to get out and shoot the streets of Ottawa very much, I have found myself dipping into my catalogue more often. This is an image I made late one night while experimenting with different lighting positions.

Self portraits are tricky, and I often find it easiest to accomplish using old manual focus lenses attached to my camera using an adapter. This image was accomplished using an old Minolta MD manual focus 50mm lens on my Sony, with a single flash positioned at 90 degrees to my left (camera right) that had a Rogue FlashBender on it to diffuse the light slightly.

low key self portrait

There are two types of light to consider when doing flash photography – ambient light (the light we see that fills the room) and light coming from the flash itself. What people don’t often realize, is that the amount of these two light sources can be controlled by making simple changes to our shutter speed and aperture settings, and if you know these two things, the overall quality of your photography can improve dramatically whether using flash or taking pictures on a bright sunny day.

Shutter Speed controls ambient light

Shutter speeds are identified by numbers that look like fractions – 1/100th, 1/200th, 1/400th, etc and can go up to 1/4000th on most DSLRs today. The higher the number, the faster your shutter will click, and the less light will enter your sensor resulting in darker images. Conversely, the lower the number, the more light will be let into your sensor resulting in brighter images.

For the image above, I wanted to eliminate the ambient light in the room. To accomplish that, I set my shutter speed to it’s maximum sync speed of 1/250th. This is the fastest that my camera can take a picture using a flash before it starts to cut off the image. If I had set my shutter speed to a faster setting, such as 1/500th, then part of the left side of my face would have been cut off. If I had set my shutter speed to a slower setting, such as 1/100th, then some of the wall in the background would have been visible in the image.

Aperture – controls flash light

Yes, you can change the flash power by making adjustments on the flash itself, but it’s often easier to accomplish the same effect by simply changing the aperture on your camera. The aperture is identified in f-stops, such as f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, etc and can go up to f/22 for most standard lenses. The higher the number, the darker your image will be because it will be letting less of the flash light hit your sensor.

I don’t remember where my aperture ended up on the image above, but I would have started with an aperture of f/5.6 and my flash at half power, and made the appropriate adjustments from there. That’s always my starting point. If I had to guess, I would have probably ended up at f/10 or f/11 to get this look.