manual focus

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 ūüôā

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 Рcontrols 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.


Black (& White) Friday: Low Key Self Portrait

A few month’s back I spent some time playing around with different lighting angles, and since I didn’t have the nerve to ask anyone to model for me, I did a lot of testing on myself. It’s not a very easy thing to do, and there are a lot of people out there who do some incredibly imaginative self portraits.

This is probably the image I liked the most from the hundreds of shots I’ve taken, and have recently worked on it and turned it into my brand image. This will also be my submission for Leanne’s and Laura’s Monochrome Madness post for next week. You can see this image and several other stunning black and white images over at Leanne’s blog.

self portrait