I thought I'd take a moment to share what acutally goes on while I'm working on your photographs. I know that photographers tend to take quite a while to turn around the images, so here's a sneak peek into what we do. I've decided to use a recent self-portrait taken for this demo.
So first, here's a before and after. What you should be looking for is the difference in exposure adjustments, color balance adjustments, the quality of the skin, how the eyes look, cropping, and the removal of distractions in the background (e.g., hardware). I'm not going to lie, the photograph in its original state was not great, but self-portraits are hard, ok?
Ok. So the nitty-gritty. Are you ready for this?
Alright. Step one is importing the files into Lightroom (software for photographers from Adobe - it's a lifesaver!) and selecting the best photograph(s) of the batch in the 'Library' module.
After reviewing the batch and figuring out which one I'd like to use, Step Two is opening in it the 'Develop' module. This is the place where exposure and color balance adjustments are made. Using the sliders in the panel on the right-hand side of the screen, I dropped down the red tones so that the skin is closer to its natural color and brought up the exposure a little bit so the image is not so dark.
Step Three is exporting the image out of Lightroom so that I can next open it up in Photoshop for the retouching phase. This is what the photograph looks like upon export:
Step Four is opening the image in Photoshop and getting into the details of skin work. Most of my skin touch-up is done with the patch tool and the clone tool. I always work up the eyes with a simple dodge and burn... lightening the whites just a touch (especially close to the pupils) and then darkening the lash line and outer rim of the pupils as well as a light clone under the eye to slightly reduce (not completely remove) circles, darkness or puffiness. My aim during this phase is to remove blemishes and slightly reduce lines/circles/etc. It is important to me that the final image actually look like the person that was photographed, so there is absolutely no plastic surgery going on here. Natural is what I'm after.
This is also the step that includes removal of background distractions (e.g., the hinges on the right side of the image) as well as stray hairs.
Here is a before/after for just the retouching:
Step Five is the final save!
There are many photographers who do not do this much work on all of the photographs they show their clients, they may only work up those that will be printed or used in an album. I just can't bring myself to show my clients anything but the absolute best I can do, so every single image you see has gone through all of these steps.
I hope this was helpful and please do keep an eye out for more posts on technique in the future!
Other posts in this series: Rule of Thirds
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