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Retouching bridal portraits in Photoshop and Lightroom

In my Photoshop class I wanted to show the students my workflow after I’ve shot a wedding, portrait or commercial job. It’s metamorphosis from a RAW image straight from the camera, taken into LightRoom and then “polished” (color and contrast corrected, lightened or darkened.) It’s then outputted and saved as as either a high-res jpeg or TIFF and brought into Photoshop for further enhancements. Look at the difference of the original and then the polished LightRoom jpeg. Post-production “polishing” can be as important as the original image itself.

The straight RAW file, then polishing the image in LightRoom.

I shoot in RAW as it’s a “lossless” format and I don’t want the camera deciding what information to throw away when making my final images. If images are over-exposed (an example of an image of a wedding dress with bright highlights), the information in the highlights is lost and can’t be brought back.

The Photoshop layers palate on right. I’ve revealed the ‘Blur’ layer below. I’ll use the Erase tool to reveal areas I want softened around her face.

Here I’ve made several layers in Photoshop each showing a version and saved it as a PSD file. A PSD files (vs a jpeg or TIFF)  keeps all your layers without compressing if you want to go back and make changes to the individual layers. Think of layers as like transparent acetate with the top layer showing first. In order to see the other layers underneath, I use the Eraser tool to reveal what’s underneath the next layer. Sometimes I use it at just 30% to reveal some but keep some of the original layer information. In this case, I made a copy of the original image and put into a new layer. I used Filter–Blur–Surface blur at about 9% intensity. I use my Eraser tool to go over skin imperfections starting at 30% with the opacity as I can always go over the area to reveal more of the Blur layer. Once I’m happy with the look, I then merge the layers to make a new image which forms a new layer. From there I use the Spot Healing brush to go over finer lines and get skin tone more even (I like to think of it as magic makeup.) I also use the Sharpen Pen tool to sharpen and define areas I want to pop, starting first at  10% intensity. In this case, her eyes and henna tattoo. To make certain areas pop with color, I use the Polygonal lasso tool over her eyes to create a defined section I want to work within, then go to menu bar: Adjustments–hue/saturation. I want her blue eyes to be a little bluer as it’s in her jewelry and will be part of the background later. I bring up just the blue channel 25% until I’m happy with it. Her eyes were a little bloodshot (who can sleep the night before your wedding?), so I desaturated the reds by 15%. Then I selected her mouth and created a lip color that was closer to the red color in her hair and flowers to make them pop. I used the Replace Color in the Adjustments and played with hue and saturation. I use the Dodge tool over the face at 10% in Highlight mode to give the illusion I used a fill light on her face (It was an overcast day which gives a very flat look to subjects.)

After removing the background, I use the Eraser tool to show the blue layer below. Then I flatten the layers and flip the image.

Next was the trickiest part. I want to make the background a solid color as she’s going to be on the cover of The Knot magazine. I use the Polygonal Laso tool and slowly go over her outline. I leave some space around her hair as I’m going to use the Magic Wand tool later to get those pesky little hairs and have the solid background behind them. I make a new layer with just the cutout of her and a blank layer behind her. Once I get that done, I decide on a background color. I like the blue in her earrings  so I use my Eyedropper tool to get a sample, then fill the background with that color. The text for the magazine seems to flow better on the right side, so I flip the image in Edit–Transform–Flip. I now make a new layer for the text I want to add. I can’t find the font that The Knot used to re-create it’s logo, so I find it online and transform the scale larger (this is why it’s “pixelated”), cut out the background and change the color to white. I put the text layer behind the bride to have it partially obscured. Then a make a new text layer to be able to position my other text independently  I choose a purple color that’s color to her hair accent and bouquet and it’s readable over the blue background.

The Knot logo is placed under the layer of the bride. I’ve also cropped to magazine format.

Now that you know the retouching that goes into making a final image, don’t believe what you see is reality when gazing at the magazines in the supermarket checkout isle. Hollywood and the media want to see the “ideal”- a size 2 cartoon image of a woman with no wrinkles, zits or cellulite. Remember this when you look at a magazine cover and the retouching that goes into it. You are looking at a representation, not the person behind the lens. Your “flaws” make you a beautiful real person!

Happy Snapping and Photoshopping!

Camera used: Canon 5D Mark 2

Lens: Canon 80mm shot at 1.2, ISO 200

Photographer: Melissa Mermin


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