Using Photoshop to Enhance
I have received a lot of personal emails over the last couple of weeks from readers wanting to pick my brain on my use of photoshop. I think the most common question has been is if I decide before I even shoot how I will want the images to eventually look like and the steps I take to get from prepping a shoot to the final result. I can begin by reassuring everyone that I absolutely consider how the final images will look before I ever fire off a single frame. It is absolutely essential to have an idea of how you want your images to look so you can take that into consideration on how you will shoot. Will you need a lot of room around the subject to drop in walls or objects? Are you going in and doing major special effects on the model? Are you going to trick out the color and distort angles?
There is an old saying that if you can’t print, you can’t shoot. The point trying to be made in that is that as a photographer, your final images are what you aim for in everything you prepare for in a shoot, from lighting to location to casting. If I want a very hip, edgy, clean, modern feel to my photos, using very hip, edgy contemporary clothes, I’m not going to shoot a girl with long flowing wavy hair, put flowers in the hair and shoot her outdoors in a rose garden. I’m going to hire edgy models who wear the edgy clothes great and put them in a high key lighting set up, whether that’s a studio or a location and I’m going to consider what kind of work I will be doing in post for the final result. Am I going to turn it black and white or am I going to give it a cross-process effect? If I do a lot of tricky stuff to it, I need to consider the lighting in my shoot. I can’t shoot too high key because I will plan to do a lot of curves in post and I don’t want to blow out my white balance.
I do all my own image processing but I don’t do all my photoshop. I have two very competent people who do my retouching. One is a very dear friend who I’ve known for ages who is based in New York City named Richard Ray Ruiz. His website is: www.richardrayruiz.com Richard knows me very well. He has worked with me on numerous shoots as an assistant, so he knows how I shoot and what my eye basically looks for. There isn’t much guess work with each other. Richard and I can have a conversation on the phone, I can show him a few images or ideas by cruising some websites together or I can email him some broad ideas and we can discuss them over the phone. Then he goes and does what I asked for. The one thing you need to always remember is that whoever you get to retouch for you has to stick to your guidelines, not the other way around. I mean, obviously they have the skills and know-how on techniques and certainly may help steer you in a better direction than you originally were going in. And their feedback is essential. But make sure you work together on your shoot and that your retouch artist doesn’t take over “too” much. I suppose that’s why I like working with Richard. We know each other so well and his work ethic is impeccable, as are his photoshop skills. He never assumes how I want something to look. If he has a question, he stops and asks me. We send images through an FTP server over the internet and we will even use yahoo messenger for single images from time to time. I like his work because it’s clean and meticulous. And he keeps the integrity of the image quality intact. Some post work will destroy the pixels if you don’t know what you’re doing or you hire someone else who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
The other person I use for my retouching is my husband. That’s right, I have a in-house retouch artist! And he knows I’ll never divorce him because of it! Just kidding! He’s also very good and thorough, keeping the image intact without destroying the pixels. It’s one thing if you’re going to throw your images up on the web at 72dpi. It’s another thing when those images are going to print! That’s when you need to keep as much on the image as possible. My husband doesn’t have a website and doesn’t do this for a living as Richard Ray Ruiz does. You should definitely check Richard’s work out. I can’t say enough great things about him or his work!
I’m showing the above image for a reason. Obviously, this enormous flower wasn’t growing in the studio where I shot this image. This image is part of an 8 page editorial for Spring fashion. The fashion editor/art director wanted to incorporate huge photoshopped flowers into the image. So I had to keep that in mind when I was shooting by allowing white space behind the model to drop in the flower. I also hand chose the flower (I went down to the flower mart to research the kinds of flowers that were available and the colors I could work with). I spoke with the stylist and sent her pictures of the flowers I had found at the flower mart so she had some idea of colors and textures to compliment the clothing we were going to use. For this shot, I went with this long elegant light purple flower that wasn’t too withering or too transparent as it had to “compete” with such a strong evening gown but it also needed to hold up next to it. Since it was for the Spring issue, I had to go with more Spring colors as oppose to darker reds and darker purples. All of these elements had to be kept in mind in order to get the end results that I wanted ( and that the magazine and the client called for ).
Again, I can’t emphasize this
enough about retouching:
Using certain plug-ins in photoshop, such as skin softeners and filter blurs to reduce blemishes and facial problems, WILL DESTROY PIXELS! A lot of Photoshop blogs and tutorials will show you this short cut technique on the internet. Sure it’s fine for a 300×500 pixel image on a website, but if you are planning on printing your images , ie. magazines, your porfolio, or even larger formats, you do not want to use these techniques. Please learn the appropriate techniques, take a photoshop course for photography or look on lynda.com which has some very good video tutorials relating to photography and photoshop. But do watch out for graphic designer blogs pretending to be photoshop experts showing you how to retouch images. Or find an appropriate and competent Photographic Retouch Artist that can accomplish the job for you. Sometimes you can find young students who are looking to build images for their portfolios as well.
Also, another very important tip for retouching is color correction. You need to make sure your monitor is calibrated correctly. Look into buying a Pantone Huey, (imporant for photographers even if they don’t want to retouch). Another step is making sure your global settings and color profiles are correct in photoshop (look up “color profiles” on google). These are 3 steps to ensure your workflow and the images you produce are presented at the best quality possible. Stay tuned because there will be many more references and resources that I will go much more in depth with in future blogs and videos.
One final thing that I will leave you with is that I insist that most “flaws” that would otherwise be categorized as “fix it in photoshop” should be avoided as much as possible. I’m talking about less than flawless skin and clothing wrinkles, etc. These two elements alone can save you hours of time in post by hiring models with really great skin and working with stylists who steam and iron the clothes before they are shot and keeping an eye on the garments while they are being shot!