So here it is…what you’ve all been waiting for; no hoax, no blurring, no quick, easy, fast, one-action techniques from your friends at ThePhotoshopGuru .com. Just you sitting in your chair, or on your couch, or in your bed, (the way I like to do it) with your eyes. Let me introduce myself… My name is David Skyler, and if you haven’t heard by now I’m the full time in-house retouch artist/graphic designer/all around tech-geek for Melissa Rodwell and of course her loving husband and business partner. Here are some retouching tips that might lead you in the right direction and help you make your fashion photographs much stronger.
Tip #1 : Learn to Squint, Tilt your head, and TRAIN YOUR EYE.
Do the small details count? The answer is…ENORMOUSLY! Have you ever heard of the “Butterfly Affect“? This is serious, people. No joke. Where would you be right now if that plane you’re sitting in had a tiny screw stuck in its turbine?
The question you need to ask yourself is this: why does a simple website, with no large outer-glows, fast moving effects, or swirly illustrations move you and grab your attention? Let’s start with the 3 primary colors. The designer decided to use these specifically to keep your eyes circling towards the center of what he/she wants you to read. The font matches the logo so well, that they almost move as one. Or how about the navigation that is placed at exactly the right place (x and y values), to keep you navigating through the site? So, I ask you again, do the small details count?
Do this experiment for me. Open up any 1 of the 10,000 images you have on your computer right now. HOLD ON! DON’T OPEN THE ALL-IN-ONE PLUG-INS FILTER JUST YET!!! Now I want you to very carefully, take a moment to notice what is distracting you from this image. When you squint your eyes, tilt your head, zoom-in and out, what details/elements are DISTRACTING you from experiencing the full effect of this image? Is it the white sparkly spots on the background? The extra set of Lawn Mower Hair flying over her lip? Dirt from the lens that appears on the model’s shirt? Or the strange hue of green emanating off her arm zoomed in at 200%, also known as moiré (an effect that only digital cameras have on images, by trying to recreate a color that doesn’t exist in its spectrum)? Here is an image I have just randomly pulled up and have circled ALL of the spots on the body that are a distraction to me.
A lot eh? Maybe next time it will make you think twice before opening those Amazing Bill and Ted Excellent Adventure Filters. My technique with retouching is to START AT THE GRASS ROOTS LEVEL. Learn how to notice the distractions because removing these alone will vastly improve your image. This is always my first step when retouching an image, and if you want to be good, which you do because you’ve gotten this far with my sarcastic ass, it should be yours too.
*Constantly “zooming-in and out” is also a very important tip, as sometimes being so close, or so far away from an image for long periods of time can start to hinder your eye and the way you see an image, so it is important to remember this tip:
Every 3-5 minutes you should have zoomed-in and out on an image to view it from:
and large (100%).
Tip #2 : Using SKIN HEALING FILTERS, ACTIONS, EVIL “I DESTROY PIXELS” TOOLS = BAD – Make sure the final product looks as amazing on PAPER as it does online.
Seriously guys, how many people out there do you think have the SAME EXACT photoshop filters/actions as you do, use the same exact things you do, with the same kinds of cameras and the same kind of lighting? Look at the download numbers, they don’t lie. In fact, I won’t lie to you and tell you that, yes it will take more time, but it will ultimately pay off for you in the long run. The long run meaning, when you want to get your images off a 600 pixel size backlit screen and onto a piece of REAL PAPER. Simply put, blurred pixels do not look good printed. In my opinion, HDR 2001 space oddity color hues don’t look good printed, nor do I think you will find many REAL art directors who are going to hire you for a fashion campaign who don’t agree. They are old-school, the darkroom is old-school, dodge and burn is old-school, real colors that work on real PAPER is OLD SCHOOL. Photoshop was created as a digital darkroom; it has all the tools you will ever need. Yes, it does have a healing brush and it’s amazing, if you use it correctly. But don’t make your brush size bigger than 10 pixels and try to swipe over half an arm in 2 seconds. Make your brush as big as the spot, and if the spot is too big, well guess what, there are other tools for that. It’s important to use each tool for the purpose it was created, everything you need is there!
GOOD: Regular Skin Texture
BAD (for fashion): *Nik Color Efex Skin Softener*
When people ask me on this blog how shots are retouched and what kind of post-production is done, the answer I give them is “Try your best not to use automated tools, such as skin softeners”. What these tools are basically doing is indiscriminately using algorithms that blur pixels and take away the sharpness and texture of an image. Skin and clothing texture are some of the most important parts of making your images stand out when printed, as the printer is reading 300 dots per inch rather than 300 of the same blurred dots per inch. This is not to say the skin shouldn’t look flawless. Fashion, for the most part, (unless you are working on males) is pretty flawless, but it takes a lot more time than you would think. If your images are taking anything less than 4 hours to finish (especially if you’re just starting out), there is something wrong. In the beginning, 1 image would take 2 days for me to finish. Now, because I am a lot more aware of the areas I need to attack and the structure of my workflow, it will only take me around 4 hours to complete an image.
A small example of my layer setup:
1. Original Layer
2. Healing Layer (Includes, blemishes, pimples, background spots, hair fly-aways etc.)
3. Dodge and Burn Layer (explained in later tutorials)
4. Liquify Layer (this should always be your last layer, because all of the hard work you’ve done beforehand can always be saved without distorting the image first.)
5. Color Correction Smart Objects (you can begin adjusting color from the beginning, as this will make for easier retouching)
This is really a good idea of what I do when retouching it is pretty much all my steps; and I usually end up with 4 layers and my color adjustments.
Tip #3 : COLOR + REAL PEOPLE = REAL COLOR!
I touched on this a little bit in the last tip, using certain HDR Filters, Bleach Bypass Effects, etc. to make your image look “Cool” is fine and dandy and all. Sometimes it turns out great, but I have to say, “you’re in the WRONG industry”. If you like to tweak your images this way, I recommend becoming a sports, art, car, or product photographer. There’s nothing wrong with it and I’m not trying to dismiss these techniques… but the fact of the matter is, Fashion and Beauty photos in particular have very natural skin tones. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen images that are OVERLY SATURATED, have too much RED, GREEN, or ORANGE, or are just so over the top, there’s too much of EVERYTHING, or not enough of ANYTHING.
When working with color and trying to keep a natural quality to skin tone, try to remember the model in real life; what their skin tones were, etc. Sounds crazy, but try to imagine them right in front of you; this is always the best technique. It takes a very trained eye to learn color, it has taken me years of trial and error, to finally realize how to balance it and see it. It should be done in very small increments. If you feel there is too much red, don’t go to your hue/sat and try to take out 20% red. Take out 3% red and see how it feels to you, maybe add or remove some blue, to create more yellow. It’s NOT always just about taking out 1 thing, because you are not JUST taking out 1 color, you are decreasing a whole spectrum of colors, just like mixing paints, you have to mix and match to find the perfect balance. Sure, there are plenty of other color tones used in fashion, but at a very minimal increment. That’s why it’s important to balance your colors out first and go from there.
A lot of times, you will see images that have a lot of desaturation in the skin tone, making them look “pale”. This is a very common tone, but it’s based on a very small increment of desaturation on many levels and very “selectively”. I say selective, because of course there are going to be times where the skin tone looks perfect, but the dress looks too green or not “prominent” enough. It’s okay to go in and selectively “pop” the dress, but make sure you do this while keeping in mind the overall tone of the image, so it doesn’t pop out at you like IMAX 3D.
On other images, you will sometimes see a “gold skintone” or very shiny colors, (usually used in advertising campaigns). Although the colors are a “bit over saturated” usually these models have been made to look this way even before post with the type of make-up, (spray-on-shine), the type of lighting, and the atmosphere and spectrum of colors used in the shot, as well as camera settings. Trying to tweak a shot that has not been already pre-arranged for this kind of color tone is a lot harder to do.
Although many things can be “added/fixed in post”, it’s important to keep in mind:
1. If the shot really needs it.
2. If the clothing, skin tone, and background compliment it.
3. If you are not destroying the quality of shot while tweaking it.
Okay, well that’s it. You’re left to your own devices now to go out there and enhance the original moments you have captured on camera and translate it to the ever-growing digital world. Remember, there are 101 ways to do just about everything, so you don’t have to follow my word like it’s god’s, although I’d be happy to hear if you have done so with success : )