The lovely Harriett Langley – with a 2021 retouch
Harriett Langley – New Retouch for 2021
Pixel Peepers’ Notes & Newbie Hints & Tips:
Sony A7R II FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6OSS @ 65mm / 60th sec f5.6 ISO 200 – Handheld
Above is a lovely image of Harriett Langley (Harry). I shot it some time ago when I was new to Sony gear. It was taken of a borrowed Sony A7R Mk II, with a kit lens. It’s quite heavily cropped, like a lot of my images.
This weekend I had a little time on my hands, so I thought I’d revisit my retouch on this image.
This time, I have also posted the original file SOOC, without any grading or retouching. You can see it below with a “before and after slider”, so that Newbies can see what I have done in this case. If you would like to comment on, or discuss any of the techniques leave a comment below.
FYI: I have four hours retouching into the image, thus, this is a “quick retouch”. Retouching can be a fulfilling part of the process, but it’s never a quick process.
If you are retouching for yourself my advice is to take your time. Understand that the time spent can be equal to, or greater than the time you put in to shooting the image.
When you are producing work for yourself there’s no constraint on the budget, as there isn’t a budget!
Put yourself in the place of the most demanding client and see what you can achieve…
At some point I will upload a YouTube tutorial on how I grade and retouch images, but for the time being I hope you enjoy using the slider below.
If you would like to see more images of Harry you can view them in her folio here
Drag the slider left and right to see the before and after (original and retouched)
I have detailed the steps to achieve the final image below…
- RAW Grading – The image is from a .ARW RAW File and therefore it has ample opportunity for grading, during the import process in Adobe Photoshop. (There are many other RAW Processing Development Packages that you may prefer, but as a Pro I use the industry standard. To be honest it’s not that I prefer it, or that I think it’s best, it’s simply because I have been using it since forever, and the accumulated knowledge I have built up would go to waste if I used something else. During the grading process I used the basic sliders in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to adjust the image contrast. We now have an incredible flexibility using these sliders. The procedure I use is to adjust the “highlights” and “shadows” sliders across the whole image. This means that I can control over and underexposed areas of the image. You may be surprised how much you can push and pull this process. However, the pro tip here is to push and pull as far as you dare, and then back off a little (at both ends). Then you can adjust the “blacks” and the “whites”. This will only adjust the “very dark” and “very light” areas. Practicing the use of these four sliders will produce amazing “control”.
If you shot too dark do this. If you shot too light do this. After a while you begin to realise that every image should be treated in this way. Whilst getting the lighting “in camera” is truly to be desired, and preferred, this should be used to refine the lighting especially in relation to contrast for every image.
- Retouch – The retouch is “basic”, but extensive, and time consuming. I have removed lots of flakes of make up around the eyes and lots of stray hairs around her head. This has been achieved with pixel copying. I reduced the shadows around the eyes and nose. I removed a spot and some stray hairs on Harry’s forehead. I increased the saturation of her pupils and lightened the whites of here eyes. I added some eye-liner where this had smeared, and added some purple eye shadow to improve the make up a little. All of this was achieved by brushing colour into the area above her eyes at 2% and building up the opacity until it matched the make up applied by Sam Day, the make up artist. I enhanced the lashes top and bottom. I enhanced the glossy lips and altered the colour of the lipstick using the “Replace Colour” filter in Photoshop. I masked the hand and matched the hand colour. For some reason the hand was too magenta in the original? I did this by selecting the area around the hand and then applying a photo filter in PS. Once it was matched I simply brushed away the excess so that it blended.
I added a focus mask to soften the bottom of the image. This draws focus up to the head and and bust. This technique is easy once you’ve tried it a few times
I lightened the highlights on the pearls to make them pop a little.
Once the retouch is complete I then move on to the last stage…
- Frequency Separation – I separated the colour from the texture in Photoshop layers and softened the colour layer. This reduces variations in the skin tone and, or make up without affecting the definition of the image texture. I added a Brush Through Layer Mask and brushed back the unsoftened image detail so that the “soft” appearance is acceptable and controlled. Sound complicated, but once again when you have done it a few times, you’ll never look back.
By doing it this way I am only softening the skin colour, not the skin detail. This is a pro technique and one that is worth investigating.
From a commercial point of view this is easier to sell to the client. If I didn’t do this clients may complain that the image was too soft. Using this technique allows me to avoid cutting masks. There’s generally no reason to create specific, accurate masks like this when undertaking beauty retouching. I have added a screen grab of the Photoshop mask to show you that it doesn’t have to be accurate to produce professional results. Check out the before and after image and tell me you can see where this mask is and where it’s not…
Postscript: If I’ve forgotten anything thig else you can see it by using the before and after image below… Let me know
Final Notes On Ethical Retouching: For the last couple of years I have adopted a set of self imposed “red lines” when retouching images of people, and let’s face it, this often means women.
All of the techniques that I use are “Industry Standard”. They are being used by publications and advertising agencies worldwide. For the last 10 years or so there has been a gradual rejection of retouching people, and this rejection has been wide and scatter gunned at best. Objections about retouching usually have a component that includes unrealistic looks for young girls, etc and of course the industry has form with this with it’s misguided “Heroin Chic” period and penchant for super slim models.
None of the retouching that I undertake includes any “unethical” techniques, like compressing the aspect ratio of the image, sculpting chins and tummies, bust enlargement/reduction and the rest of the usual clichés. I only use techniques that generally improve the lighting, make up and “on the day” slin blemishes.
What are “on the day” skin blemishes?
If the model turns up with a zit on her forehead, or a bruise on her leg, that is an incidental that they may not have in a day or two, and should be removed to improved the image. If the make up has smeared it should be corrected and improved. If the lighting emphasises wrinkles on the hand I will soften it. All of these techniques simply improve “My Photography”, “My Lighting”, “The Make Up”, “The Wardrobe” and all of these things make the model and the image look better.
Railing against these techniques is like asking women who choose to wear make up to “stop wearing make up” when they leave the house in the morning… Or even better, let’s see you ask a woman who chooses “not to wear make up” to go home and put some make on before attending work. Good luck with either of those. Let me know how it goes?
I have found that most objections to retouching come from ill informed people who have never worked in a collaborative team, let alone the creative arts
By definition the focus is on model. My “work” includes their “look”. That’s always been the deal since I started in 1978. Professional Photography, as opposed to commercial or social photography has always been a creative collaboration.
“Brush Through Layer Mask” to sell the soft skin without losing image detail.
Note regarding file sizes: I note on a lot of the Sony Facebook Groups that lots of people offer advice to Newbies about file sizes. There’s lots of discussion about why you should buy one model over another. This discussion often ends up with the camera’s file size being the decided factor (not always, but often). I wanted to point out to Newbies that when you are considering retouching images as part of your workflow (and you should be!) the file size of the camera becomes a moot point very quickly. From a professional point of view a large file is always more desirable. If budget is not an issue get the camera with the largest sensor array. However, even the A7III has an amazing sensor with enough pixels to produce pro work. Don’t be captured by this choice. Use what you can afford.
Adobe et al have long been touting non destructive techiniques, using layers when retouching, and of course, this is absolutely the way to go, but when using Photoshop in this way the files sizes will grow exponentially. Take this .PSD image file of Harry…
“13 Layers and 2 Masks add up to a very large file size
“File Properties show the file size is 392 Mb
This kinda puts things into perspective regarding file size. If you are worrying about this, work through what one retouched image will do to your storage space… Remember, this is from a cropped file too!
.PSD= 392Mb + the Original .ARW=83Mb + JPG ref file = 18Mb and let’s say + JPG exported for Facebook = 1.2Mb. That’s nearly 500Mb for one image.
Digital gives you flexibility and power, but it also requires storage space, and lots of it.
Yes, if you have an “R” camera, you’ll need more space, buy “every” digital camera will need lots of space.
I hope this information is useful to some newbies and maybe a few old snappers too.
Back in the day I spent years learning this stuff and these techniques.
I used to work in a retouching house in London. This was before Adobe released Photoshop. This type of retouching was achieved on huge retouching stations like Quantel Paintbox and Mamba Workstations. Nowadays Photoshop et al are so much more powerful. It’s amazing to have witnessed it for myself…
If you have any comments or questions please leave them below…