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Photographer Paul Smith
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Photographer Paul Smith

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Saturday, February 4, 2012
I look at life as retouching. Makeup, clothes are just an accessorization of your being, they are just a transformation of what you want to look like. Pascal Dangin
Thursday, February 2, 2012 Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This image comes from photographer Anastasia Page.  Thank you so much to Anastasia for letting me work with her on this image.  I saw a lot of potential in this image and knew that with some post-production that I could make it an even stronger image.  

The subject of this photo is the protester standing in the foreground holding up the sign.  Parts of him and the sign experienced some motion blur, and while I liked seeing it on some areas of him (like on his feet) to show that he was moving, I didn’t like seeing that blur effect the letters in the sign that he was holding.  
To make the letters on the sign appear to be without motion blur, I decided to start from scratch with the sign.  First I made a new layer and cleared off the letters (both blurry and clear) so I ended up with our protester holding up a blank sign.  To clear off the sign I mostly stuck with the healing brush, continually sampling from the clean parts of the sign.  I made sure to be aware of the folds and imperfections around the edges of the sign and continue them on as I did my cleanup.  
Once I had my blank sign on one layer, I started to recreate the letters.  I hid my cleanup layer so I could see the letters again and then used the pen tool to make a path around the letters.  On the top of the sign I had to take a number of liberties in pathing out the edges of the letters because they were so blurred that I couldn’t see where they ended.  I made sure to keep the letters as wildly organic shapes and unique (meaning I made each appearance of the letter ‘I’ look different from each other) to make them to appear as close to they would have been written as possible.  
Once I had a path for the writing, I made it into a selection and added a feather of .5 pixels.  I filled the selection with black and tweaked the opacity until it about matched the tones of the original clearest letters.  That ended up being 65% opacity for the letters layer.  Then I created a layer mask for my letters layer and using a large soft brush loaded with black I painted away at some of the edges of the letters. I painted away at the edge of the sign where the streetlight peaks out from behind it because naturally the sign would lose some of its clarity there.  My goal here was just to create some variation in the tones of the letters to make it look less flat and even.  
With the sign finished, I was able to work on tone and contrast.  The areas that I focused most of my time on were: the texture in the pavement directly behind the subject, the shadows the subject cast, and the light falling on the subject.  
For the pavement I saw a lot of intricate texture when I zoomed in to at least 200%.  Viewed at full screen though, that texture became lost.  To bring it back and pop out some of those specks of texture I made a selective color adjustment layer masked off to that area of the image.  In selective color, I chose the whites and brought the black slider significantly down to about -85.  This took the specks of highlights out of an area of midtones and brightened them all.  Those bits of highlight were interspersed enough to bring out a nice mix of texture to that area. 
To work on the light on the subject and his shadows I used a layer filled with 50% gray and set to soft light.  I used a brush loaded with either black or white at around 5% to burn and dodge.  When I painted white on an area (like the left side of the subject’s face) it would dodge that area, making it brighter, and painting with black makes it darker.  With this technique I was able to selectively increase the contrast in very small areas.  Generally I would burn areas of shadow (the dark side of the wrinkles in his clothes, the shadows on the ground) and I would dodge areas of highlight (the bright side of wrinkles in his clothes, the side of his face where the light falls, the pavement in between the shadows.)  This can be a long process, it is important to often hide and show the dodge/burn layer to make sure you are going in the right direction.  If you make mistakes to this layer, you can always just paint with 50% gray to take away your brush strokes that you don’t like.  Once I was done with that, I gave that layer a Gaussian blur of 1 pixel to soften my brush strokes a bit.  
The success in a black and white image most often comes from proper contrast.  With the color information to attract attention, the variations in tones become much more important and noticeable.  Be cautious about pushing contrast too far and losing detail in important places, but still, don’t be afraid to push.  Keeping in mind the intent of the image, find its tonal limits and teeter on them.
View Shannon Page’s work at
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rebuilding and Focusing with Light.

This image comes from freelance photographer and fellow Columbia College Chicago graduate Kelley Ryan.  Thanks for coming to me with this image Kelley. 

The initial issue with this image was the obvious reflection of the photographer in the center of the frame (which shows up a bit faint in this jpg rendering.)  I’ve talked before about issues that photographers have with their images that could have been solved in camera, saving time in post-production.  This image doesn’t fit into that group as no amount of polarization could hide the reflection because it was taken head on with the reflective surface.

Into Photoshop we go.

This is one of those lucky cases where all of the pixels needed to solve a problem in an image, are right next to the problem itself.  Meaning.  When I sectioned off the problem area, we have four small sections to work on where Kelley’s reflection appears.  We have from top to bottom: bus window, remainder of the bus, street, and the woman in red.  Stealing from the window to the problem area’s left, I was able to clear up the top two sections by lassoing an area and moving it over to the right to cover up Kelley, and then creating a mask to hide the transitions from this new borrowed section on top with the original problem area behind it.  Fortunately the two sections below this were solved using the same process, just making sure to continue the lines in the bus and on the street and connecting them up naturally with the original image behind it. 

Now to the woman in red.  Here I used nearly the same process, but with a twist.  Instead of being able to just copy from an area nearby and place it atop the problem area with some blending, I also had to horizontally flip it.  When shot from this angle with people flat to the camera, people end being virtually symmetrical.  That meant that I could take the left side of the woman’s coat and also make it her right side.  The important thing to keep in mind when doing this is to add variations.  Just a few added wrinkles cut out (or moved around with a subtle liquify tool) that are different from the original make this edit convincing. 

There’s that problem solved.  Now for some fun with light. 

What I noticed about the overall image were the bright edges of the image.  When working on an image I often start by zooming in to about 200% and panning around the image to see what I’m working with.  In the case of this image, I found a lot of really nice details around the edges when I zoomed in that were lost when zoomed out and looking at the whole image.  On the top of the bus stop you can see some light streaks on rain zipping past the dark roof of the bus stop, and on the bottom of the frame there is a really beautiful texture in the pavement that also gets lost. 

The simple solution to this is to darken these areas.  Curves layer with a mask so it only effects the edges of our image and there it is.  Bam.  This helps out doubly, for as well as burning in those previously lost details, it also brings our attention closer to the center of the image where our subjects are.  Our eye is always drawn to the brightest areas and areas of the highest contrast in tones, (this is true whether we are looking at a photograph, or walking down the street seeing the scene for ourselves.)  So in Photoshop we often make our subject dominant in an image by darkening the lesser important areas of the image and increasing the contrast our the main subject of the image, our heroes if you will. 

In post-production, our goal is to direct the attention of an image’s viewer to exactly where we want it to go.  In an image like this where there are so many elements, it can be a challenge but with selective increase in contrast and darkening, it can be easily achieved. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lunchroom Organization.

This composite comes from photographer Dave Rentauskas from a shoot he did for Time Out Chicago Kids for a two page spread on fall fashion for kids. I have worked with Dave on a few projects now dealing with varying degrees of compositing. 

Ideally it is always best for a retoucher to be on-set when the shoot is happening that they will end up putting together.  This allows you to go through all of the captured elements to make sure that every necessary piece is there.  It’s much better to spend your afternoon at the shoot just an insurance that everything needed was shot, than to have to tell the photographer that something necessary is missing.  Since it isn’t always possible to be there while it is being shot it is good to work with photographers that are as meticulous as I would be if I was there.  Dave gave me over 30 images to pull from to put this composite together.  Whether you are a photographer or a retoucher or someone who does both, always have much more than enough to pull from to put the final shot together.  Your retoucher will thank you and you will avoid your own headaches and *gasp* reshoots. 

A year ago if I would have composited this same image I could have gotten really close to this result.  The difference that I have really drilled into myself over this last year is organizing what I am doing while I am doing it.  A composite with this many elements makes it easy to get ahead of yourself and do things the easy way instead of the way that is the easiest to work with later. 

Here’s an example: 

Every image was shot from a tripoded camera at the same focal length, same aperture, shutter speed, available light, same everything.  The only thing changing was what was in the frame.  The meatballs that you see flying all over this image were pulled from a few different shots. I just placed each of those shots ontop of my working composite and picked some choice meatballs and masked them in while masking the rest of the image out.  Once it came time to some final tweaks on the placement of some of the meatballs I found myself stepping on my own feet.  It is usually best when you make a change to an image near its completion to look through your layers and find the bottom most layer where you can make that change instead of just making your change on top.  It’s easy to just copy everything to the top and make your change, but if you ever need work on something below that, it can be impossible. 

Just like shooting more than enough will save you headaches later, organizing as you go will do the same.  If you save organizing your layers until after your composite is complete, then you will find yourself stuck, or doing a lot of your work over.

View Dave’s work @