Portrait Photography Editing Study

The camera I currently own is a Canon EOS Rebel T5i with a 18–55mm lens.

Went out to do some local portrait shooting for a friend who wanted some nice photos and this was one of my favorites.

Knowing that I wanted to shoot portrait-style photos was helpful though because it gave me some focus on what types of shooting techniques might come in handy for complimenting my model such as keeping a lower aperture to keep backgrounds blurry allowing all focus remain on my model.

Here’s one video with some useful portraiture photography tips:

I don’t do too much photography so needed some good practice re-familiarizing myself with basic aperture, shutter speed, and and ISO settings so many of my photos didn’t come out with optimal settings when I was shooting in manual mode. I make sure to shoot in camera RAW format to make sure that I capture as much editable data as I can.

Here’s the same photo as it looked right out of the camera.

As you can see it’s overexposed and has a few focus issues right off the bat.

Again luckily as I shot in RAW I can open this up with Camera Raw Filter and bring back data that’s been stored in the overexposed parts of the photograph as long as the pixels have not reached pure 255 255 255 white or 0 0 0 black for underexposed areas and shadows. Camera Raw Filter also has lots of other great benefits as well such as adjusting other settings such as your white balance, sharpness and clarity.

If you open your raw photo into Camera Raw Filter and you’re ready to bring it into Photoshop you can hold down shift to change the Open Image button on the bottom right to Open Object. Essentially this turns your photo into a smart object prior to adding it into photoshop and the layer can be double clicked to easily access and adjust settings from your Camera Raw Filter.

If you don’t do this however it’s fine, at any point in photoshop you can convert an image to a smart object and then add a Camera Raw Filter to it by hitting CTRL[Command] & Shift + A or going to Filter -> Camera Raw Filter.

I adjusted some exposure and color settings from the raw photo as well as making sure to sharpen the eyes just a tad. If your portrait doesn’t have sharp eyes it’s essentially a lot less of a useful shot. Above all else you want eyes to be sharp and in focus.

From there I knew I needed to use some color correcting techniques. One fundamental I neglected at the time of the shoot was using a ColorChecker Card in order to more efficiently color correct my photos in post later on.

Here’s a great video explaining the uses and benefit of exposure and color tweaking with one of these ColorChecker Cards!

Another super useful tip I stumbled across from an amazing channel by Jimmy McIntyre is to find the white point, black point, and gray point of a photo and using curves to better extract and separate colors from other light or atmospheric sources having an influence in your shot.

After color correcting I asked around and got feedback on my color corrections and atmospheric lighting and got a cluster of four different subtle color-changed looks.

People and myself enjoyed the warmth of the bottom right photo but others enjoyed the top left because certain colors like the shirt blended in less. A major critique was while the warmth of the bottom right photo was nice, nothing was really making my model stand out.

I ended up masking out each of my elements I wanted control over such as the tree in the foreground, the background, the shirt and the rest of my model and tried some mixing of the four color-altered shots.

Initially I thought to keep the background warm and the model cooler which immediately was a mistake as it made the model look less alive.

I then tried the reversal, playing with pitting a warmer version of my model against a more neutral-toned background and in one version leaving the tree in the foreground warm(left) while keeping it cool(right).

In the end the consensus was that the middle fully warm version was still the best, as it was the most cohesive color wise. There had to be another step in making the model stand out. That’s when I realized my depth of field was not pushed as much as I wanted it to be.

While I achieved some depth of field in the initial shot I again went into post to make the background a bit more out of focus and pushed the tree in the foreground a bit less in focus by a hair as well. It helped but it was subtle and inaccurate. Unless you have a camera or LYTRO technology to adjust DOF properly after a photo is taken the best you can rely on is blurs and isolating by objects at different distances in the foreground, midground and background.

My subject still wasn’t popping so me and some other friends decided maybe the shirt color blended in too much with the rest of the image and it might help to change the overall hue to a more warmer tone. After doing a quick color study on five additional warmed and slightly desaturated colors I decided on the purple top left version. Some really enjoyed the red but I thought it was too much of a lumberjack look and didn’t compliment the pinkness in my models skin tones.

There were then slight touchups to stray hairs and cuts as well as a slight contrast adjustment at the end to get to the final result. Overall the image came a long way for my first edit of a photo I wasn’t too sure I’d be able to save to begin with. Lots to improve on for sure, but so much was learned in this! If there was anything final I would further do with this image it would be to adjust the crop. Overlaying third line grids and spirals are good at helping aid composition and crop adjustments in post but for the sake of this exercise I left it be in this instance.

I’ve learned a lot of useful things in this exercise, here’s a list for me to improve on in the future.

– Make sure to study model pre-shoot making sure you understand what lights and angles best compliment the features and skin tones you’ll be shooting for.

– Have a better grasp on getting your exposures right *before* post. While shooting in RAW is a great step it also saves lots of time and headaches to get the shot right pre-postwork. You can still lose data in pixels that reach those pure while, and pure black values.

– Experiment with smaller camera lenses. Lots of online resources had lots of great things to say about 85mm-200mm lenses to help with different facial features.

– On a sunny day especially, go out and buy a camera lens hood to make sure you avoid any lens flares unless you’re into that kind of thing.

– Also go out and make sure you buy a ColorChecker Card and make sure to take photographs with it on site to save lots of hassle later on.

– Try harder to get that shot focused correctly on the subject so they’re nice and crisp.

– Watch those tangents!!! The chin and edge of the tree perfectly touching is something to avoid if possible. You don’t want those points of tension that I captured in my example.

– Play music your subject likes or start just having good conversation. Do things rather than just waiting there pointing the camera at your model expecting them to react. Give them feedback about things you might like them to try and try a bunch of different things! Make it as natural and comfortable for your model as you can.

– For a first ever photoshoot and edit I learned a lot. Keep practicing, and have great people to continuously look at your work and give feedback. Thanks a ton all those who did! 😉 Also make sure during your edits constantly to look back at your original and make sure you’re getting the most out of your edits.

Thanks for reading and hope you might have learned something too!

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