Thursday, June 4, 2009

Re-touching with Lightroom

An Apology: this post is more about Adobe Lightroom than photography in general.

After recently doing some portraiture for a client, I was given a list of re-touch specifics to perform on one of the images. The client was very pleased with the imagery but, after consulting a friend in marketing, returned with a list of touches to be made. that list was as follows:

1. Smooth the lines around the eyes. * (most important)
2. Brighten up the eyes * (very important)
3. touch up chin a bit
4. Remove purple shadow from right nostril and chin
5. Take away some of the shadow around you right eye.
6. remove one chain from around the neck.

Here goes...


I do not enjoy doing this kind of work... I think it is because of all the bad Realtor portraits I have seen where there is so much post processing done that the subject is almost unrecognizable when you meet them in person. Alas... I decided it was time to try Lightroom's corrective tools rather than the vastly more robust Photoshop CS4.

Read the italicized portion only if you are a grouchy person and will be empowered by the crankiness.

Let me first say that I chose to light the subject as seen in the "before" image. And I must qualify that to me "perfect" light can be achieved in any mall (or strip mall) in America where a portrait studio resides. And- yes in fact i did know that two soft light sources (one slightly brighter than the other) camera right and left will create a lovely key and fill light combination that lacks only a "hair" or "rim" light to complete the shadowless (and wrinkle-less) happiness known as Olan Mills portraiture. So, I confess that i like interesting and/or mysterious light better and secretly I believe it is the very blemishes and flawed skin we all possess that define us, call it character if you like. Alas, this is not a photo essay on career women or the effects of aging, this a marketing piece that relies on a face which must appear both empathetic and palatable. (the more palatable the better evidently) So after a phone conversation with the client to clarify a few things I go to work- Knowing that once she sees a re-touched version, all the other images will appear unflattering, and that whatever realism I stubbornly want to cling to will be gently brushed away by my own hand (and mouse).

So- having aired out my curmudgeonry, It is time to see what Lightroom can do.

I will recite my steps per the list above.

1. Smoothing eye wrinkles- First the "Spot Removal" tool. placing the tool below the eye, sized the same as the pupil, I begin to blot the wrinkles (cloning portions of the the cheeks over the line) two key elements work well for me, first, clone from an area of matching light (find some skin with the same brightness, not darker or lighter) Second adjust the opacity down between 50% and 70% to suite your tastes. I don't want to erase the line below the eye i want to deemphasize it (my three year old has lines under the eyes) ...More eye effects following.

2. Brighten the eyes- Using the adjustment brush. I open up the exposure a bit. Don't over do this! It will look very unnatural if you do. I use separate operations for the eye ball and the surrounding socket (eyelids etc.) First the eyeballs can take more over exposure than skin second, the eyelids can be softened simultaneously by reducing clarity (don't soften the pupils)

3. Touch up chin- Easy spot removal... stick to matching brightness with "cloned" skin. keep your tool as small as you can.

4. Purple shadow removal- (this light is actually reflected daylight seeping through a high window. I should have shaded the window) Using the adjustment brush, I painted a small area of the nostril and began reducing saturation until the blueness subsided. It is still visible but not as obvious.

5. shadow at right eye- This was reduced in step 2. this is the shadow side of the face, completely removing it would be foolish.

6. gold chains- as you can see- we kept the chains but some patience with the spot removal tool will make anything go away.

Extra steps-

1. Using the adjustment brush, I reduced the clarity over the whole face (softening the skin) in trouble spots I did more than one pass.

2. I adjusted the fill light up to 25, the recovery to 10, and warmed the color balance from tungsten 2950K to 3100K (a little white balance warmth goes a long way)

3. Also I worked on the hand!! Using the steps above i removed sun spots and smoothed wrinkles. Hands are a tell tail sign of manipulation, if you ever want to know if a woman has had a face lift, look at her hands. For this image, a young looking hand was as important as the face. (P.S. men don't typically notice this as readily as women.)

A few last thoughts: Subtlety is the key! the moment the image is visibly deteriorated you have failed. (see how her eye lashed suffered for all the smoothing- this may have been a little too softened).

Keep to your original goal with the photo(when you took the photo) and do your best to leave the image looking natural.

Lightroom was great! I love the before and after window and the ease of re-working previous treatments. I will be using these tool more often.


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