Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Frankly Scarlet

When I take a portrait I want the subject to be the focus (duh), but I also want there to be interest to the image outside of the individual.  Often one can accomplish this with props, texture, or even light.

The star of our work today is Sabrina who has stellar features, wonderful complexion as well as a mighty high pain tolerance.  As a professional fetish and bondage model, she could easily kill me (but probably in a fun way).

Lighting The Model
I typically want to "sculpt" my subject with the light, and I tend to prefer a high contrast between the light and the shadow areas of an image.  This image has a very low contrast between the light and the shadow, mostly caused by the large softbox camera right working with the other 2 lights to her sides.  the only area that really isn't directly illuminated is her left cheek, so we get a but of dark sculpting before you then encounter the light area created by the left rim light (small strip box with cloth grid).  You will find this is a typical rim light setup with me, as I really like those highlights, and I think these strip lights are pretty much my favorite tool.

As you light things you should ponder what areas to which you want to draw attention as you can darken, add lighting to areas you want to emphasize, and so on.  With a more even lighting, you get a very flat image with nothing really popping (I call this "fat light"), so be careful not to "over-light" your subject.  This was a difficult thing for me to grasp initially, as I though the goal was to evenly illuminate the subject, but that is exactly opposite of what you really want.

to paraphrased quote I heard Joe McNally say is "it isn't what you light that makes something interesting, it's what you DON'T light".  So, consider this when you setup your lights.  One of the biggest mistakes I see are the people that put a softbox on either side of the camera in front of the model and set them to the same levels.  This will produce a very even light with no character or sculpting ability.  Consider it your goal to take a two dimensional medium like your monitor or print and make it as three dimensional of an image as possible, and you can't do that with flat lighting.

Post Production With Photoshop
I have one goal here and that is to "pop" her right off the page, and to do that we need to darken the background a bit and lighten her at the same time.  Adding contrast to the image will help pull her forwards right into your living room.

The most annoying things needs to be addressed first... she isn't looking directly at the camera, but it is so close it will be annoying to the viewer.  Her gaze should be obvious, and this "almost" is going to need fixin'.  Luckily, it is pretty simple to resolve here by making a copy of the inside of her eye (iris and sclera), shifting it over and then erasing the edges to blend back into the lashes and eye socket.  All of 2 minutes to fix if you toss in a few seconds to remove any overly large eye veins and contact lens edges.  Oh, little tip here NOT to remove ALL of the eye veins, it just looks weird if they don't have what one expects to see in the eyes of a human.  While we are on the eyes, we will  also use the burn tool at 6% and add a bit of eye-liner as well as brush over her eye brows a bit to darken them slightly.

I then took some time to remove some of her scars from adventures past (mostly on her arms), and a few minor red spots.  She has exceptional skin, so there was not a lot to do on her outside of the previous step.

The next thing we need to do to increase contrast and that silly slider in Lightroom isn't magically going to do it for you.  In this case I like the background gradient already in place (usually considered a lighting error), but I don't mind it here at all.  In fact, I think that adding a texture over this will help raise the interest level of the image as well as add that contrast we seek.

To add background interest I will use yet another texture from my Fly Paper Texture Collection (don't mean to keep pushing this, but I do use it a lot and consider it a very valuable tool).  To apply it I selected a blending mode that worked with the background (Hard-Light), and then masked out the model with an 85% hard round brush.  Note that I am not taking a lot of time to mask her out as the blending modes are usually pretty forgiving. And lets face it folks, we are not sending someone to the moon here, so close is good enough in this operation.

Next I want to pop the model a bit, and using a curve layer set to the Soft Light blending mode, we curve her until we like what we see (not that it sucked to start with by a long shot).  I will also add an additional curve for her hair to increase the contrast there a bit and a slight color boost.

Finally I will crop it in a bit tighter and add my signature in a non-obtrusive manner.  I normally like to select a color from the image and then set the signature on a layer with a blending mode.  I want it there if someone wants to read it, but I don't want the eye to go to it.  Enjoy the image, not my signature is my mantra :-)

Overall the goal for me here was to increase the contrast from the original as well as to add a somewhat surreal treatment of her complexion and hair to create an image that moves the viewer.  I am quite pleased with the result.  Total time to complete ~45 minutes.

If you have any questions, as always feel free to post them in comments.


  1. I really like how you've used this texture to just slightly enhance the photograph.

  2. man, you got it down to a science :-)

  3. Fantastic work as always!


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