Subject 03: Photoshop Retouching
Syllabus 15. Editing the Photographs
The first step in the whole workflow, is to edit down our exposures to the ones we need to create our final photo. We aim for the minimum number possible, every exposure has a very specific and an essential job. We begin with the base image and look what improvements it requires. We edit four types:
The best overall single exposure; as if we only had one shot to get the photograph. This base image will become our final photograph. It is the photograph that we add all our corrective exposures to.
Exposures to improve the technical quality of the final photograph, creating rich shadow detail and beautiful tonality. Generally bracketed exposures for maximum shadow and highlight detail.
Exposures to create the artistic vision for the final photograph. Generally, exposures taken of the light when it fell on various elements in the photograph not found in the single base image.
We may want to use the sky we have shot in the above exposures or choose to replace the sky with an alternative we have on file. The course will show you how to shoot replacement skies that match.
Syllabus 16. Preparing the Photographs
Having edited down our exposures to the minimum required, we now need to prepare each file, so it is in mint condition, ready to construct our final photograph. The aim is to catch any imperfections before they get passed onto the production workflow. For each individual file, we need to:
Each file is converted, and the raw converter used for some minor global adjustments and improvements. The raw converter is not a replacement for Photoshop but has some very useful features.
Checking for and removing any dust spots and any objects or details we do not want in the final photo. Small details with the clone stamp, larger objects require a different technique.
I sharpen the photo at the beginning with a very precise, three-part process that gives an incredible clarity and detail. The course will explain the sharpening logic and process in detail.
Syllabus 17. Compositing the Photographs
We now need to combine all the benefits from the technical, artistic and sky exposures to the base image; creating a single photograph as if it were the most perfect raw file taken by the camera. I teach you all the masking and blending techniques required to composite the elements. We need to:
Open all the files as separate layers in a single Photoshop file. Then align each layer to the base image. I explain how to check alignment and attempt to correct any misalignment.
Blend or mask in the bracketed technical exposures for maximum shadow and highlight detail. There are many various ways to do so, I cover all of them and how to choose the best option.
If required, we drop in a new sky and perfectly blend or mask the join with mountains, buildings etc. I teach how to approach this common problem for maximum quality.
Blend or mask in all the artistic details and content not found in our base image, for example light falling on mountains not lit in the base image. These need to be added so they look totally natural.
Once we have completed the above, we check that the joins are perfection. There must be absolutely no Photoshop technique, errors or signature left showing anywhere in the photo. The common ones are lighter or darker halos along joins e.g. mountain edges. This stage represents a major ‘end of Part 1’. Only if 100% perfect, then the file is flattened down to a single layer to represent a single frame as if taken ‘in camera’. This file is now our final photo, but in an unpolished state that we finalize from here on.
Syllabus 18. Adjust Global Contrast
Global contrast is enhanced in several of ways to start giving the image some ‘snap’. There are many methods taught on the course. Curves is one, but not my preferred choice. We discuss and practice multiple methods for increasing global contrast, methods that produce extra benefits not found using curves. We take the photo as far as we can from a global change point of view, but we do not work on the details yet. We use the ‘global to local’ approach to Photoshop where details are improved last.
Syllabus 19. Separate the Information
The file is now separated into color information and black and white information. We now look at the photo from those two perspectives next. If our final photo is black and white, we can discard the color information. Many techniques that alter tone, also alter the color. Separating the two issues limits the effect on each other. Importantly, many techniques we use on a black and white, do not work well on a color photo. Without this critical separation, our toolbox of techniques is greatly restricted.
Syllabus 20. Adjust Color Content
It goes without saying, that color plays a critical role in setting the aesthetic, artistic and psychological tone of the image. I teach you multiple ways to add, then control color both globally and locally. Color is important also to give the photo cohesion. There are two main color factors to consider:
An overall color cast is added to help give a cohesive feel to the photograph, a continuity element. Without this, large areas of conflicting strong color give the image a feeling of disparity.
How strong to make the color? There is a point where if the color is too strong, it overtakes the content. There is also a point where the subtle tones are replaced by the color, the details loose structure.
Syllabus 21. Adjust Tonal Content – Part One
This is the first of two critical steps in the complete process. Working on the black and white or tonal information, we have already improved the global contrast, now we work on the local contrast. Bringing up all the detail to be supper rich. Overly rich detail that takes no effort to read and in every inch of the photo. I cover multiple techniques, including dodge and burn. The reason for creating super rich detail is that when pushed down in overall tone, they still retain subtle detail and separation.
Syllabus 22. Adjust Tonal Content – Part Two
We now have an extremely good technical photo that is sharp, full of detail and good contrast. We must create the three-dimensional illusion qualities. We use techniques to build in the elements of reality; that create the illusion. We look at our image to date and ask it four questions:
We look at the image from the perspective of light. Where is the light coming from and how is it falling on the objects? We enhance both the feeling of the light quality and a story about the light.
We study each object and use our techniques to enhance the feeling of roundness to objects, the sides of objects, the three-dimensional form of everything so we feel we could touch them.
We look at the image from the point of texture and enhance the texture of everything from rough tree bark to smooth water. We want to create a tactile feeling to every object.
We divide the image into three distances, fore-ground, middle and far distance; using tonal changes to convey the feeling of distance; every object having the correct tonal positioning.
The emphasis too date has been to work in a very systematic way to create a beautiful, technically perfect foundation to the photograph. Without this foundation of sharpness, tonal richness and three-dimensional optical illusion, the image would fail the minute we drastically darken areas. The darkened areas would block-up, no longer having substance. Now we have the foundation, we can move onto the final step, the artistic expression layer. This is a much freer process, working like a painter.
Syllabus 23. Create Cohesive Quality
Having separated the photo into two points of view, we now look at the photo again and from a cohesive perspective. We must give the picture a clear visual journey; making it clear to the viewer, what is important in the image and what you want them to look at. This is a two-part process:
We darken the whole photo, now treating the image we have as our canvas ‘under-painting’. Now very dark, it still retains all the detail, separation and depth due to our previous work.
We can now paint in the areas the areas we wish to bring up in tone and emphasize as our main actors and supporting cast (read the tutorials). This will involve free-hand painting and detailed masks.
Syllabus 24. Create Artistic Quality
Working freely like a painter, we work in a less structured way, molding and fine tuning the artistic and aesthetic look and feel of the photograph. There is a good number of techniques, we can use, and I teach how to control the look of the image at this stage. Many are straight, digital versions inspired by the techniques of the old master painters like Rembrandt and Rubens. At this final stage, there are no rules, it’s all about personality and expression, though the techniques used, can be taught.
Question. Does this syllabus just make me a clone of you?
NO. This methodical workflow gives you a framework to follow, that encompasses everything to create a good photograph from concept to print. An analogy explains: The courses teach you the skills to be an architect. As an architect, you have the technical freedom to design buildings of any type provided you learn the fundamental principles of architecture. It is important to understand that I teach you the underlying principles that make good photography. This gives you freedom to be yourself, not restricted to creating just my style of image.
Conforming to a set of underlying principles or structure, does not make your work the same as mine. The combination of all your personal choices throughout the whole workflow, results in a photo with your own personal identity and style, even though you followed the structured workflow to get there. Without a structure, you have chaos and disorder, a very inefficient way of working that never creates quality. True knowledge gives true creative freedom. Use that freedom, your personal way.
A clearly defined and logical syllabus, making learning easy and painless.