Painterly Portrait Processing
Since posting this picture of my son Brodey on Flickr many months ago, I have received a lot of emails asking how I did the post work. Many people think it's HDR, some say it's got the Dave Hill feel to it.
I will go through my recipe in detail. It's not a hard process. It's something I've refined to work for me and over time, it's become second nature. I have even used it on landscapes with great success. A lot of this works better with higher contrast images and good lighting (not that I'm great at lighting).
Feel free to use the techniques but please don't republish this article or the images used in it.
Note: Click any image to see larger views.
For this shot, I setup under a bridge in the mid afternoon sun. Dialed down so I could overpower the sun coming in from the sides of the bridge and setup a SB-600 controlled via CLS to the left of the camera through a white umbrella.
Reduce Saturation of RAW Image
I don't like overly saturated images so the first thing I do is reduce the overall saturation. I usually go back in later and add in a little saturation for certain colors which we'll do in a later step.
For some images, vignettes work nicely. Especially this image because I think combined with the graffiti it adds a feel of darkness and grunge.
Increase Saturation in Blues
Now I'll add back in some saturation for just the blues which will help pull out Brodey's eyes and shirt. A little bit of blue exists in the graffiti which will make for some nice accents.
Before I send the image over to Photoshop, Aperture 2.0 has a very nice definition tool which I use to prep the image with some detail. In version 1.5 (the original image) I used the edge sharpen tool.
Send to Photoshop
This is as far as I go in Aperture. With Aperture 2.1 you can do a lot of the following steps but I prefer photoshop for the heavier lifting.
Duplicate Base Layer and Add A S-Curve
Duplicate the base layer and go to Image >> Adjust >> Curves to add an S-Curve. I always click on options and choose "Enhance Monochromatic Contrast". It will effect the luminosity of the image this way instead of blowing your colors.
With the duplicated layer still selected, go to Image >> Adjust >> Highlight/Shadow. Unless the highlights are blown, I typically only work with the shadows to lighten some of the dark areas. For this image my main concern is Brodey's hair, shirt and a little bit of the graffiti. I think this is a fantastic tool and one that is often overlooked in photoshop.
Duplicate Layer and Set To Soft Light
Duplicate this newly edited layer (your second layer) and set the blending mode to "Soft Light". Most of my images seem to work best with this blending mode. "Vivid Light" and a few others can be used as well so play around after the next step and see which you prefer for the image you're working on.
High Pass For Detail
I'm a fan of using High Pass for adding detail instead of unsharp mask. I think it does a much more painterly job when sharpening and can add some very nice effects to the image. Go to filters >> other >> High Pass and set the radius slider to about 9. This is highly dependent on the image, but for most I find this setting where I like it. The reason I set the blending mode prior to this step is so I can see the effect of the High Pass tool in real time. If you don't, the image will look embossed like the tiny preview in the dialog.
Dodge Hair, Eyes and Wrinkles
I go back to layer two, the layer that I did the curves and highlight/shadow to and dodge (lighten) the midtones in the eyes, hair and shirt's wrinkles to pull out some more details. If you dodge the wrinkles in the clothing, it tends to give it a more three dimensional look.
Burn Shadows in Wrinkles
After I dodge, I usually go back and burn some of the wrinkles just to pull out more of that third dimension. Be careful not to pull the focus of the image into a area where you don't want it.
Duplicate Layer and Move to Top
When the dodge and burn is complete, duplicate the layer and move it to the top of the stack. We're going to soften the image a little. When using the highpass and dodge tools, the image can quickly become too harsh with detail in my taste. Some people may want to avoid this step but I typically do it on all portraits. It softens the skin too and helps hide blemishes.
Add Gaussian Blur
Choose Filter >> Blur >> Guassian and set your radius slider to around 1.5, just enough to blur the image and hide some of the harsh details. Apply the filter and set the layers opacity to your liking. For this image I set it to about 80% opacity. Notice you still have more detail than the original image but not too harsh.
Step Fifteen Erase Eyes
Now that the image is softened, I want the original harsh detail from the earlier steps in the eyes to draw them out. I use the eraser tool with a soft edged brush to remove the gaussian layer at the eyes.
When I'm satisfied with my edits and save the image which sends it back to Aperture for cataloging.