When processing a portrait, it’s really the subtle things that count. Human portraits are probably one of the things I photograph the least just out of the simple fact that I’m a perfectionist. I really like to take my time when looking at the portrait as I work with it, and I’m going to quickly walk you through my processing step by step, with Adobe Lightroom. I’m not going to get too technical, but this will give you a little understanding behind my workflow.
Adobe Lightroom really changed how I process most photos. I don’t use it for everything I do, though. Things that I really want to cherish, or things that I plan on printing — those go to Photoshop for the fine tuning work. But for the shots that I just want to enjoy for the time being, or work through for a blog post, Lightroom is great.
After you have your photo and are pleased with the shot, your first decision is a tough one — black and white, or color? Some photographers I’ve met have really limited themselves here, only choosing to do one or the other. Well, it’s not so “black and white.” Usually, I’m a huge fan of letting loud, awesome colors shine in your work, but if they’re not the focus and not adding something to your portrait, forget them… but that’s not saying you should completely desaturate your portrait… More about that under Selective Saturation…
I’m a huge fan of a really crisp, clear image. If you’ve looked at much of my work, you know that already. I sharpen the hell out of everything, usually. But unlike rusty urban decay, unlike my cat’s whiskers, and unlike the harsh, weathered faces of strangers on the street, I wanted this portrait to be soft, and decided to only go for local spot clarity in the eyes, mouth, and other points of interest.
One of my photo professors, Frank Armstrong, taught us the art of the “black and white” photo. I say that in quotes, because the image, while it appears desaturated, is actually alive with warm tones. When I’m processing a photo and desaturating it, I take it color by color in Lightroom, and handle each one separately, adjusting the luminosity and saturation as I want.
In this shot, I took down all blue, green (to make the wall in the back unnoticeable), purple (the shirt), and magenta completely, adjusting the luminosity for each. For example, I lightened up the desaturated green to make the model’s hair stand out from the background. For the warm tones, I took them down, but left some nice warmth in there. I added an over all warm tone to give it a little more depth.
In this piece, I wanted to make sure the eyes, mouth, and texture in the hair were prominent. Go through and decide what it is that really makes your portrait unique. What is it about that person’s face that is really pulling you in. Eyes are a given, and are captivating on their own; here, I wish I had some catch light, but to compensate, I lightened them up.
This technique can work the opposite way. The collar here was blending in a little too much with the face, so I selected the area and brought down the brightness. If something is distracting, deal with it on its own.
To Vignette or Not to Vignette?
Vignetting is a nice way to put a little more emphasis on your central elements in the photo, but before you go crazy with that nice dark ring around your work, pay attention to the edges! Here, a dark vignette would have really diminished the night light coming into the frame, and would have kept the hair from standing out from the background.