Tag Archives: portrait

Portrait Processing Step by Step – Before and After

before after

482301_607650002581713_437070477_nWhen 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.

If you want to see some of the street portraits I have done, you can check them out here:  The Faces of Worcester   and here:   The Faces of Worcester II

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.

manderBlack and White or Color?

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.

Selective Saturation and LuminosityIMG_4243

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.

Spot Work

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.


The Faces of Worcester II

Still unsure what I’m going to end up doing with these, but they’re still very inspiring.

The Vietnamese woman was a true joy. At first I thought she was misunderstanding my request to take her photo. She kept saying that there were beautiful flowers near Clark. I said, “Yes, but I like photographing people. May I take your picture?” She insisted that I walk with her to the flowers. We got to Crystal Park.

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On the way we chatted. She’s lived in Worcester for 15 years. She’s from Vietnam. She doesn’t like Vietnamese people because they’re hard to talk to… and you have to be careful who you talk to on the street. (I guess I didn’t give her any bad vibes.) She was wearing a sedge hat and asked me why Americans like them so much. I said that I didn’t know. She offered to make me egg rolls next time I see her. I gave her my number and told her I’d give her a print of the photo soon.

She was very methodical in planning out the photo once we reached the park and insisted that I take a few. If one in 20 people I meet turns out like this, this project will be a thrill.

The Faces of Worcester

Here’s the first installation of the series of portraits, (which I’m calling for now) The Faces of Worcester. They’re shot with my Canon 50mm 1.8f lens on overcast days. I make a conscious effort to not photograph anyone I think might be a student. I ask just about everyone I pass. If they seem upset, busy, or entirely unwelcoming I don’t bother. Otherwise, I simply ask them if I may take their portrait.

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Most people were fine with the idea, and it didn’t take me long to rack up over two dozen shots. The ones that decline, I wish a good day to. Usually even if they didn’t want their picture taken, they would inquire about why I was doing it, which I thought was funny.

Two things I learned today: women are way too self-conscious and Clarkies can be stuck up.
Most of the women I approached (or at least a larger percentage of them than of men) declined. I asked an older woman wearing a magenta suit jacket covered in gold broaches; she said she was too old and just waiting for the bus. She then asked my reason. I told her that I find people fascinating. She restated her previous comment, and I replied “Everyone is beautiful.” Another woman who looked Afro-Caribbean had a similar response and said that her hair was a mess. She said she would next time.
Another younger woman I asked completely ignored me, which only happened that one time. I watched her for a moment and then saw her walk onto campus.
Something else I’m learning: this project is making me less guarded. I feel like since I’ve been living in Worcester, a larger more urban area, I’ve been harboring this wall of sorts. It’s a feeling I think I should have being in this environment. Oh, don’t make eye contact unless you want to engage someone. Don’t engage anyone. This is helping me to realize how unhealthy that is. Most people are awesome.

I want to add more about my encounter with each person, but I already feel like I could write a book’s worth about each one of them. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with this series and also how I want to connect them. By emotion? How should I crop them? Sometimes someone’s outfit adds a lot to their presence; sometimes their face is the focus. Any input is appreciated!