I Heart Faces Fix-it-Friday

The wonderful folks at I Heart Faces has a weekly feature called Fix-it-Friday. Its a great opportunity to work on your post-processing skills and show off what you can do making a photo better.

The Original Photo

The Original Photo

This week’s photo is pretty good as is. The “Rule of Thirds” was followed. It’s making use of an interesting frame. Its well exposed given that its shot in shadows with a bright sunny background. Its sharp and most importantly, the subject has an interesting expression.

But it can be made better.

The first thing at issue in this case is the “Rule of Thirds”. There are some cases where it does not fit and this is one of those. No one rule fits every photo. In this case, I’ve got two reasons why I’m going to break that rule for this photo. First, the subject’s expression gets lost in the wider shot. This isn’t a photo of the landscape, its a photo of the child.

Secondly, we have a great “frame” to use. When you have a frame you generally want to balance your subject in the frame. In this case, all the extra rock becomes negative space, so:

Step 1: Crop

Now there are a lot of differing philosophies on cropping. Some photographers will crop to the optimum shape regardless of the shape of the photo. Maybe it should be square or a tall-skinny panoramic crop. Regardless the balance of things in the photo is the deciding factor.

Cropped to 5x7 shape

Cropped to 5x7 shape

The other way of cropping is to consider your output. Now for uploading a photo to a web site or a sharing site like Flickr you don’t need to think about this and the “Crop for optimal” works. But what if your going to print this photo? Well you have to think about the final display. Is this going into a 4×6 metal frame on your desk? Is it going to be matted and hung on a wall? Both require different crops and both can cause you to leave space that is less than optimal.

If your cropping for print, what size to you crop to? 4×6 is longer, skinnier photo than an 8×10 is. The 4×6 is 1.5 times longer than it is wide, the 8×10 is only 1.25 times longer. Then you have 5×7 which is in between.

For safety, cropping to 4×6 will always allow you to crop shorter, but to do so, means you have to have some negative space to crop out. So in some aspects, thinking about an 8×10 crop, but leaving enough space for a 4×6 will let you crop to any size, but you have to be willing to leave extra space at the top and bottom.

There is no right answer here, but its something to think about. I went for a 5×7 for this photo since it also was fairly optimal.

Its shaping up, but the contrast is a little flat and could use a little pop.

Step 2. Color Balance, Equalize, Add Contrast.

Color Corrected and Contrast added

Color Corrected and Contrast added

I also wanted to check the white balance and do a little touch up there. Using a simple white balance color adjustment and equalization, our image now has a little bit of pop.

This technique allowed me to remove just a touch of red cast in the original photo. Secondly, the histogram for the photo showed that there wasn’t any blacks in the photo. Its slightly over exposed (probably less than 1/3 stop). As part of the color correction step, the last step adjusts the black point which gives us richer shadows. Now the zipper is closer to black than grey and the other dark areas are richer.

That one step improved the photo considerably. But it still needs a little more contrast, so using the “Curves” Tool (CTRL-M or Apple-M) I applied a slight “S” curve to the combined RGB channel.

You could quit here and be very happy with the photo, but the frame is still pretty bright and following the advice of my first photography instructor, I chose to:

An S curve makes the shadows a bit darker and the lighter tones a bit lighter.

An S curve makes the shadows a bit darker and the lighter tones a bit lighter.

Step 3. Burn in the edges giving the photo a slight vignette.

Using a large brush soft brush (about the size of a quarter when the photo is at a “Fit to Screen” magnification) and the Burn tool set to “Mid-tones” and 12-14%, I gently went over the four corners, the edges working in towards the subject. Its easy to over do it, so I like a low percentage value so I can gradually add darker tones. If you mess up, use your undo to back up as needed.

Step 4. Selective Desaturation (optional)

This photo is about the kids expression. I could do various effects like Black and White, Urban Acid, Glow effects and so on. But I think anything would take away from the expression. About the only thing I would do is maybe continue to separate him from the background.

So far, I’ve applied my Curves and Layers using “Adjustment Layers”. Instead of changing the base image, we can apply these tools to their own layers. They do not increase the size of the file by much and you can come back later and change them if your taste changes. Adjustment Layers can also make use of masks.

A little vignetting with the Burn Tool

A little vignetting with the Burn Tool

If we think of layers as pieces of paper stacked on top of each other, the top sheet will hide the lower sheets. The only way to see the lower layers is to cut holes in the top layer. Thats what layer masks do, they allow you to make holes to let the lower levels show through.

I applied a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer on top of the background layer and set the saturation to -100 (Black and White). Then clicking on the white block in the middle of the layer palette for the Hue/Saturation layer, I used a large soft “Paint” brush with black as the color and painted the subject in. Of course I made mistakes, coloring outside the lines, so to speak. But by switching to a smaller brush and painting in white, I went back and painted over the mistakes. I continued using smaller and smaller brushes, switching between black and white until the child was in color, the rest of the photo was in black and white.

I did not want to leave the photo B&W with bright colors, I only wanted to fade the background colors a bit. I needed to get back to the Hue/Saturation/Lightness tool for that layer and bring some color back. By double clicking on the block on the left side of the layer palette for that layer, you are brought back to that adjustment tool at its current settings. I played with a few varying saturations and decided that -50% was the best.

Happy with the results, I saved the document at a Photoshop PSD file to preserve my layers. Then I saved a copy as a JPEG for posting on line.

Step 5. Blurring the background.

Now time to play a bit further. The background is a bit too much in focus, so I want to blur it a little. Of course, I don’t want the rocks, the ground or the subject defocused. I also have the ground texture that needs to fade a bit instead of just a hard blurred line.

For this, I selected the background layer and then I used the “Quick Mask” tool. This tool lets you apply masks to a regular layer and when your done creating the mask, you are left with a “Selection” that you can then work with just that area.

With Black as the background color and white as the foreground, click on the Quick Mask button and hit the Backspace key. This causes whole mask to fill with black, the background color. Which in effect selects the entire photo. Your photo will turn red and it will look like you’re looking through a red filter. What is in red is selected.

Now with a medium-to-large soft brush and white as the color paint out the parts you do not want selected. In this case, the subject the foreground “ground” and the framing rocks I wanted to keep, so I used the white brush. The regular photo colors come back in these keep areas (we are actually deselecting this from what we will eventually blur!!!).

Like working with any mask, you start with large brushes and then work with progressively smaller brushes, flipping back and forth between black and white to get just the right area selected.

Now with masks, in particular with large soft brushes, you will have some areas that are only partially painted so with a really big soft brush painting in white I clicked over the ground area to the subject’s right giving a gradient from black to white (red to clear in the mask).

To get out of quick mask mode and get your selection, you click the Quick Mask button again and you will see your marching ants marquee roughly selecting the area. Its “roughly” showing you the area because the marching ants can’t show the gradients between black and white.

Here comes the fun. You could at this point apply a blur filter, but that would actually affect the background layer and if you want to refine things more, you need yet another layer. So using the selection, I used CTRL-C (Apple-C) to copy what is in the selection, then CTRL-V (Apple-V) to paste it back in, creating a new layer. This new layer will just have the background area to be blurred.

You can blur this however you want. I used a Lens Blur, Octagon Shape, 5 Radius. It wasn’t enough so I re-applied the filter (Ctrl-F or Apple-F) several times until I had the right amount of blur. In doing so I found there was some area where my subject was still being blurred, so I used the eraser tool on the blur layer to apply a little touch up.

Step 6. Save and Publish.

The final result

The final result

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7 Comments

  1. Apr 16th 10:08pm

    So much to take in here! I love your explanations and learned many new tricks and ideas for the fix-it. I can’t imagine how much time this took to explain. Thank you!

  2. Apr 16th 11:02pm

    Wow! I am speechless. Your edits to my little boy’s photo are amazing and your tutorials are inspiring. Now I just need to be able to maintain all of that information so that one day I can do it too : )

  3. Apr 16th 11:09pm

    Wow. I am astounded at the difference. What a fantastic step by step tutorial! I loved the lense tutorial you gave at I heart faces today also. Very nice!

  4. Apr 17th 6:26am

    Great, detailed instructions! You have the ability to explain PS in a very understandable way. And I like the effect you achieved with the desaturated background. Very nice!

  5. Apr 17th 7:01am

    That is fabulous. I especially love the final 3 steps!

  6. Apr 17th 8:40am

    Your explanations are clear and fabulous! Thanks for taking the time to let us see your magic and the rationales behind your decisions…

  7. Apr 17th 3:31pm

    Very nice. Love the contrast!

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