Learn advanced retouching techniques in Photoshop, including RAW processing, skin smoothing, white balance and more. Also see an in-depth look at how to the shots (above) were taken, and how to set up your studio for dramatic, neon lighting.
Difficulty: Intermediate Time: 1 Hour
This tutorial came about due to things not going as planned. That happens. Specifically, we had this finalized look in mind, and assumed the path to get there would be simple. We wanted a pink to blue range of highlights, however, the blue gels we used were not strong enough to provide the light we needed. The next closest hue, with the same contrast to pink was green, so we compromised. Everything was shot with a green gelled monolight slightly behind her, and a pink gelled monolight directly to her left. This tutorial will show how the greens were changed to blue, and how the final effects were created.
This was the original image, straight out of camera. We shot against a dark gray wall in a studio, with only ambient lighting, aside from the colored lights.
Taking the .RAW image into Adobe's Camera Raw, the first step was to give more of a natural atmosphere but blacks up to a more natural looking gray, and turning the whites down as not to overexpose her face. Her skin originally had a strong orange glow to it, so adding greens and yellows to her, helps neutralize her color.
This is the image directly after the Raw processing. The black line at the bottom, we'll get rid of later. This is from shooting at a slightly higher speed than than that of the lights used. If the light can't fire as quickly as the camera can shoot, it simply will not capture any light. In this case, it was only a slight amount missed.
The first step in filtering out the green coloring, is simply to change it to the color we want, blue. There are several ways to do this. Modifying your green channel is one way, along with photo filters, hue/saturation mixed with masking. Although, for this, we're going to be using "Color Balance", which can be found in your adjustment menu. After opening it, you'll see three different sliders, contrasting two colors. For this, we obviously want to focus on the blue sliders. The trick to doing this is only focusing your eyes on the areas that will be blue in the end. Clearly, we made the entire image blue during the process, but we're only paying attention to the left side of the image, where the green resided.
Since we don't want the entire image to be ridiculously blue, masking is the key to hiding it. Adding a layer mask to the Color Balance layer, we can start simply painting out the areas that shouldn't be blue. Starting on the right side of the image, you can use a strong opacity, as it needs to be gone completely. Though, once you get to the face, you'll want to lower the opacity greatly, as in 8-10%. This allows you to paint more subtly, and keep the transitions smooth. It's time consuming, but it's by far the most efficient method for detail. We've pretty much painted out everything that wasn't touched by the original green light, resulting in the left half of the image being blue, and slowly fading away as light naturally would.
You could pretty much put this step anywhere, but we decided to crop the image before getting too far into detailing. We want to simply get rid of the useless black bar at the bottom, but also keep the image proportional. In this case, we're only losing an inch or so, but generally, you'd want to bring up your crop options, and select one (rule of thirds, golden ratio, etc) as a guideline for cropping your image.
With the image cropped, we can start bringing more neutrality to the image, so there isn't so much color contrast. Again, there are hundreds of ways to achieve this, but we'll focus on one. There's a tool in Photoshop that rarely gets attention, despite it's amazing usefulness. That would be the exposure correction tool. Found under image adjustments, this tool allows you to modify the exposure of shadows, midtones, and highlights. Why is this useful? Because it allows you to bring your levels of light together without losing contrast. So basically, what we'll do, since the image highlights are plenty visible, is bring up the midtones (offset) VERY slightly, and bring up the shadows (gamma correction) very slightly. You'll notice once you move the offset slider, your image will appear blown out. But, once you move the gamma correction slider, everything becomes equalized again. Play with these until the image becomes uniform in light, but not faded as to look vintage. You still want the appearance of contrast, not an old polaroid.
Before we get to fixing the skin, minor corrections are added to accentuate the image's color scheme. A blue to hot pink gradient was added (adjustment layer), set to Hard Light, with the opacity VERY low, about 10%. A Vibrance adjustment layer was also added with low opacity to make the pinks and blues pop more off of the dark background.
The last major step is blemish removal. We'll do a more in-depth tutorial on this in the future, but for now, we'll introduce you to the Patch Tool. The Patch Tool is pretty much what it sounds like, in that it allows you to patch an area of an image, by sampling another. Essentially, with the tool selected, you'll want to lasso around an area which needs correction (the lower selection in the image above), and then simply drag the selection onto an area that doesn't need corrected (the top selection). Photoshop will automatically convert your "blemished" area with a smooth area. The key to using the Patch Tool is finding your smooth areas first, as a small place to sample. As you proceed, your sample size will grow, allowing you to sample larger areas, speeding up your workflow.
To finalize, we actually repeated a few of the same steps, and simply upped the contrast very subtly. A few areas of color were masked away, lightened, darkened, all just personal preference.
Here are some more images from the shoot, all, for the most part, retouched with the same techniques. Some, we clearly chose different coloring techniques, but if everything looked the same in life, you probably wouldn't be reading this.
Special thanks to Brittany Herbinko, for being awesome. Definitely go check out her other work!