How to capture sumblime ethereal moments with your portrait phootgraphy

Do you need dreamy meadows and morning sun piercing through the fog to capture very soft and ethereal images with white vignetting around the edges to empasise the softness? Not really. In fact low key dramatic images that remove the background can be even more sublime than anything else. So what is the secret then? The mood and the post processing. And post processing is VERY important. The mood is something that you capture or evoke. It is happening during the shoot. As a photographer you need to build a connection with your models and learn their body language. How they react, behave, their face mimics, emotions and how to spark them, and so on. This is why I usually work alone, one on one with whomever I photograph. For me portrait photography is like ambient music, it is a one giant tunnel you walk into, or a beam of channeled energy that cannot be disconnected. If a model gets distracted, there goes your shoot or at least a theme.

model: Eccaia

model: Eccaia

The post processing is a massively important. Regardless of how soft your lighting may be if you do not know how to deal with harsh shadow transitions and how to accent certain areas like reflections in the eyes, or how to make other parts of the image become less visible and intrusive, you will not be able to achieve this result. It is a combination of mattified skin, smoothed out highlights and shadows, very selective contrasting and balancing the darkest and the brightest tones. Black and white is not always the way to go. Light and mood in your image is like music. Listen to it, and then you will know what genre it belongs to.

Last but not least, the composition must be in symbiosis with the mood and editing. You need to place your model in the frame according to the feel you are going for, or even better so - the feel you are capturing. Sometimes photographers focus so hard on what they envisioned that they are blinded to what is actually happening. Capture images like an artist not like a craftsman. Capture what you feel not what you see. Be like attentive and sensitive to what is going on in front of your lens, and learn how to adjust instinctively. It is good to have a concept for the shoot, but spontaneous moments make the best photos. It should not be your job to know how not to miss them. It should be your second nature and passion.

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Importance of matching colors and tones with the mood of a photo

Human skin is very complex in terms of tonal shifts and colors. Depending on the light used during the shoot, you can achieve different results. Light decides everything: mood, composition,  colors, tonal shifts, and so on. Then, during photo retouching, you will need to deal with things like color casts, skin blotchiness, imperfections of skin texture, shadow and highlight bending and uneven transitions between them, discoloration in highlights and excessive saturation in shadows, difference of skin color temperature or even hue depending on the size of the light source used, etc.

model: Nami

model: Nami

Photo retouching is an extremely powerful tool which allows me to complete my artistic vision. I do not care about how things should look like, all I care about is what feel and mood I want to convey. Photo retouching should not be a result of happy accident or what you think others will find appropriate, but a creative tool for finalizing YOUR idea. The same as with photography rules, you master those to break them. Composing a photo is like falling in love, you feel it, you do not think about it or analyze it. There are no limits to art, as long as it does not feel forced or fake. Photography and photo editing should be naturally inspired by what you see and what it makes you feel like. This is also why taking time to choose photo for retouching is of no less importance than the editing process. Not rushing through the retouch or using photoshop presets mindlessly will only benefit you at the end.

If the toning does not match the mood of the photo it will be a visual cacophony. You are composing a symphony, and all the instruments have to be in tune with one another. But understanding all this is not enough. You need a good connection with your model or client, a connection strong enough for you to either capture an emotion that is real and not staged, a moment in between if you will, or be able to evoke it. Only then you will fully understand the mood of your own photo. At that stage a direction in which you should take your retouching will become clear.

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Harmony between soft and dramatic light in balck and white portrait photography

Two extremes co-existing together in perfect harmony. Symbiosis in dichotomy. This photo is from a recent shoot with an American artist and model Mandy Jane. We set the shoot for 7 am in Yokohama. It was gloomy, rainy and cold, so we had to shoot anywhere with a roof over our heads. Most of the shots are from the underground tunnels in Minato Mirai. We searched for any place with good light, be it natural from outside, artificial or mixed. There is no perfect weather, light or place to shoot. If you understand how light works and how to control it or use it to your advantage, then you can shoot anywhere and anytime. But you can go even one step further, and reshape the light or change the quality of light in photoshop. This is why the skill of shooting with a vision of post processing is so important in my workflow.

Taking a great photo is as complex as sensing how to post process it. This shot was lit by natural light, with delicate influence of artificial ambient light. Light is soft and supple. It was coming through a huge entrance to the underground passages. Now, the light on Mandy's face is soft and delicate, just like her distant and remote expression. Light on the metal blinds at the background, is also soft, but their shape creates dramatic conversation between light and shadow. I purposely softened the light hitting the model even further, because I knew that I want to change the light quality of the background to much more powerful and hard. Parallel horizontal lines create another contrast, because they introduce stability and harmony. This photo expresses a quite intimate moment in a powerful and dramatic setting, but cocooned in a strong vignette which encloses the scene. This is also why I photoshopped out the bottom line which was too bright, and darkened the top one, and also warped the whole left hand side of the photo outwards.

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How to retouch a male portrait in photoshop - a few quick tips & speed art video

First thing to realize is that you should usually retouch women and men differently. Most of the retouching techniques are identical, but they are applied with different strength or in a slightly different manner. For instance, the most obvious would be skin retouching, which is a huge part of any portrait editing workflow in photoshop. In most cases, for girls, you will emphasize smoothing not only tonal transitions but also invest lots of time on skin texture smoothing, preferably via the taxing process of micro dodging and burning. Now, men usually look better in hard light and with rougher skin texture. Sometimes you will even want to enhance that roughness, it all depends on what sort of effect you want to achieve. Since women look better in soft light (although not always), naturally you will want to make therm appeal softer. That leads to the contrast (for example though macro dodging and burning) and micro contrast intensity issue (it is a rather vulgar comparison but think here in terms of clarity slider), which can be easily cranked up when you work on male portraits. Even tonal transitions can be harsher in male portraits, but this is not always the case. You will also spend more time on removing imperfections and skin blemishes in female portraits. For men, you can either remove them, or reduce their visual impact, or leave them as they are. Regardless on what you decide, always pay attention to the mood and light

quality in the photo, and the purpose the photo will serve. This applies to both sexes. For instance if you are shooting a headshot for an actor, you will want to stick to the original as close as possible, where in a promotional portrait for commercial website, you will want to make your model look as good as possible, and draw the attention of the viewer to their personality and aura, rather than face features. Below video is a speed art of a portrait edit in photoshop that I did for a friend of mine, a fellow photographer John Becker. The aim of the photo was to display him as a professional with a really sunny and outgoing personality (a mixture of confidence with accessibility), which is exactly who he is in reality.. Black and white high contrast edit allowed me to redirect the attention from the face features to face expression and the eyes. I also lowered the tonal value of the background. The light was very soft, so soft you could call it dull. I had to be really careful with skin retouching and I did very little of micro dodging. At the end of the video you can see a RAW file and final image comparison, so you can easily assess how soft the light was (only ambient light was used, no modifiers or reflectors). If you would like to learn more about professional portrait editing techniques watch my full length in-depth 5.5h long tutorial. Here is a link to a quick guide video.

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Understanding complexity of the art of portrait photo retouching in photoshop

Professional portrait editing is a very complex and taxing work, and requires a set of unique skills. One not only has to master photo editing program like photoshop on a technical level, learn numerous tricks and methods of targeting specific issues in the photo, being able to deal with any and all problematic areas, but also be a true artist. If you cannot see or feel the balance and composition, if you do not appreciate the light and its quality, do not know human anatomy and how light affects shapes, have no patience and you are not a perfectionist, if you do not have an artistic vision and a direction you want to follow during editing process, then you will never make a great portrait photography retoucher.

model: Diana (final edit)

model: Diana (final edit)

Portrait editing is there to bring balance between all elements of the photo, regardless whether they are the main point of interest or not, but also to imbue an image with personal vision that will be a continuation or a complementing element to the original photo. There should be a seamless symbiosis between the image and the post processing. That is what defines professional portrait photo retouching. That is why technical skills and outstanding knowledge of the software is not enough. The same goes to photography. Being a geek and knowing all that there is to know about your camera will never be enough to take great photos. That artistic edge is something that cannot be learned, but it has to be developed. There is also the question of passion. I love editing photos, it relaxes me. I enjoy immensely the sheer joy of creating something unique. I actually like it so much, every time I shoot I look forward to editing my images. Without it they would feel incomplete to me.

I have create a series of 5 videos, in which I edit one of my images and give detailed explanations of what I am doing and why. 5.5h of in-depth portrait editing that covers most of the issues that you will come across when working on images in photoshop. Below is a short video guide that summarizes the whole process and it serves as a reference to quickly find areas of interest. I will be adding interactive links to this video that connect directly to the full length tutorials, which you can find on my Youtube channel. I hope that this will cast some light on the importance and depth of professional photo editing, the work that is done behind the scenes long after the photo shoot.

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Why photo editing skills are equally or even more important than photography skills?

RAW file from the camera

RAW file from the camera

Photography is an art and one can produce stunning photos straight out of camera. However, a skillful photo editor can elevate such photos to a completely new level. Photo editing is a huge knowledge and requires a lot of patience and time, constant studies from various disciplines, including human anatomy, color management, behavior and qualities of light, etc. To edit portraiture you literally have to be a painter, in order to blend and smooth out blemishes, unflattering skin shadows and skin tone issues. Human skin is complex and it is a theater for the game of shadows and highlights. It is virtually impossible to capture a relaxed and healthy looking image without any editing process. Now there are those who take shortcuts and do lazy editing, which results in blurry skin, loosing pore details and obliterating face features, and such editing is done by photographers who either lack the skill, or those who simply prefer to bulk edit photos and move on to another client to make more money. Those type of photographer also use presets and with one click sort out 10s of photos. This also why their photographs look all the same. Photo retouching is an art, and it is way more time consuming than actual shooting. A single portrait editing can take up from 1.5 to 4h, or more, depending on which direction I want to go with it. Is it a straight forward editing, a photoshop manipulation, a creative toning, etc. The devil is hidden in details, and when you take care of the details the rest will fall into place. I work on skin pore level, often zoomed in way past 100% of the actual image size in order to correct small issues that when fixed become apparent. Good photography is always vision-driven, and the shutter click is literally the last step in capturing a good image. No matter what gear you use, how many assistants you have, if you are not in love with light and do not understand human psychology, you will not make a good portrait photographer. Then come editing skills, and those are vastly important in combining all the elements together - the vision, the captured image, understanding of your model and the ability to feel the image. Those who think that photo retouching is unnatural should ask themselves those questions: Is art supposed to be natural or appealing? Is female make-up or hair styling natural? Were Picasso's paintings realistic? Are brand items really needed? Do you like concept cars? Should we all listen to the same music? I hear a lot of photographers say "I prefer to be out there shooting than sitting in front of the PC editing". For me editing is far more creative than taking photos, and offers a true freedom of creation. Being just a photographer sounds a bit limiting to me. I need more than that.

final edit / model: Lena

final edit / model: Lena

Power and elegance - importance and impact of color grading in portrait photography

image straight from the camera

image straight from the camera

Photo editing is essential in the era of RAW digital photography. Majority of people do not realize that professional photographers do not take photos in.jpg format, but in RAW file format. If you set your camera to produce .jpgs, then the camera does the editing for you. It is the same as setting camera to automatic mode and let it do all the job. No good photographs can come out of such practice. RAW files straight from the camera are flat and without much saturation or contrast, though it all depends on the type of camera used and lens quality. The whole idea of shooting in RAW is to post process the image in Photoshop or Lightroom, and imbue it with personal style. However, portrait editing is not all about removing skin blemishes and smoothing the shadows to make skin look more relaxed and even. Color toning is something that can change a good photo into an amazing one just by skillful adjustments done to colors and tones. Toning changes the mood, look and creates this magazine look that people tend to enjoy, but are not sure why. Professional photo editing could be compared to music in a movie. If you notice the music and it is too obvious you will not enjoy it. Best music is one that fits, but you perceive it only on subconscious level without noticing it is there. For private photoshop workshops via skype please contact me directly or see this page

final photo / model: Lena

final photo / model: Lena

High end professional portrait photography retouching workflow

Portrait photography requires special attention and care in terms of photo retouching. Editing a portrait photo, especially a close up head shot, is a time consuming and tedious process, that could take as long as 3 hours. It can be very creative, especially in the area of coloring and refining the style of the final image. Many photographers out there use Lightroom or Photoshop presets (mainly Lightroom as it is a photographer oriented software, and it is much easier to use than Photoshop due to its user friendly interface and intuitive sliders). Others outsource their editing work, which is usually a result of them not being able to do it themselves, or simply not having the time, or simply they do not like editing. I believe than photo editing is an integral process of photography art as a whole. I cannot imagine allowing others to imbue my artwork with their style. Portrait photography is extremely intimate, and it requires a lot of trust, a good connection and it is tied to specific emotions and place in time. Those cannot be comprehended ir emulated by a third person, i.e. a third party photo editor. I take photographs with a vision of image editing. I can visualize the final photo when \I am pressing the shutter. How can I explain my artistic vision to a third person who edits photos for tens of photographers. I love editing my photography, it is a great fun and inseparable part of my photography service. Below is a sped up video (3000x of a normal speed) of a high end portrait retouching process, which in reality took 2h and 30 min to finish. Photography is a visual art, and editing my own work is as important as any stage of image creation. If you are interested in learning how to edit your own photos, have a look at my photoshop workshops, be it one to one or online lessons, and also my YouTube channel where I have published many of my photo retouching and photo manipulation tutorials. You will also find a lot of learning materials and interesting articles on my main page blog at www.ryuurui.com