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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The devil is in the detail - perfectionism and photo editing in photoshop

Whenever I edit my photos my paranoia kicks in before I even start retouching. I can spend an hour deciding between photos to edit. It is all down to finding that one photo with perfect body language, or even merging elements from various photos to achieve that goal. I do not care how I get there, all I care about is great creating images with fluid and undisturbed energy flow. There has to be a balance of elements and this is why post processing plays a huge role in my photography.

If you watch my speed art videos in which I edit my portrait photos, you will notice that very often I work in great zoom, 100% - 400%. It is essential for skin editing and making sure that skin pores are not damaged, also it helps a great deal during skin mattifying (micro dodging and burning), which is done almost exclusively on skin pore level. All my portfolio photos are in full resolution at 300dpi, so everything is out in the open. There is a lot you can get away with in resized photos, especially if they are full or half length portraits.

model: Yayoi Kawahara

model: Yayoi Kawahara

If you are serious about portrait editing you will appreciate its complexity. Whether it is removing distracting elements that ruin the composition, skin editing, global tonal adjustments, color cast and blemish removal, matching skin tones, blending shadow to highlight transitions, adding new complementing elements to the photo via compositing and photoshop manipulation (like drawing hair by hand for instance), contrast and micro contrast adjustments, sharpening, texture repairing, etc., you have to remember that the devil lurks in details so once you take care of all those things that are not visible immediately, all the elements of the photo will start falling in place. And that is why single portrait photo retouching can take between 1.5 to 4h. There are no shortcuts or plugins that can get you there faster and allow for the same level of quality. There is a reason why some of the best things in the world are hand made. Automation is great, but far from perfect.

If nothing else, remember this - portrait photography brings responsibility. As a professional you are responsible for how your model looks on your photos. It is your job to make sure you have done everything that justifies their time or money spent helping you to create images. A great photo can be ruined by poor editing, so if you respect your models you will make sure you have done your absolute best not just during the photoshoot, but also in post processing.

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What is the difference between a pro snapshot and professionally editited portrait photo

In short, about 2 to 3 hours, because this is how long it takes to retouch a portrait photo on a professional level. Photo retouching is not a skill, it is an art, and for me it is a valid and essential part of my photography service. Not everyone can appreciate the importance and impact of photo editing because this is something that is done behind the scenes. It is a process you most likely will not witness personally as a model or a client, but it is always greatly appreciated when compared and explained.

Portrait photo retouching is a complex process of refining tonal shifts, removing color casts, redirecting or emphasizing the main subject or area of interest in the photo, removing distractions, reorganizing and tiding up shadows and highlights, finalizing the artistic vision of the photographer, amplifying the existing feel or creating a completely new mood in the photo, creating a completely new image via composite photography or an artistically enhanced creation though photo manipulation (fantasy, sci-fi, abstract, etc.), and so on.

I am an artist, not just a photographer. I do not capture images I create them, and pressing a shutter on my camera is merely a part of the entire process. Portrait photo retouching is my passion just like photography, Japanese calligraphy, book writing or any other artistic endeavor that I am engaging in. I love photo editing so much that I can easily take an hour only to look through already pre-selected photos from a given photoshoot to choose the one I think is the best in terms of body language and quality of light for editing. Time wise, photo retouching is far more time consuming than a photoshoot itself and can take several times longer than image capturing. I will give you an example. Let us say a photoshoot lasts for 5 hours and 600 images are taken. Now if I pick 10 photos for editing and spend 2.5h on each, that sums up to 25 hours in photoshop alone. That is 5 times longer than the actual photo shoot. A single complex photoshop manipulation can take over 24 hours to complete.

In the era of digital photography photo editing options are limited only by the skill and imagination of the artist, and it is a never-ending journey of discovery and learning. Every photo is different, every person ha sits own personality and mood. I do not use any ready made presets in my workflow and each photo is manually retouched, toned and finalized. Every photo is yet another day of the great journey.

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How to crop your images to make them look balanced and appealing

Image after completing compositing and editing

Image after completing compositing and editing

Cropping images is an art and it is the final touch to your photo just like the seal of a Japanese calligrapher pressed at the very end on the work. There is a saying that goes "印鑑までの作品", which means "a (perfect) work (is one that goes) all the way to the (author's) seal". The same in photography, cropping is a very powerful tool in your photo editing arsenal. Most of my portraits are cropped in camera during shooting, but sometimes I create composites or change the background, like in this photo of Katie. She was cut out and placed on a new background, and since she wanted a circle shaped final shot I had to place her in the dead center of the frame (see the photo to the right). Now I would never shoot a portrait this way, unless it was for a poster with some promotional materials or texts waiting to be added, then I would make space for it. So, I had to go in and crop the image to make her really shine. Below you can see 5 different crops that I created and all of them have a slightly different feel. Crop 1 would be sliced in the headshot style for corporate use or for a bio on a website. Do not be afraid to cut tops of the heads, but when you do that make sure it is balanced with the space below the chin and around the face. Also pay attention to the background texture, it is important that it does not overpower the face, which is the main focus (scroll down to read more).

Crop 1

Crop 1

Crop 2 is a perfect square, which is a common format used by social media pages. Two things you need to remember when cropping images for such sites. 1. the are in square shape, and 2. they are usually tiny, so make sure that the face is filling the frame as much as possible. I placed her a bit to the left hand side of the frame, to create asymmetry which is perfectly empowered by the intersecting diagonal lines (created by both shoulders and the eyes). This creates an illusion of a triangle shape, and goes well with slanting lines of the background. Dynamic crop introduces movement and since she looks dynamic and jolly it fits perfectly.

Crop 2

Crop 2

Crop 3 is what Katie wanted for her page. Here I placed her eyes along the center line and cut off part of her right shoulder. The leading lines of the jacket going up and then curving with her face outline to the right forces eyes to circulate, which supports the shape of the crop. Note that Crop 1,2 and 3 have a corporate feel with emphasis on Katie but there is enough space for the background building to be registered by a viewer as an important element of the photo, even though it is out of focus. Background can be a powerful ally. 

Crop 3

Crop 3

Crop 4 is more centered and looks it gives Katie more powerful image. Her being in the center suggests control, but at the same time her cheerful smile makes her approachable. This is a cross-over between a corporate shot and a more casual profile photo for a webpage. This could also be cropped lower, which would cut the top of her head and showed a bit more of the neck. I cropped it this way to move her eyes to the center.

Crop 4

Crop 4

Crop 5 has a corporate feel again, but it is in a vertical orientation. I sliced the right shoulder and emphasized the other one which is in perfect alignment with the building. The part of the building to the left frames her from the other side and it creates a narrowing effect which pushes the viewer's eyes to her face. Those buildings also create a natural vignette which introduces contrast and redirects the attention to Katie. She is a bit off center to the left, which balances the way she stands, the direction she is facing to and mirrors the direction the light is coming from.

Crop 5

Crop 5

If you are looking for a portrait photographer in Tokyo and you enjoy my style of photography then please contact me directly to discuss details or book a photoshoot. If you are interested in private photoshop workshops via skype desktop sharing feature, please see more details on my main page.

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

My Japanese calligraphy teacher - Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟)

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for about 14 years now, and from the very beginning I was extremely lucky to be accepted by Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟) .as his disciple.  I have spent over 20 years of my life in various schools, including two universities, overseas schools, etc., yet still he is hands down the best teacher and mentor I have ever head. Grand Master Esshuu is so peaceful and humble that one can almost forget how insanely knowledgeable this man really is. He is a descendant of great Japanese Masters, historical Japanese calligraphers, such as Grand Master Kusabe Meikaku 日下部鳴鶴 (1938 - 1922), who had 3000 disciples and was known as one of the Three Brushes of Meiji Era (three greatest calligraphers of Meiji Era), Grand Master Hidai Tenrai (比田井天来, 1972 - 1939), who was known as the father of modern Japanese calligraphy, and Grand Master Kuwahara Suihou (桑原翠邦, 1906 - 1995), who was so respected in Japan, that he was asked by the Imperial couple to assist them to the mausoleum of Hidai Tenrai and introduce them to his works. Here is a portrait of Esshuu sensei that I took recently. I made it into a faded and slightly damaged photo, and contrasted it against his genuine carefree smile, which is something you cannot find on antique photographs. I thought it would bridge between what is in the past and the present times.

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