How to compose with light in order to create stunning portrait photos

Difference between a good portrait photo or headshot and an amazing one is almost entirely down to the quality of light. Yes the background is essential, and so is the body language, but if light is poorly directed and its quality (hard, soft, diffused, focused, etc.) is not complimentary to the rest of the image then all will fall apart. To create an outstanding image you not only have to know how to operate with light, but also why and when to use specific techniques that will result in a natural and undisturbed energy flow through the whole image. In other words, when you look at it it has to feel natural, and you should not see any element that stands out to the extent that it dominates the photo in a negative way.

model: Nata

model: Nata

When I work with a new model and I have no idea how to light her face yet, I experiment and search, the I discover and conclude. Everyone has a different face features, and they come with various types of personality. This will require different lighting each time for each person. If you mount your light on spot A and place yourself in spot B every time you shoot, only because it is your safe spot and you know you captured decent images last time and 100 times before it, you will learn nothing and remain medicore at best. Think of your photography as a boat and your model as the wind. Set her lose and don't force posing, and let her steer you in a general direction of what she feels is natural in terms of positioning and body language. Then become a sail and adjust your course. Sailing against the wind is possible but why on earth would you do that.

model: June

model: June

Light should not only direct the eye around the photo but it should be an integral part of the entire composition. If you think about it, there would not be a photo without light. On the other hand even the most amazing model placed in a bad light will look terrible. So you have to be sensitive to body language, yes, but poses and angles that you capture those poses from have to be in symbiosis with the light and its quality. Do not copy and photograph what you can, capture what you feel you should in a given moment. Do not photograph what your eyes see, but follow your heart instead. If you appreciate the subtle differences of light angles, intensity, direction, and so on, your portraits will look much more rich, defined, and peaceful at the same time, regardless of how dynamic the message or subject of the photo is.

model: Saari

model: Saari

Editing is essential for your progress, and I cannot stress this enough. Forget Lightroom and leave it for lazy people. Diving into Photoshop will not only allow you to refine what you have captured in much better and more professional ways than Lightroom ever could but also will do something outstanding- it will slow you down and let you gaze at the image for longer time. You will improve your sense of composition, lighting, understanding body language and help you to narrow down and target your own shortcoming as an artist. Just like a tripod is great for studying architecture photography, Photoshop is amazing for improving your portraiture. Do not mass produce your images but create them. Not only that, if you start working with frequency separation techniques, which are the only way to professionally edit a portrait image or a headshot, you will discover how you can fix issues with shadows and even reshape face features. This is a superb way of learning the light and how it works.

Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.
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http://www.portrait-photography-tokyo.com/
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Fall in love with light, and people will fall in love with your portraits

Light is everything in photography. There is no images without any light, just black abyss. It sets the mood, it defines the scene and story, it shapes your thoughts, it directs you eyes, it moves your soul, it determines the energy flow throughout the image, it defines and complements the body language. Everything revolves around light and its quality in a photo. I am often asked by my photography students, what settings did you use for this image, or worse - what camera settings and aperture do you use in your portraits. And I hate hearing those questions not because the answer to it is I do not know but I do not want to know. I simply do not care. Neither should you. I honestly do not remember my camera settings because they are so deliciously unimportant. Instead, I remember the atmosphere, the shadows and how light fell on the model, or what shapes I saw, moments and flashes of images that my mind captured first and then they were recorded with a camera. Camera is a just tool, light is a journey. if you are lost in the scenery, you will not remember that you even hold a walking stick, let alone being aware of how you should be using it.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Learning your camera essentials is important, naturally, but to be honest, once the camera is set and all the annoying deep menu options and whistles are sorted out, all you will fiddle with is three values, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. So instead of thinking what camera settings you should be using, think of how the scene that you see feels. Is the light falling on your model in away that everything looks balanced and seems harmonious? If not, then change the lights, move yourself, change the angle. Learn how camera sees the world through the specific focal length and aperture and use it creatively. Learn to capture what you want by experimenting wit the camera settings and lenses, not the other way round.

model: Viktoria

model: Viktoria

Do not let the camera hold you back or define the limits of your artistic sense. It may take time, but it is worth it. I had a client recently who asked me if I have experience shooting Asians. It was so clear to me she had no clue on what it is all about. I replied: I shoot personalities not races, I shoot moments not expectations. Every time I shoot, I always bear two things in mind - light quality and environment. Model is my last worry, though it is very important to have all 3 elements in sync, other wise your images may not make much sense. It is the emphasis that you put on the subject of your photo by means of light what matters, and it is irrelevant whether it is a face, a gesture, a vista, or just few random stones on a beach. Fall in love with light and how it is being cast, and the rest will fall into place.

model: Erika Ito

model: Erika Ito

Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.
Portrait photography service, Tokyo - website
http://www.portrait-photography-tokyo.com/
Photography workshops in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/photography-workshops.html
Hire a photographer in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/hire-a-photographer-in-tokyo.html
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Portrait photography is about capturing souls with your lens, not faces

Portrait photographs are are real life situations. some will make you smile and are pleasant to look at, while others will make you think, recollect or even dream. Capturing faces can be fun, but capturing souls is simply an enticing experience. Those are split seconds when your model is warped, zoned out, somewhere else in her past or future, traveling through memories or past experiences, her desires or wishes. Those are the moments when the time pauses for a second yet the captured expression itself is timeless. When the photo you have captured truly moves the model emotionally when she looks at it, then you know you have dug deep enough to touch her thoughts. And this is what I call a great portrait.

model: Iselita

model: Iselita

Photographing people without their social masks, real people, takes time and patience, it also requires mutual understanding, connection and good communication. You have to reach way past their private zones, to where whatever you say or do will have a direct impact on their mood. The emotional distance between people is what kills images, and as a portrait photographer you should learn how to minimize that distance to zero without having your model retracting to her shell of safety. Trust is essential here, feeling of comfort, and most importantly peace and quiet. This is mainly why I detest shooting portraits in areas crawling with people. It depends on the assignment or idea behind the shoot, and also on how many times I worked with a given model, but generally I avoid crowded spaces. Studio would sound like a good solution but studios have this clinical "I am about to get shot" feel. Outdoor sets, on the other hand,  have so many distractions where elements of city or nature that bring memories. Women react to sounds, smells, and those could easily project images, even more so for those with developed artistic side.

model: Nami

model: Nami

Another way to capture moody and intriguing images is by evoking emotions. Do not talk to your model, instead talk with your model. Even better, forget she is a model and think of her as a girl or a woman. Engage her mind, intrigue her, make her laugh or revive some memories by simply having a chat about anything that you both find interesting. It is all about disabling the defense mechanisms and removing shields of "gee I hope my lipstick isn't crooked". Make her forget not only that you are photographing her, make her forget you are even there. If you manage this for a brief time, then you got yourself superb images. Learn their face, how light falls on it and how shadows are created, use that to your advantage. Face expressions can be amazing but when complimented by appropriate colors and light they can be mesmerizing. If you think of human face expression as an art, then think of each photograph as a single frame from a story. It has to be self contained, but also open enough for a viewer to be able to adopt it to their own life story,. It always makes me laugh when people interpret poetry or paintings. What a bunch of fools. It's art, you are supposed to absorb it not analyze it. If a portrait photograph makes people dissipate emotionally, then you are not a photographer anymore, you are an artist.

model: Iselita

model: Iselita

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What are the key elements of a great portrait photo

Photography is all about light. That is it. Light determines composition, mood, colors, depth, and so on. Without light, all you would see is a black rectangle. However, once the light is cast, more elements come into play. Portrait photography is not about photographing faces. It is about photographing emotions, moments, personalities. If you focus on the face only, you lose depth and story. Face is not the subject here, the moment is. Just like when you photograph dancers, you capture movement, energy, gesture and composition, balance and grace, power and momentum. You do not photograph legs or arms.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Psychology plays massive part in portrait photography. Your job, as portrait photographer, is to search deep under the surface of social masks that everyone wears. They make people feel safe and invulnerable. You have to learn how to strip them off even just for a moment. Similarly to how street photography is about waiting and predicting a happening, portrait photography is about capturing and evoking split seconds of feelings and moods. Knowledge of body language is as important here as the ability of connecting with another human being. That connection has to be sincere so they feel comfortable and loosen their guard. This cannot be done in a haste, so do not rush your portrait shoots. This is also why I do not agree with charging per hour. It feels like mass production to me. I charge per each final image, and yes, post processing is the second reason here. 

It is said that the best portraits are taken when people do not realise they are being photographed. True, but for me this is a bit too invasive. One of the reasons why I am not comfortable with street portraiture, even though I do appreciate it's raw beauty, is because it feels unfair and even vulgar to invade other people privacy. It does not feel fair to me to steal those moments. I want to witness them, evoke and experience them, be a living part of them. Only then I can truly understand who is that I am photographing. In portrait photography the model knows that she or he is being stalked with a lens. And yes it is way more difficult to take a natural looking photo this way, but that is why a specific set of skills is required.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Key elements of portrait photo for me would be complementing light, natural body language, undisturbed flow of energy through the photo, and impeccable post processing. Perfect exposure has nothing to do with image being good. Far from it. Mindless following of "photography rules" will also get you nowhere. Photography is an art, not a science, even though there is science behind it. The energy flow relates to all elements including the background,, which is often overlooked and yet so important. Post processing is huge and I would never allow to be photographed by someone who does not edit their own photos. They are either lazy, too focused on squeezing more shoots to make more money, or simply lack artistic vision. I do not just shoot and edit, I shoot with a vision of editing. When I am asked to pass RAW unedited images to a client I am actually being insulted. I do not produce snapshots, I create photographs.

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How to take portrait photographs of professional artists and performers

This is by far one of the most demanding and yet the most rewarding type of portrait photography that you can get into. Most of the people have no idea what portrait photography is all about, hell, they even do not know what they want. Everyone has their own style and they know what they like when they see it, but have difficulties with envisioning it. Just like you buy furniture in a store, when you see a sofa on its own it may not do much for you, but if you see the same sofa in a context of other complementing furniture, then it may make you think - oh wow this would be perfect for my house.

See Artists are different. We do not see trees, we see light synchronizing with amazing maze of shapes and shadows. We do not see city streets and cars, we see art in motion, a happening of movement, a game of kinetic energy and 100s of unique face expressions passing by. A true artist will never tell you, "man, just make me look good", most of them have a vision of what they want, but they are more than excited about bouncing ideas on the go with you. It feels like long vacations on Maldives for the soul.

So how do you shoot artists, performers, singers, and so on. Well, first do not get intimidated, get excited instead. This is the time when you can let your creativity go mustang. Remeber that it is essential to go outside your comfort zone EVERY time you shoot, otherwise you will not grow. On the other hand you need need to stay composed and know exactly what your client or model is after. Do a research on what they do and ask them all questions that you need to know regarding why and what for they need a portrait photo. It is challenging because you have to take their specific or abstract and loose ideas on board, and then imbue it with your own style. Photographers are, or should be, chosen by their portfolio. You are not going to book a photographer whose style is not appealing to you. It makes no sense.

Above is a portrait shot of Dobolo, a hip hop artist from Tokyo, who needed a photo for promoting his new song About to Blow (you can see the video clip below, created by a really talented videographer Jeremy Rubier. Dobolo needed a metro / urban portrait shot, that will be powerful but at the same time simple in form. It had to be a photo that will go well with the theme, message and vibe of the song. I used natural lighting only, breaking all rules of what you will learn when you start with portrait photography, which are to avoid hard sunlight, and always position your subject face towards the light. Well soft light would not work here at all. I had flash guns with me but I figured that the massive contrast between dark and light tones will actually bring this photo closer to black and white, making it way more impactful in terns of tonal difference. I needed space for the text but I did not want it to clutter the breathing space around him, so I was shooting with 16:9 ratio in mind. Also, I knew how I willl do the toning of this photo inside of photoshop and also that bringing down saturation and shifting tones in the photo will only emphasize light qualities.

Tiny angle change of the portrait gives it a bit more energy and modern look. It is a slight tilt, nothing too aggressive. It it were, then it would overpower the model, and since this is not high fashion, the model is actually important. It is not that in high fashion models are not important, it is just that the message being conveyed usually overpowers all other elements, and the model becomes an integral part of the image. In fashion photography it is about the art, not about models. Last but not least, notice how the fence behind Dobolo imitates a keyboard. It is not supposed to be evident but subliminal in a way.

Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.

Main website www.ryuurui.com
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Use photoshop to create what you want, not what others tell you is right.

If I do not say this no one else will. Fuck what others think. Photo retouching is an art and as an artist you are free to do what you feel is right. It is you who decides which way to go, and all you need to listen to is your intuition and heart. Art is about searching your path, constant improvement via experimenting. There is no room for fear and concern about what someone may think. Most of the people have an artistic sense of a boiled potato anyways, and are so jaded and brainwashed with constant flow of junk on Instacrap that they do not know what is art and what isn't anymore. They cannot function without being told, because it makes them feel safe and attached to a trend or social circle. There will always be those who appreciate your art and those who don't. You do not create for them, you create to stay alive and content. you create because you cannot live otherwise.

model: Apple

model: Apple

For me photoshop is like a gateway to freedom of expression. It all starts with a blank sheet or some raw ingredients in a form of images and I can do whatever I please. Every image has its energy, its aura and it will guide you though the process. Sometimes I immediately know how I want to edit an image, and often I shoot with a vision of editing. Nonetheless I may just change my mind half way, or wait even few weeks until I grow up to editing certain photo. Just like a seed planted in your imagination photos will grow on you.

All that however does not excuse ignorance and pigheadedness. Keep learning, discovering, looking around you and listening to your models. Some of them can have seriously cool ideas, just like the model you see on the photo above. She said "can you make me matte black in photoshop?" And I thought "hell yeah". Lots of them are performers or artists. Those ideas will challenge your creativity and skill. Artists should be like kids who learn while and through playing. Be mindful in your play but at the same time lose yourself in it.

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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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Create drama and mood in your portraits with cinematic color grading in photoshop

Photo retouching is a complex art and it comes with countless options and possibilities. In fact, the only limitation is your skills and imagination. Color grading is one of the last steps in my editing workflow in photoshop. It is best to leave coloring and toning until the image is fully edited. Any changes to contrast, sharpness, vignetting, etc. will amplify or reduce colors and saturation. Those always effect toning and mood of the photo so again it is best to wait till you are sure that the image is finalized. 

model: Apple Nicole

model: Apple Nicole

Having said that, very often it happens so that I revise my editing either after I finish working on it, or the next day. While retouching a photo I change the zoom very often, so I switch between details and global scale all the time. It is possible to miss certain things when I am redirect a narrow focus to a problem area. It is essential to review your work after you are happy with the final result. If you are a obsessed with details like I am, you will always find something to be fine tuned.

The way you color grade your image will depend on the model, mood, lighting, retouching style, your photoshop knowledge, artistic concept and vision the photo was taken with, and so on. There is no recipe for photo toning and no preset that should be applied. Every single time you will encounter different colors on your images, so the color values that you will apply during toning should match those. Applying presets and photoshop actions is a lazy way out and produces rather poor results. Take your time, look at the building blocks of the image and try to sense what type of toning would fit this particular photo. It is your art and your decision, do not let presets created by others mindlessly decide for you.

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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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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.

Private photoshop workshops via skype - http://www.ryuurui.com/photo-retouching-lessons.html

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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.

Private photoshop workshops via skype - http://www.ryuurui.com/photo-retouching-lessons.html

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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.

Private photoshop workshops via skype - http://www.ryuurui.com/photo-retouching-lessons.html

Photography workshops in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/photography-workshops.html

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For more tutorials and how to videos check out my photoshop and photography tips and tricks YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEOVGZ2rpLhR7gSPvaexxxQ

Finding a composition for a portrait photo in the chaos of shapes around you

For me portrait photography is about balance between body language of the model, quality of light and harmony of background elements. All pieces of the puzzle have to live in symbiosis. When I am out shooting I look for spots where one element is missing, and that element is my model. Just like in street photography, where one finds a place and then waits for that special moment to happen. That moment is the missing element of the composition or a story that I am trying to convey. Finding that balance and harmony is the most difficult thing to teach, because it will depend on how artistic or sensitive a person is. The same goes to everything in photography really, it is all about finding e perfect balance. Even more difficult is to understand, or be able to feel rather, how to introduce imperfections into the composition to create a perfect harmony. It really is a matter of sensing and weighting all segments of a photograph together. A great exercise to do is to pick one location, and without moving much try to find as many photographs as you can. Then , go back home, open them on your PC and think which elements fit and which do not. What mistakes you made, which elements you have not noticed when you pressed the shutter. Model: Nami

model: Nami

model: Nami

Private photoshop workshops via skype - http://www.ryuurui.com/photo-retouching-lessons.html

Photography workshops in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/photography-workshops.html

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For more tutorials and how to videos check out my photoshop and photography tips and tricks YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEOVGZ2rpLhR7gSPvaexxxQ

Understanding the connection between image elements and photo retouching

Portrait photography is a very powerful story telling platform. It expresses not only the style, vision and ideas of the photographer, but if done skilfully it captures the true personality of the model, her or his feelings, and mood. It leaves the door to a personal and private space slightly ajar. Those moments last for split of a second and when combined with complementing lighting and balanced natural body language can be further empowered by post processing of an image. Image editing was always present, even in the film days, but in times of digital photography retouching skills are a very powerful artistic tool. It literally allow us to draw on the image. Used sensibly and with understanding can lead to superb results. Every time I edit a photo it is a new adventure into the world of shadows and highlights, colors and shapes, and just like in a puzzle all the elements have to fit to complete the image. Having an idea of post processing has to be in tune with the elements and the mood of the photo. That is why, I never use tools such as coloring presets, or photoshop actions that do the job for me. Just like a camera set to auto, most of automation in editing is a recipe for disaster. I want a full creative control. It takes time, sure, but all the good things do. It is worth every minute spent in the digital dark room. Photography is a symphony of light, which can be either brilliant or poorly composed. It can be inspiring or painful to look at. If the image is inspiring, it will lead you the right way throughout the post processing, as long as you know the which tools you should use to achieve a desired effect, and how to look at the photo to understand its energy. There is a huge difference between editing the way you can, and editing the way you envisioned the final result in your mind when you pressed the shutter. It is a difference between a craftsman and an artist, a difference between a person who captures what they see, and a person who captures what others cannot. Model: Nami

model: Nami

The art of portrait photography retouching in photoshop - full length video tutorial series

Portrait retouching is a complex and time consuming process, and requires not only very advanced technical skills and knowledge of Photoshop or any other professional software for image post-processing, but most importantly artistic sensitivity and vision, understanding of human anatomy and proprieties of light and how light behaves in real life, and tremendous amount of patience. There are many plugins and ready made solutions that cut corners, but if one wants to achieve stunning results it is all down to manual work in a digital dark room. Every photo is different, has different toning, lighting, mood and composition. Consequently every photo should be approached individually with care and understanding. When I capture portraits with a camera, I envision how I will edit them. For me a great photograph is a harmony between the body language, captured emotions or moment, quality of light, compelling composition and complementing retouching. All elements are absolutely essential.

model: Diana

model: Diana

I am currently creating a series of videos showing my full portrait editing workflow. You can watch parts 1 to 3 on my Youtube channel already. Part 4 is currently being edited, and I will be recording part 5 this week. The entire series will be about 5h long and it covers not only retouching but also my thought flow on choosing a photo for editing and reasoning behind my choice. It is an extensive guide to high-end portrait retouching including various techniques and photo editing methods. I will be posting videos part 1 to 5 below.

The art of boudoir portrait photography - how to choose the right photographer?

I look at boudoir and nude photography as I look at my Japanese calligraphy art. It is all about undisturbed energy flow, grace of lines and curves, and the balance between the mood and the form. It is a dialogue between the model and the space around her. I really enjoy capturing people at those unique moments when they zone out for a split second, moments when their mind is somewhere else. Then all I do is photograph the lines and shapes their body forms dressed in highlights and shadows in connection with their thought flow, linking what you can see and what you can only imagine. If you follow me on my blogs you know well that photo retouching plays a huge role in my photography art, and I absolutely love taking my time to retouch every single photo. I find the photo editing process extremely creative and exciting. I hear photographers saying so many times *I would rather be out there shooting than in front of my Pc editing*. I could not disagree with this more! Taking a photo is only a small step in a vast creative process of visualising and realising the final image. I believe that when a photographer starts using automated presets to edit 10s or 100s of photos with a few clicks of a mouse, he or she turns something that could be very unique into a very common and rather dull image. We are very jaded and consumed so much as a human race, that most of us cannot distinguish anymore between art and and a visual insult on our sensitivity. People are confused rushing through life, being too busy to take their time to think what they really like deep inside, and instead they follow the general trend appreciated by the masses. Do not be a sheep and feel it yourself. Art should not be about speed and efficiency, but the the emotion it evokes when you look at it. I do not want to have to rush through the photoshoot, which is why I set my fees to per final edited photo count and not per hour. The final result is so important for me, that I am and will refuse anyone who is approaching me for mere snapshots, or asking me to shoot for 3h and pass 50 or 70 photos to them. As an artist I actually find such requests somewhere between sad and insulting. Portrait photography is all about psychology, sparking a moment, telling a captivating story, capturing an image that will make you wonder or pause for a while, but it also has to allow one achieve artistic fulfillment. This simply cannot be rushed. It takes time to get to know who you shoot, combat their camera fear, lack of confidence, and other issues that a model or client may have. I care more about my images than those who pay for them, in fact I care so much I can take even an hour only to browse through a few shots and think which image from a series of images of a certain look I want to edit. Photo editing is a long process if done properly. A single portrait can take anywhere between 1.5 to 4 or more hours. Extremely creative portrait photography manipulations can take a whole day. There are many ways in which an image can be retouched, from a more traditional way like the one you can see below, to a fantasy theme. When you pick a photographer do not base your decision on the price, but the style and quality of his or her portfolio, the skills and passion that drives them, creativity and attention to details, and last but not least their personality. You should not only enjoy the final photos, but also the experience of being photographed. 

Eline

Eline

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