Create illusion of natural light with flashes and capture stunning portraits

Just like in life everything in excess is usually not the best thing. The same goes to artificial lights in photography. I love outdoor portraits, but I also like to mix lights for ultimate control of mood and emotions in my photos. Flash photography is often disliked by many people and the reason for it is simple. It is not about mastering flashes and exposure, but about falling in love with light and effects that you can create with it. Set exposure and measure light with your soul not the light meter. That is the key. Attune to your model's mood or evoke one, whatever you do the light quality should complement it, without drawing too much attention. You are painting with light, not following math equasions.

 model: Mina

model: Mina

It depends on the effect you are going for but if you want to create an illusion of natural light with flashes then the key is to tone down the flash power and (often) use color gels that will complement colors or shift them to your liking. This photo that you can see above was shot few minutes before the sun dissapeared behind the horizon. The ligth was too weak to shoot crystal clear portrait but the light color was amazing, and the softness was too good to ruin it. I shot this at 1/250 so max shutter speed that my camera syncs with the flash (HSS would not give me enough power from one flash gun). I had to dial down the flash manually untill it felt right, I do have light meter but honestly I rarely use it. I used double diffusion with CTO gel for the flash to warm the light up. I callibrated WB with XRITE color checker before applying the gel, so then the orange cast would add on top of the corrected color. That gave the illusion of sunset color. Photo was cross processed so the final tones have shifted anyways (see the video below which shows my photoshop editing workflow) but it is important to have a good color base, esepcially for portraits. 

Experiment with light and forget about TTL if you are not in a hurry. And quite frankly I never am. I create image after image and time doesnt bother me. I do not care how long I have to shoot to get what I want. Also, you should master photo editing and preferably in Photoshop or any program that gives you superb control over layers and offers non destructive editing. Leave Lightroom for lazy people and those who edit their photos in bulk. They lack respect for their own work. Portrait editing is an art and requires time (see my 5h long in-depth photoshop tutorial on portrait editing), patience and vision. Get it right in camera for me means two things: to capture beautiful light and natural body language. The rest I not only can, but WANT to play with in photoshop. I love doing it.

Go outside and learn how the light works, study it and appreciate what it can do and what you can do with it. You will see world in a completely new light.

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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

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.

Complete portfolio in full resolution: http://ponte-ryuurui-photography.smugmug.com/Portfolio

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

 

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.

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

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.

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

Ancient art + portraiture = photography on a different level

Everyone can take a snapshot, a few can take a photograph, even fewer can make it fine art image. But for me capturing a photo is merely half way, if not less. Photo editing this days is either abused by those who search for shortcuts, photographers who want to mass produce their images by one-clicking a preset in Lightroom that will edit 100s of photos in minutes, or underestimated by the viewers. We live in era of Instagram garbage, small screens on which you can barely see anything, and so many photos online that no wonder people have troubles with recognizing what is the difference between quality work and something rather dull just colorful. Editing for me is an art form, and one has to be an artist to be able to edit images with a vision, sense of beauty and consistency of ever-evolving style. Being a multi-genre artist, I enjoy merging various forms of visual arts together, be it digital art and photography, creating photo manipulations, or by merging Japanese or Chinese calligraphy art of my authorship with my photography. Calligraphy can be intimidating due to its highly abstract nature, but when accompanied by an image, it much more approachable and perhaps can be appreciated from a different angle.

Calligraphy art in semi-cursive script: 雲中白鶴 (lit. white crane in clouds / meaning; someone of pure heart and transcendent character)

 model: Lena

model: Lena

Flash photography outdoor beauty portrait photoshoot in Tokyo

I love all types of portrait photography, and I too think that natural light is simply amazing and hard to beat, however, flash photography offers so much more control that is is difficult to pass on. If you are a natural light photographer only you are limiting yourself very substantially to the ambient light, i.e. available light. Once the night comes, and the wonderful city lights pop out, you are packing and going home. Now flash photography allows me to shoot all day, 24/7 regardless the light. In fact, I can create night during a sunny day, remove ugly distraction from he background, and control the power, ration and colors of the light. I can set up white balance to one setting, slap on a gel or two on my speed lights and create mood that otherwise would be impossible to capture. Here is a portrait of Nicole, a model and a singer from Scotland taken outside on the evening street of Shibuya in central Tokyo. If you are visiting Tokyo and wish to have spectacular photographs taken, that will make you feel great not only about yourself but also create unforgettable memoirs from your travels, then contact me and book a shoot!

 model: Nicole

model: Nicole

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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