Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tasteful Post Production: Editing Senior Portraits

Post production can be very time consuming, depending on your editing preferences and other factors. One of the biggest factors affecting post production is the quality of the image coming out of the camera.

In example 1 below, I have photographed a senior near the shore of Lake Erie. It is an overcast evening about 30 minutes before sunset, and the water is somewhat calm.

I exposed this image with a custom white balance, ISO400, f/2.8 for 1/60 handheld. I was pleased with the composition, pose and exposure. There's a stick on the right that I will need to deal with, but the bird adds a bit of maritime essence and the trees behind give a bit of color to offset the orange top.

My first steps in post production after copying the folder from the chip to my session folders is to do a quick contrast and vibrance enhancement. I use Corel's AfterShot Pro, which is a post production image management tool very similar to Lightroom. Generally I will slide the Exposure control if needed, then push the Black control to increase contrast in the shadow side. You can see a subtle increase in the dark of the water on the right, and the shadow area of the denim in the subject. 

I also often push the Vibrance a bit. It gets the colors to pop without the excessive effect you get from the Saturation tool. However, I don't overdo it, because it is still my "proof" image. 

This particular edit on this image, including a quick crop, took maybe 45 seconds. For the entire session of  40-60 selected images, it took me perhaps 30 minutes to do all of the edits to get to "proof" stage. These images are nearly ready to print, requiring only cosmetic touch ups on close-up facial features such as skin and teeth and stray hair. I set a goal of having the senior's proof set ready before I go to bed, usually 90 minutes after I get home from the session.

I proofed and published the image as edited above. But I was looking for something a bit more colorful for this image, so I loaded Topaz Adjust and did a bit of work on it. You can see in the image blow that the main effect was to pop the greens in the background, and provide a much sharper level of detail than the original image. Topaz and other effects can certainly enhance an image, but if the image is not properly composed, exposed and proof-edited, you are going to have disappointing results from any plug-in.

I use plug-ins very sparingly. Maybe 3-5 images from each session will get a treatment. Your tastes may differ, but I don't want to be known as the photographer whose images all look "fake". I like to get the right in the camera, provide just a bit of "pop", and keep them realistic and generally in color. Then if the family wants images in black and white or sepia, I'll edit those to print.

I'm pleased with the result of this edit. Her expression and pose is confident and feminine, and the leading lines of the trees and the water create a "funnel" to draw your attention to the subject. The touch of reflection in the water adds to the color splash from the senior's orange top. And this edit creates a bit of a Renaissance look to the image, with a watercolor/green/yellow emphasis on the trees. 

Here are some tips for senior pictures editing workflow:

  1. Learn to get the exposure correct in camera, especially white balance and exposure. Getting comfortable with a white balance tool and an incident light meter will reduce your post production times immensely!
  2. Don't shoot more than two of any pose. If you captured a good image, then move on.
  3. Quickly reduce your session down to 40-60 images where there are no duplicate poses. AfterShot Pro has a set of filters (stars and colors) that let you "hide" the rejected images.
  4. Learn to do the quick exposure edits in AfterShot Pro or Lightroom, at a pace of 30 seconds or less per image. You can also copy/paste exposure edit settings from one image to another if they are in the same setting, using Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V shortcuts.
  5. Save the edits in a separate folder so you can work with them in your image editor if needed.
  6. Use plug-ins sparingly. But when you do, make sure the result represents your style and vision.

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