I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not really a fan of post processing just for the sake of it.
I do, however, tend to find myself processing photos of models more often than any other sort of photography. The reason for this is that there are a lot of small changes to be made, that do help your photos look better, that can be executed in just a few minutes.
Below is the original photo which, other than a slight straighten and crop, has not been altered since being taken.
It’s important to get it right in the camera so that you don’t have to fiddle around with adjustments like exposure and contrast – this can become very time consuming when you have hundreds of photos to go through.
Each step below is accompanied by a photo but, if you’re struggling to see a difference, there’s a slideshow at the bottom of the page to help. It’s important that the steps below are done in order because they affect each other in different ways.
The settings for the photo below are ISO 800 at f/1.4 for 1/6 of a second.
I focused on the eyes to keep them the sharpest and fired an off camera flash to add depth and freeze any motion.
Step 1 – Retouch
Fortunately for me, my model had very good skin so there was really very little to do. You’ll often encounter times when this is not the case; there will be a spot or an unsightly mole that needs removing.
Using Aperture, the program that I use, this is very simple to fix and I just use the repair brush in the retouch section to correct any blemishes – it’s usually unnecessary to use the clone tool.
You’ll notice that I’ve removed marks from the right cheek and the left of the chin but, as I say, I was fortunate with the model I was using.
I did also use the clone tool (which is also found under the retouch brush setting) to remove the top of her hair – it was a bit messy – then used the repair tool along the edge of the hair to help it blend in. You may think it looks a bit obvious now but it’s hard to spot without having it pointed out.
Step 2 – Vignette
The first thing to stress is that I don’t always use the vignette tool but, when I do, I do so subtly.
It’s a great way to darken the edges slightly to draw the eyes towards the subject. Vignetting works well in model photography as the subject is clear; it doesn’t matter that you’re drawing the attention in further.
When shooting landscapes, a vignette tends to become more of a distraction than anything.
The lighting I used for this photo was a beauty dish with a Canon 580 EXII pointing into it. This can produce a vignette effect if you like a more natural one, this can be strengthened by the addition of a grid on the front of the dish.
Step 3 – Saturation Brush
I don’t like to saturate entire photos; the brush tool can really help to make photos stand out.
Because I used a high ISO and a slow shutter speed, I was able to capture a lot of light and detail in the background. Because it was dark out, this produced some really interesting colours.
When you saturate these background colours, they give the photo a warmer feel – it’s much nicer to look at – without messing with the skin tone, which would be the case if you were to saturate the whole photo or change the white balance.
Step 4 – Definition Brush
This is probably the most subtle tool that I use, and I only use it on the eyes, teeth and, sometimes, lips.
It does exactly what it says on the tin: adds definition.
To be more specific, this brush brings out the whites of the eyes and teeth and the shine on the lips a little bit more, making these features stand out from the rest of the face. This produces contrast between these features and the rest of the photo.
These areas deserve more definition; increasing definition here adds to photo. Be careful though: it would look bad if you were to add definition to the darker parts of the subjects hair, for example.
Step 5 – Sharpen Brush
This is a very useful little trick but is to be done sparingly; it’s painfully obvious when you over do it.
A small amount of sharpening on the eyes and teeth make the photo appear to be very sharp when, in reality, the depth of field was very shallow as I shot the photo at f/1.4.
By focusing on the eyes in the first place and adding a sharpening effect, as I’ve done below, contrast in sharpness with the softness of the rest of the photo is produced. This step is my favourite out of all of them as it makes the biggest difference in a very subtle way.
Just make sure you use this tool in small doses.
Step 6 – Skin Smoothing
Again, my model had really good skin so there wasn’t too much requirement for this.
I like to add it anyway; it cleans up the photo nicely.
Skin smoothing is an easy tool to use and can be brushed on in the same way as sharpening and definition, over areas of the skin that you feel need improvement. The most noticeable area that I’ve smoothed is on the chest and cheeks.
I liken this step to a final polish; it should always be kept til last.
I hope you’ve learnt something from what I’ve shared today. If you’re having trouble comparing the photos step by step, click ‘play’ on the slideshow below and you should be able to see everything that I’ve done.
For more great tips, check out our articles on working with models for best results, or finding models for free!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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