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Bringing out the character in a black and white portrait

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You can use post-processing software to take an image to a new level. We don’t always have the opportunity to get everything lit exactly as we like when we come across an interesting subject. Photoshop, Luminar 4 and NIK Silver Efex Pro were my helpmates in making this image be more than the original capture.

On every first Friday of each month in Sedona, I head to the Gallery of Modern Masters where my artwork is represented. Craig Christopherson, a fellow artist, inspired this blog post. He is a gifted sculptor of wood, metal, air and water and quite a character. You can see some of his work on his Instagram feed or check out the Gallery of Modern Masters website. I enjoy the character I see in Craig’s face. I wanted to see if I could sculpt this image into an artistic piece.

Adobe Camera RAW

Here is the initial capture of Craig shot out of the camera. I placed him under an outside light to get some rim light on his black shirt and hat. I used a Falcon Eyes Pocketlight 12 watt LED to kick some light into his face.

The first stop in this processing journey was Adobe Camera RAW. The original capture was post-processed to open up the shadows, tame the highlights and add just a bit of clarity to add some sharpness to the photo.

Luminar 4 for post-processing

Next in line a copy was made and placed upon its own Layer. I add a Layer so that the result returned from a plug-in can be dialed in via a mask or change in opacity. Skylum’s Luminar 4 was called upon in plug-in mode to use its portrait retouching tools, AI Skin Enhancer and Portrait Enhancer. This resulted in eyes being brightened and opened just a tad.

Best of all, I used the Face Lighting tool to bring some brightness to the face alone. This is lighting feature is awesome and held shadows and highlights nicely.

Back to Photoshop

Photoshop’s Layers palette showing most of the steps in working this portrait.

I wanted to create a painterly feeling to bring more attention to Craig’s face. Texture files to the rescue to create a new background. A new Layer and a mask were created using the Select Subject feature. That gave me a selection of Craig to help control the effect. Photoshop’s Blend Modes were added to texture Layers and masks helped to remove some of the texture from the face. Additional textures with Blend Modes and opacity changes were judiciously added to enhance the painterly feel.

NIK filters

Silver Efex Pro is often a go-to when I want to make a conversion to black and white. I find the controls to be intuitive to get the right amount of contrast. Sharpness can get a solid boost by using the structure sliders.

Fine details are enhanced using the Micro-Structure slider. This is wonderful for beards when properly applied. Careful! A little goes a long way and it is easy to start to look over-processed.

Final post-processing touches

Finished black and white portrait of Craig.

The finishing post-processing touches are taken care of with a blank Layer set to Soft Light. It is used to do some dodging and burning to finesse the highlights and shadows. The retouch Layer was used to remove the white logo on his shirt and clean up a few stray hairs. Lastly, a sharpening Layer is used to bring attention to specific areas and to invite the viewer to move their eyes to areas where you would like them to notice.

Final thoughts

When processing images think about this. In a black and white image, a viewer’s eye is first going to the area of highest contrast. In this case, I worked to make the eyes the main focus. Following that sharpness is placed in areas to add subtle interest and guide the viewer’s eye for another trip through your portrait.

One last tip when working on your portrait images. When you think you are done, flip the image 180 degrees and turn the visibility off. When you come back to the image later turn it back on. See where your eye goes. If it is not exactly where you want your viewer to look, it may be time for a bit more dodging and burning.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

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Bob Coates

Bob Coates

Bob is a lens-based artist and has had the honor and privilege to author books and articles on photography and has presented seminars and programs from Hawaii to the Caribbean. As a former Panasonic Lumix Ambassador, he has been able to stay up with the latest technology in the micro four-thirds cameras. Coates is a successful commercial and fine art photographer based in Sedona, AZ with his wonderful wife who makes it possible for him to do all he does in the photography industry. Need a speaker? Get in touch. Art website | Photography blog | Commercial website

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