Retouching can add a lot of flexibility in shooting (when needed), but also can add a lot of style and impact to an image. I took this maternity shot of Holly and Brady in their home in St Paul a few days ago. Brady was working on a home project while we were shooting with Holly, and when he was ready to join the shoot we didn’t have a lot of time to set up lights for two people. I opted to work with the natural light in the room, which was soft but backlight (the primary light was coming from windows on the same wall to the left, right, and above this shot). That backlighting gave them a natural hair light, but it also caused some camera flare (which reduced the contrast of the image – the original is shown at the bottom of this post). And, I wanted to shoot the image as a horizontal, but the wall wasn’t wide enough (the shot would not have had the right mood if I had included the windows. So, I shot a vertical image in order to produce the horizontal image you see below.
Here was my approach to retouching the image:
- Start in Lightroom with color correction (to get rid of the strong blue cast). I had used a grey target, so white balancing was quick and easy.
- Adjust contrast with curves to make the image pop.
- Rotate the image a very small amount to level the white baseboard (I had shot on a tripod without a level). This isn’t super obvious in the vertical image, but when I stretched it to be horizontal it became more important.
- Next I opened the image in Photoshop to do the more detailed retouching. I started by duplicating the original image and then using the crop tool to enlarge the canvas horizontally (with the goal of placing them in the right of the image so that Holly was looking into the image).
- I then used the rectangular marque selection tool to pick as much of the background as I could to the right of Holly and Brady, and used the free transform tool to stretch that background all the way to the right of the frame. I repeated the same action on the left side.
- The stretching has the effect of elongating the pixels and is pretty noticeable even at small enlargements, so I needed to correct for my extreme stretching of the image. (I could have used cloning tools to enlarge the image, but the background vignette and repeating floorboard patterns would have made this a very challenging job). So I used the background from my un-stretched original image and blended it in with the stretched background at about 50% opacity (using a layer mask and soft brush) to create a softer transition zone to the right and left of the couple.
- I then wanted to make the floor directly underneath the couple less sharp (so that it bended with the softer stretched flooring). To do this, I selected the floor to duplicate the un-stretched area, used a Gaussian blur to soften it, added noise in luminosity mode to put grain back into it, and then blended at about 50% opacity into the image.
- This next step was the real key to hiding stretched pixels: I added a texture to the image as a new layer on top set to soft light blending mode. I used a texture that gave the image a nice vintage feel, which is consistent with the look and feel of this room where the final print will hang. Even with significant enlargement, the stretching of the background can no longer be seen in the image and it is now ready to be printed.
- However, I didn’t want texture on the faces, hands, feet, or key parts of their clothing. To keep those parts of the image untouched, I added a layer mask and gently faded out the texture in those areas with a soft black brush.
- I used a very subtle overlay mask set to 50% grey and used soft black and white brushes at 1% flow to enhance the drama just slightly in the lighting on the faces.
- Finally, my digital signature was automatically added to the images when I exported from Lightroom for the web (I left it off the original image intentionally here to show the image with no manipulation).
If I’d had more time, I would have set up lights to get the contrast exactly as I wanted in the original capture, but sometimes you just have to go with the time you have. With a little retouching, I was able to do a portrait shoot in just a few minutes with available light and only a small section of wall and yet create an image that conveyed my vision of Holly and Brady’s love for each other and their first child.