Edit­ing a low-key im­age

Here, we dis­cuss the key edit­ing tips for a low-key shot to help blend the flash with ex­ist­ing light

Digital Photograper - - Techniques - DP

Us­ing your Abobe soft­ware, Light­room and Pho­to­shop – or the equiv­a­lent – it is important to make sub­tle al­ter­ations that fur­ther shape and con­trol the light in the im­age. This give you the op­por­tu­nity to per­fect your shot and take care of any ad­just­ments that weren’t pos­si­ble to make in cam­era.

Of­ten, the edit­ing process on a low-key im­age is more de­mand­ing than a high key. Shadows are harder and more dra­matic, and more de­tail is per­ceiv­able where there is light, which for re­touch­ing on skin specif­i­cally can be more chal­leng­ing.

Al­though we’ve lit the im­age in-cam­era to be as close to the fin­ished shot as pos­si­ble, us­ing the edit we can cor­rect some of the prob­lems we couldn’t in-cam­era, such as the hard shadows on the neck caused by the di­rec­tional light, and the ex­cess light spill on the t-shirt. We can also use the edit to in­crease the ex­po­sure on parts of the im­age such as the screen, which wasn’t quite as bright in-cam­era as de­sired. By iso­lat­ing those parts in Pho­to­shop, we can fur­ther make the added flash look more ‘real’ by bal­anc­ing out the am­bi­ent light source with the flash.

Any im­age with this level of re­touch­ing will need to be done in Pho­to­shop. I use it for the more com­plex tasks such as skin re­touch­ing, dodge and burn­ing and lev­els. I then re­turn to Light­room to make some of the fin­ish­ing ad­just­ments, like crop­ping and adding clar­ity. If you have presets in Light­room, ap­ply those once the im­age has been edited in Pho­to­shop.

And if you’re re­ally stuck, you can check out some great on­line re­sources, such as Ph­learn, which makes handy tu­to­rial videos to help give you prac­ti­cal ad­vice on spe­cific tech­niques in Pho­to­shop.


SE­LECT YOUR IM­AGE Af­ter up­load­ing my im­ages to Light­room, I be­gin culling by us­ing the star­ring sys­tem so I can fil­ter to show my favourites be­fore pick­ing the fi­nal im­age for edit­ing. I se­lect on com­po­si­tion, fo­cus, as well as the mod­els fa­cial ex­pres­sion and pos­ture.


EDIT IN PHO­TO­SHOP Be­cause this is a por­trait and I know I’ll use ad­vanced edit­ing tools to skin retouch, I open the RAW im­age in Pho­to­shop to be­gin be­fore mak­ing any Light­room ad­just­ments.


HEAL­ING BRUSH CLEANUP To be­gin, I tackle the skin, which I want to cor­rect, but not over smooth, so the im­age re­mains re­al­is­tic. Us­ing the heal­ing brush, I work to elim­i­nate any spots or stray beard hairs.


FIN­ISH THE SKIN Once I have rid­den the skin of any blem­ishes via the heal­ing brush, I switch to the clone stamp tool to smooth the skin. This is done to look sub­tle, with a stroke across the face at a low flow of around 5%.


SMOOTH HARD SHADOWS The di­rec­tional light cre­ates hard shadows on the neck, which I want to smooth over. Us­ing the clone stamp tool at flows be­tween 5-16%, I sam­ple lighter ar­eas and smooth into the shadows.


DODGE AND BURN US­ING CURVES To lighten and darken ar­eas of the im­age, I use a Curves layer. On sep­a­rate lay­ers, I in­crease and de­crease ex­po­sure on the curve, layer mask and in­vert. I can paint into the de­sired ar­eas.


CRE­ATE CON­TRAST To add con­trast, I use

Lev­els, where I can in­crease and de­crease shadows, mid tones and high­lights to al­ter the over­all look of the im­age.


FIN­ISH IN LIGHT­ROOM I flat­ten the im­age in Pho­to­shop so I can save it into Light­room, where I do tweaks like crop­ping to elim­i­nate un­de­sir­able back­ground and add clar­ity.

“On sep­a­rate lay­ers, I in­crease and de­crease ex­po­sure on the curve, layer mask and in­vert”

BE­FORE LeftSTRAIGHT FROM CAM­ERA The RAW, unedited im­age is very close to how it will look fin­ished, as we took the time to get it right in cam­era. There are ar­eas that need tweak­ing to en­sure the flash is not per­ceiv­able

AF­TER Be­lowLOW-KEY FLASH The fin­ished shot shows the per­fected fi­nal im­age with hard shadows soft­ened, ba­sic skin re­touch­ing that’s sub­tle and evened shadows and high­lights to cre­ate a low-key por­trait that makes the sub­ject ap­pear to be lit by the light of the screen

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