I’ve used Photoshop relatively rarely in the history of my career as a photographer. I feel strongly that it is more important to be a good photographer than it is to be a good Photoshopper. Additionally, when it comes to portraiture, I have a philosophical objection to heavy retouching: I wouldn’t want someone else deciding which of my facial or body features need to be “improved,” and I wouldn’t presume to do the same for any of my clients.
Although I do use Photoshop periodically, I rely on good camera skills and Lightroom 95% of the time. Most of the images that you see on this blog and on my website have very minor improvements: color correction, some cropping, sharpening, clarifying, straightened verticals, etc.
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes, important images have major problems due to (ahem) photographer error. For example, the family portrait from Sharon’s 60th birthday party looked terrible SOOC:
At this once-in-a-lifetime event, Sharon not only wanted me to document the party, but also, make a portrait of her with her children and first grandchild. Sharon’s family isn’t often in the same
place state, and so this was a rare opportunity that wouldn’t allow for re-shooting if I messed up.
Knowing this, I arrived early, planning to scope out a clean wall in the event venue, set up a light, and get the portraits done before the guests arrived. I knew that once people began to arrive, the birthday girl and all of her kids would be focused on entertaining their guests, so we had to get the portrait done first.
But, as they say. **The best laid plans.**
When I arrived, I gulped: the venue, which I’d never seen (2+ hours from my home in Normal), was basically one big room with a kitchen. Decorations went up the day before; it had terrible ambient lighting, and lots of people were already running around finishing the party prep by the time I arrived. It was raining and cold outside, eliminating the option of doing the portrait outside.
But, I just got to work. While Sharon gathered her family, I shot party details with my 50mm f/1.4 using ambient light. Once everyone was gathered, I switched back to my portrait lens (24-70mm) and set up my light and softbox. Of course, Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head: my Pocket Wizard transceivers failed, and my off-camera flash didn’t fire. So, I moved the light onto my hot shoe, and bounced it off the white-tiled ceiling. However, in my haste, I failed to adjust the white balance back to flash after shooting with my 50mm. I didn’t notice my error until we were done, and everyone dispersed. The result was what you see above: a whole series of family shots with horrible color, set against a distracting scene. Not at all what we’d aimed to create in terms of a family portrait. I felt awful.
At home, I culled the shots for ones that would allow me to crop out the windows. Since I shot at ISO 400, I was able to crop way in, adjust the color, brighten, and make other improvements without creating noise or losing details.
After making these basic changes, the result wasn’t that bad. I breathed a sigh of relief, and this is the version I showed Sharon:
When she was ready to order prints, I removed the distracting background elements. Since the wall color was uniform and evenly lit by my flash, it was relatively simple to hide the streamers and window visible on the upper corners by using the clone tool.
The more challenging areas were those around Sharon and Cassie’s hair, and the small areas in between the two couples’ torsos on either side. It took some patience to select those areas and get it right, but it worked.
The end result, despite my initial fears, is actually a lovely family portrait, and Sharon was pleased with the result.
In the end, although I botched the off-camera light and white balance, the the image was salvageable because it was properly exposed, evenly lit, and set against a mostly-clean background. But, I still had to use Photoshop rather extensively in order to meet the Sharon’s most important personal goal.
The moral of the story: I’ve learned to value Photoshop in my work today, and want to continue learning new skills to improve results for my clients. I just don’t ever want to get too comfortable, and rely on it too much. It is still important to pay attention to every detail on-location while shooting.
In Part 2 of this series, I will show a before-and-after exterior image for an architectural client that required Photoshop, and further explain why Photoshop skills are so important for architectural photographers.
Come back soon!