This is the second time I've shot these annual portraits for this charity. I learned a lot the first time through, and this second round turned out much better in camera. I used better lighting, and I was able to plan ahead when shooting to help make the required postprocessing go more smoothly.
- My key was a Sunpak 544 into a reflective 30" umbrella about 45 degrees to camera left (standing on the table) and a little above my subjects.
- Fill was a Vivitar 283 into another reflective 30" umbrella as close as I could get it to camera right and at the same height as the camera.
- The hair light was a Canon 430EX mounted on a boom above & behind the subjects to camera right, shooting through an 8x10" DIY soft box.
- The background was lit by a Starblitz 3600 DFNi on a short tripod directly behind the subjects' knees and pointed up at the wall through a Stofen Omni-Bounce.
This wouldn't have been so bad if the room was empty, but the large, immobile conference table created some obstacles. Most significantly, I had to place my subjects much closer to the background than I would have liked. Because of this, I didn't have room to setup my own backdrop, and instead used the room's olive-colored painted wall as my background. It's a decent color, but it's also somewhat reflective, which created some hot spots when my key, fill & hair lights bounced off it.
|Original image, straight out of camera.
Compare this to the final image above.
Another issue is common to many multiple-subject portraits, and not specific to this job. Namely, it's always difficult to get everybody looking their best in a single shot. In three separate instances, I couldn't get a single shot in which both the husband & wife looked great, but I did get several photos in which one or the other looked great. Thanks to the wonders of digital photography, I was able to combine these images into one by cutting & pasting a head during post. When the shooting conditions are controlled, that's a lot easier than it first sounds.
The final big cause of postprocessing is basic vanity. Whether they voice this or not, people like to look their best in a portrait, and that means cleaning up little things like stray hairs, zits, wrinkles, and dandruff. Cleaning this stuff up--at least to a basic, less-noticeable degree--is actually pretty straightforward. While none of the subjects requested it, this step really does make the portrait more pleasing.
Here's a little more detail on how I did it. Most people call these techniques "photoshopping" after Adobe's industry-leading software package. There are actually several programs that will do this type of editing, and many of them cost considerably less. The GNU Image Manipulation Program ("The GIMP") is a free program that handles most image processing tasks quite nicely. It's available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux, which is handy for a Linux guy like me. There are numerous good books available on The GIMP, so if you want to get up to speed quickly, please check those out.
|Background wall, color corrected to match flashes
|Portion of background painted into final image
|Original image with fill light reflections
If I'd been thinking ahead, I'd have had my eyeglass-wearing subjects remove their spectacles for one shot so that I had some good material that I could use to paste over the reflections. As it was, I had to make do with the lowest reflection I could manage from another less-than-perfect shot.
Sometimes, I didn't have a great unreflected eye to work with, so I had to paint in areas using the heal or clone tool. This technique is discussed more under "skin blemishes" below.
|New head masked out from a different photo
Once again, I made use of multiple layers in GIMP. I chose the best overall shot--or sometimes the best shot of the person with the longest hair--to be my primary shot. I then took the best shot of the person who had the cleanest neck line (usually the husband) and added it as a second layer with a transparent opacity mask.
|New head pasted in place
The subjects were never in exactly the same spot in both photos, so once the new head was exposed, I drug the second layer (the head layer) around until the new head lined up perfectly with the old neck. If any of the old head was still visible, I expanded the new head's layer mask to cover up the old head. I also cleaned up the feathered mask around the neck & collar to make sure the transition was seamless.
This actually turned out to be a rather simple operation.
To do this, I used the clone & healing tools in The GIMP. There are several good tutorials on YouTube & elsewhere for using each of these tools, so I won't duplicate their content here. Here's one good one. I performed all of these operations in a new layer, duplicated from the original, so that I could easily turn them off & on to see my progress, or revert just part of my modifications using a layer mask.
The healing tool still replaces its contents with a nearby area, but it does so more smoothly. Using a healing tool with a 30% opacity is a great way to reduce the impact of wrinkles without removing them entirely. You should always start with a low opacity and just draw over the area again if you need a stronger effect. Removing zits and bumps always ended up with 100% opacity, for obvious reasons.
In some instances (but not the example shown here), I bleached & brightened teeth a little, too. As with the skin, I didn't want to go crazy with the whitening. My goal was to make it look better without making it obvious that I did anything at all. That's really the goal of this entire process, in fact.
As before, I created a new layer in The GIMP by cloning the original layer. In this new layer, I lowered the saturation by 30% and then brightened the whole image by about 2-3 stops. I then created a transparent layer mask and slowly painted in the mask over the teeth using a small, feathered brush with only about 20% opacity. I painted over the teeth several times to build up the opacity while maintaining a soft edge. This allowed me to concentrate more on areas that needed more help. It's a pretty quick, straightforward process.
So those are the basic techniques that I use for portrait retouching. I think the results turned out rather well. I'm far from an expert here, but I'd be happy to elaborate on this if any of you have any questions; just speak up in the comments below. I'm also very eager to hear any suggestions you have for improving this process. If you want to read more about the software I use for general postprocessing on Linux, read this post. Once again, here is the original image followed by the final image:
|Original image, straight out of camera
|Final image with about 45 minutes of postprocessing