Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Art of Touching without Touching

The Mladenka Timeless picture did not have enough contrast between highlights and shadows. Let me start from the beginning and give you a better understanding of what is happening when I process pictures.

When I do these photoshoots, I'm primarily concerned with a) exposure b) creating 3-dimensionality with highlights and shadows. Exposure is always the first concern, everything else is secondary. Of course these are not the only two factors that cross my mind in a shoot. Lots of factors can affect the final product. For example, the lights are positioned such that they create certain angles of highlights and shadows. Once the model moves her face/body however, those angles change and so do the highlights and shadows. With that said, I encourage the model to move naturally within a limited amount of "degrees of freedom" such that the light is still effective in the way that I've set them to be.

When I post-process, it makes my job easier when I choose pictures that have the highlights and shadows at the angles of the original light setup. This makes for easy post-processing because everything that should be there is there and in all the right places. The parts of the face that should be lit are lit. The parts of the face that should be dark are dark. Thus dodging and burning is a breeze. I don't have to create bone/cheek/facial structure where they may or may not exist or even exaggerate facial features that aren't already exaggerated by light. Occasionally however I choose a picture that is less than perfect in all the aspects that I've described above for whatever reason. Perhaps I liked the pose, perhaps I liked the facial expression. Then I process regardless of the ideal conditions of lighting and well, you get what you get...

This was the case with Mladenka Timeless. The picture was not the ideal picture I would have chosen to process based upon technical aspects. There are other pictures from this set that would have been easier to post-process based upon the existing highlights and shadows. I chose this one because it was one of the few pictures where we had the fan on for hair effects. Unfortunately we couldn't shoot more with the fan because Mladenka's eyes are very sensitive to 40MPH gusts of wind and actually start tearing which is no good for makeup and no good for pictures. So I choose a less than ideal picture to process based upon feel and effect.

In retrospect and to be completely honest, I'm not satisfied with the retouching. The problems with the original picture with lack of contrast still exists in the finished product. Furthermore as I mentioned in the second previous post, I had a lot of trouble figuring out where the highlights were supposed to be and how much of those highlights I wanted to bring out. I went through many iterations of the dodge and burn layer when I got to that step during retouching. Ultimately I settled on something that to me was natural. Looking at the original you would probably agree that it is a natural look although if you really look closely certain portions of the highlights and shadows are "moved" and sometimes more pronounced in the finished product.

Ultimately however here's my philosophy behind retouching: You attempt to retouch without it being obvious that you've retouched the picture. In other words, "the art of touching without touching". Yeah it sounds like some Zen Buddhism or Confucian saying but the finished product should have some semblance of naturalness and the original image. With Mladenka Timeless, this is one of the rare occasions where I've posted the original picture. I don't post the originals on purpose because sometimes I really push the "license to retouch" by altering a lot of the original image and therefore do not with anyone to do any side-by-side comparisons. That being said, I must reiterate that if it looks like it's been obviously retouched then I've failed. It should look natural. Sure, no one has skin like that, but I try for the most part to still leave pores on the model's face. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes it's too smooth and perhaps lacks texture, but for the most part these are concerns that enter my head when I'm post-processing.

Did I overdo the smoothing? Did I miss some highlights and shadows that could have been pushed and made more pronounced? Did I overstep the "license to retouch"? This is one of the rare chances where you both the original and the finished product to compare. You decide...

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