Sunday, January 3, 2010

Elle Wooley: Controlled Chaos

I really should have blogged about this before posting the picture and/or before going to the gym. I'm a little surprised by the amount of attention this image has received. I suppose it's nice going back to your roots and being recognized for the work.

This image was part of a set that I shot with Elle back in at the end of September. So much has changed as far as my retouching techniques are concerned that I decided as I often do, to revisit a frame from this set and try my hand at it with the new retouching techniques that I've acquired over time.

Here's the
original post with Elle.

Looking back at that picture, the differences exist but they are subtle. The biggest differences are in the skin texture and the sharpness and detail and clarity... all the things that I've really worked on in my retouching over the last couple of months. This image was worked on over the New Year's weekend and took me a couple sittings to finish because the schedule over the holidays is never that predictable. Thus I had more time than usual to finish and more time than usual to go over and really look and reexamine the work to ensure that I'd be happy with the final product.

I suppose I'm happy with it.

I really utilized a few techniques that I learned from watching the interview with Amy Dresser. I discuss some of the basic techniques in the
Penelope edit.

I'll talk about the retouch in reverse order:

-The final crop of this image was unusual for me. It's been a while since I've cropped down to just the face. I retained the 4x6 format even though it was shot portrait and not landscape as the final crop depicts.
-In addition to using the D&B tool, I've gone back to D&Bing with the B&W brush on an overlayed blank layer as Amy suggested. And I'm still unhappy with the amount of control this yields. I think that overlay might be too harsh a blend mode and I need soft light instead (next time).
-I had an eye layer to saturate the eye
-I had a red channel desat. layer but masking out the lips (to retain the red). In fact I seem to remember saturating the lips a little.
-I high-passed the skin at a small radius to enhance skin texture and pore detail. After all, I knew the focus would be all face.
-As Amy suggested, I used a curves layer to alter the RGB and overall luminosity.
-I had a pretty aggressive levels layer 5/219
-I had 5 "local" curves layers to even out skin tones on small regions of the face. This is what Amy does and it's the first time I've used this technique. The jury is still out on this technique for me at least...
-I selected whites at 78 fuzziness and then filled with a white layer at 68% luminosity... again as Amy suggests.

Most importantly however, I spent most of my time with the basic D&B tool and healing brush and clone tool just working the skin slowly and surely to ensure that there was good detail but while cleaning up the unevenness and imperfections. It's unusual for me to work on an image that has that much flyaway hair covering the face so it was difficult to work on the skin under the hair. It is after all a 2D image. This took the majority of my time.

Philosophically, I worked this image in the manner I think Amy would approve of. I didn't "add" anything to the image that didn't intrinsically exist. Okay, actually that's a lie since I liquified her right eye a little bigger to match the left eye... but other than that I think Amy would approve (I know she doesn't like the liquify tool) LOL. I suppose this was as "natural" an edit as I've done for some time.

I remember this frame on the back of the camera when I first saw it. I told Elle that this was exactly what I was looking for. It looks messy but it's controlled... hence "Controlled Chaos" :)

Camera info: D3/85mm f/1.4D, 1/200th, f/7.1, ISO200

Strobist info: Single AB800 in 28" Westcott Apollo softbox camera upper right. Fill card camera lower left.

Model/wardrobe: Elle Woolley

Makeup: Kayla Bresee


  1. thought of you when i saw these shots. since you were looking for a little input:

    since you were discussing "natural" -- what is natural?

  2. Hey Greg,

    Those are beautiful pictures but not my style. At least not anymore. There was a time during which I killed off all the pores on a model's skin but that was before I learned how to retouch with a "lighter touch".


  3. agreed Charles. those shots are pore killers. here's where i'm at with retouching. it's a self-portrait, so no comments about the model!: