Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Retouching by feel

Roxy H3DII-31 1/800 f/6.8 ISO100 @80mm AlienBees B1600 in 40º gridded beauty dish from camera upper right.

Roxy H3DII-31 1/800 f/5.6 ISO100 @80mm AlienBees B1600 in 40º gridded beauty dish from camera upper right.

Along the lines of
Learning, breaking, and making the rules I'm starting to see another change in my retouching.

Admittedly sometimes I retouch quantitatively. I suppose this comes from my analytical background in either finance, logic, or not wanting to make mistakes. Basically sometimes, I make decisions based upon the "numbers".

For example, when I play with levels I often try not to reduce highlights more than 5 (from 255 to 250). What's the significance of 5? Nothing. I just don't like to kill too many levels of highlights. Or another example is that I'll sometimes play around with the exposure offset but I rarely push it past .0079. Why .0079 you ask? Well, it's the next tick up from .0026.

There's actually a logical explanation for where I'm coming from with these seemingly random numbers. It's because I don't do anything heavy-handed. All my adjustments are done incrementally.

On the other hand, these numbers are psychological barriers that have no true bearing on retouching. Why shouldn't I push the levels past 5? Why can't I push the offset more than .01? They're simply self-imposed rules that I blindly abide by. The sooner I realize that they're just numbers, the better I'll retouch.

At the end of the day, there aren't any rules to this thing. You can do whatever you want. Pictures are subjective. One man's garbage is another man's treasure. Forget the rules and forget the numbers. Who cares if you use the actual dodge and burn tool. Hell, I do. Like Amy Dresser said, "if you liked the pixels so much the way they were, you wouldn't change them". And yes, you can use the contrast slider. You can use whatever tools you want to do whatever you want. Forget crops, composition, rule of thirds, blah blah blah LOL! And guess what? I'm using the beauty dish in a way that it wasn't meant to be used too. It was never meant to light the entire body, but I do it anyway.

Am I breaking the rules? Or maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about ;)


  1. Hello Charles,

    True, I think I've heard that you're not supposed to light the whole body with the beauty dish, but I like the light fall off around the hips/mid-thigh area. You can add in a fill light on those areas, but I think it looks kind of cool. :P

    It's funny that you should post about this because I was noting on your Flickr of a marked improvement to your retouching lately! Hahaha!

  2. Hey Thomas!

    That's funny because just yesterday I was grumbling at how I hadn't improved in retouching and now I'm going to make a push to learn some new techniques via Photoshop! :P


  3. The toning here caught me eye. Perhaps because I'm becoming more aware of the subtle signatures that indicate the existence of certain techniques. I noticed that the wall shadow abberates from grey to blue to orange to white, whereas in reality it would've been a consistent colour - I believe this indicates that split toning added blue to the shadows and yellow to the highlights?

    Great image, it's funny how you start to notice the finer details in others' work when you start getting into retouching yourself...

  4. @oneredpanther: It took me 9 months of Photoshop to spot what you just described above. You're absolutely correct. Often the shadows will reveal this best since the mid tones are harder to discern, but yes I've used a gradient map with those exact colors (and yellow and some purple as well IIRC) to the image. It's like the split toning feature in Lr, but you can do more with it as a gradient map in PS since you're not limited to just 2 colors. Furthermore with gradient maps you can define the "shadows" and "highlights".

    And what you've just described is one of the many reasons photographers should retouch! ;) Cheers!