Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Q/A Analog Retouching versus Lighting?

Oceans Away II

Q: I am wondering if you are planning to touch on lighting and how it affects how you retouch a photo in this workshop. In our prior email Q&A, you stated that a photographer needs to think about he is going to retouch an image when he sets up his lighting, so I'm hoping to get some more insight on this relationship.

A: Fantastic question.

The short answer is no, and I'll explain why.

When I look at my entire workflow, as an artist I do not differentiate between the beginning and the end. My workflow takes all things into consideration somewhat simultaneously. It's vertically-integrated but non-linear. It does not define boundaries between where one consideration starts and another ends. For example, when I retouch a shot like the image above I don't think in terms of step 1: cleanup/fix, step 2: balance the image, step 3: enhance. Instead, I experiment. Originally I thought this would fare better in B&W. But with the couch colors and the skin tones, I felt that I lost more than I gained by going B&W. And with the color processing, I still wanted to emphasize contrast but I didn't want the over-the-top contrast that screams "I used a digital camera and processed the hell out of it in Photoshop". So throughout my processing I went back-and-forth between layers. I'd try something, then adjust another layer, then go back and adjust the original one, then add a new one and rebalance the whole equation. The final product was the result of a lot of "negotiation".

And this works as an artist. But it doesn't work as an educator because no one can understand what the hell you're doing.

So for educational purposes, I break my processes down into "steps". These steps exist only to make allow me to explain my workflow to you guys, but in reality they don't exist. At least not with such strict boundaries.

Why bring all this up? Well, 2 reasons. The first is that I can not explain (with the 3 hours I'm given) my entire workflow in this workshop. And the second reason is that even if I did have time, I have to draw clear lines in the sand as to how far "back" up the workflow I explain. Going back and talking about "balancing" will open a whole new can of worms. Worms that I can't contain and put back in the can once they're out. I suppose that's why it's a "can of worms". Hadn't ever really thought about it. The point is that I don't want to get into parts of the workflow that is outside the scope of this particular workshop. Because rather than facilitate your understanding, doing so may prove detrimental especially in a group setting.

Of course if this were a private workshop, the above 2 concerns would be moot.

Anyway, if I were to sequentially think backwards, the "Analog Retouching" is the last step. It's essentially the "Enhancements" step. Before this comes "Balancing". Before that is "Fixing". Before that are the RAW adjustments that provide me with the proper inputs for me to create everything that follows. The RAW adjustments are pivotal. Without the RAW adjustment settings, I can't recreate what you see above. That is the #1 most underutilized and underestimated part of most photographers' retouching workflows. Working backwards still, we have lighting/shooting/model direction all rolled into one. The "point of capture".

And that takes us to your question. How does the point of capture affect how I create the above image? The short answer is that I need to figure out just what part of the histogram is most important to me and focus on THAT. Digital captures are limited in their expression of dynamic range. We're working with 12 stops of dynamic range (give or take) when the entire shot needs many more stops to full express everything. The point is, depending on how we post-process we don't need "everything". So that allows us to make decisions up front about what we "don't need". That in a nutshell explains the theory/philosophy behind how I determine lighting and settings for the shot above but in our upcoming workshop we will not be going in depth into that relationship.

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