Behind The Retouching | Felipe Buccianti
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Running Time: 47 minutes
Welcome to Behind the Retouching, an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in an actual photo retouching session. In this professional avenue, I will be breaking down my students’ submissions, suggesting areas for improvement, and recommending adjustments that I would have done differently in order to create a better image.
For this session, I will be critiquing the work of photographer and retoucher Felipe Buccianti. This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to better understand the rationale behind what I do and which tools I use, so if you’re looking to evaluate your own work, you can check out my pointers below and see how they apply to your own images.
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- The model’s face should be the focal point in a portrait. Anything else just follows to help it look natural. But while you’re busy focusing on your model’s face, don’t neglect the other parts of your image.
- There’s a difference between demphasizing an area of an image, and completely ignoring it. It’s helpful to darken the less important parts of an image like hands and props in order to demphasize them, but don’t ignore them altogether. Keep retouching and removing blemishes on those areas as well.
- Directing the viewer’s eye is crucial. No matter how much effort you put into retouching an image, if the viewer’s eye is wandering all over the place, you’ve lost your connection to your viewer. You should always have control over where your viewer’s eye should go in order to retain their attention. Through cropping, angles, and lighting, you can keep the viewer engaged longer.
- The eyes tell the story of an image. Do not blow them out, but emphasize the details. Depending on your goal, remember to open up the eyes in order to make the image pack a punch. Be careful not to make the eyes too light or white, they will just look strange.
- Stay deliberate and organized. Nobody wants to work in a cluttered workspace, so make sure your layers are properly labeled and grouped together in folders. Delete unused layers if necessary to keep your file size small.
- Always work with Smart Objects. Notice that in this image, there are certain flattened layers that have become pixel-based. The problem with pixel-based information is that the effects you’ve made on that layer damage the photo forever. With Smart Objects, on the contrary, you can go back to your raw file and make changes if you need to. A Smart Object lets you go back in linear fashion to the point when an adjustment is made. What you can do is right-click on the flattened layer and select “Convert to Smart Object”. This will provide you with a non-destructive workflow and the most flexibility in your work.
- Make sure that the foreground models pop up from the background with depth. It’s important to not just let the model blend in the background. To avoid making the image look flat, keep this in mind: warm colors go forward; cool colors go back. Bright tones come forward; dark tones go backward.
- You can check the tonal balance by applying a Black and White filter onto it. Here, you will see the brightest point in your image, which is where the focal point should be. This brightest focal point should be the model’s face, not the clothing or other props. If this is a product shoot, then obviously, the product needs to be emphasized.
- Depending on the image, you can work with tone or color first. In this case, there is a yellow imbalance making the image look too green or sick looking. Above all other colors, avoid a green color cast in portraits, as it will make the people look sickly.
- Always add elements of cool and warm colors to give your image a vivid punch and avoid making it look too dull.
- Liquify is a good tool to use when correcting image distortions like long, droopy faces or bloated body parts. Make sure you have Advanced Mode checked in order to use masking, and to adjust the brush density down to 20.
- Masking in Liquify lets you isolate areas you want to leave untouched when making your corrections.
- Use Smart Filters when making adjustments. A Smart Filter applied on a Smart Object, like this Liquify adjustment, gives you the ability to go back and forth between the effects you’ve applied if you later decide that you’ve changed your mind. Instead of damaging your image permanently with every effect you apply, this tool gives you the power of repeatedly reversing your actions by simply double-clicking on the Smart Filter and opening up your adjustment dialog box.
- Camera Raw Filter works wonders when making basic color and tonal changes, on parts of the image that are not coming from a Raw file.
- Color Range and Quick Mask are useful when selecting many different types of backgrounds.
- Sometimes, picking out textured backgrounds with reduced opacity from the Internet can help give an image more depth, instead of just a plain white backdrop. This can often be a simple and inexpensive solution, as opposed to buying or renting different backdrops for use on set.
- The CMYK values in your Info palette are useful when making flesh tone adjustment decisions.
- Your eye is attuned to tone, not color. This is why applying a temporary Black and White Filter to the top will give you more valuable information, than squinting, or Gaussian Blur. If you get the tone balanced correctly, the color will just be bonus.
- Remember that subtle is best. Don’t darken the image too much that it becomes too obvious. Unless your goal is a very contrasty, High Key style, then gradual shifts from Grey to black, or grey to white, will yield the most pleasing results.
- Try to remove the most offending and distracting flyaway hairs, but not so much that it looks cut out and fake. You can get tighter with straight hair, but let curly hair be more bouncy and playful.
- Custom brushes in Photoshop can be useful when retouching eyelashes or irises of the eyes. Professionally, you can also choose a small brush, check Brush Dynamics on the brush palette, and select a “Fade” control. You can use this along with a Wacom tablet to literally draw believable eyelashes or other hair strands.
- By going down into the smaller details, you can define a model’s features like the shape of the lips, the curve of the eyebrows, or the opacity of the tear ducts. This will further enhance the beauty of a model while using standard cloning, quickmask, free transform, and other tools in your Photoshop arsenal. However, be wary of doing too much. Imperfections help the believability of an image and will help sell the rest of the retouching as believable truth.
- There is such a thing as having too many details in dull areas of a photo. To dial it down a bit, you can isolate an area using quickmask and apply a Gaussian blur to it. For example, by forcing Depth of Field with Photoshop, you can once again bring attention of the focal point, by softening non-important areas.
The best retouching, is one that doesn’t look retouched at all. Subtlety is key. Overall, your biggest takeaway from this session is this: making even the slightest adjustments to tone can give an image some punch and make it stronger and more vivid. Always direct the eye of the viewer to your image focal point. Lastly, never neglect the power of using Smart Objects non-destructively.
I hope that everyone was able to benefit greatly from this in-depth and real-time look into an actual student’s work. I’ll be mentoring more talented retouchers on their path to Photoshop Perfection, so be sure to stick around for the next installments of Behind the Retouching.
And that’s it for now! You can learn more in my Basic I Photoshop Course to help you master the Art of Retouching.