August 12, 2013

improving a photograph by finessing it in post-processing  (models: Yulia & Anelisa)

While I’m a strong supporter of the idea to get it right in camera (as far as possible), there are times when massaging a photograph in Photoshop, can greatly improve it. And ultimately, it really is the final image that counts.

As a kind of companion piece to the photo of Anelisa jumping, here is a photo taken in the same area with the same kind of strong daylight. In using off-camera lighting here, the look of the photograph is inherently different. When I posted this image on Facebook as a teaser, someone guessed that it took “very expensive reflectors and an army of assistants”. Perhaps that was meant as a tongue-in-cheek comment, since my lighting is quite straight-forward. Or perhaps it does look like an image that could pop out of a Fashion magazine. I’m biased of course .

In deciphering how the photograph came about, let’s look at the straight-out-of-the-camera image …

camera settings: 1/250 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO

Here is the un-edited, un-adjusted image. It was one of my test shots during a photography workshop in New York. I was still getting to my basic settings, and Yulia wasn’t quite ready yet – so her pose is not quite there, and her expression is unguarded. Yet, the image nearly hung together with Anelisa languishing in the background. But it needed some work in Photoshop.

But before finessing the image in Photoshop, I first had to do the major changes in the RAW file itself.

Counter-acting the strong sunlight with just one off-camera speedlight, we had to work with bare, un-diffused flash. So the lighting on Yulia was good. Anelisa though, was posing for another group of photographers in the workshop. But in zooming wide, and changing my composition, I could include both models. However, I didn’t want to disrupt everyone in the group for my own photographs, and have them now light my background subject. So, instead of using additional lighting on Anelisa, or just discarding the image, I used local corrections brush with the RAW image.

I pulled the Exposure up on Anelisa between 1 stop and 1.3 stops across her frame. Since I shot at 100 ISO, the increase in noise isn’t noticeable. It would be noticeable at 1600 ISO and higher, when viewing the image at 100%

You can see the effect that the flash, pointed at Yulia, still had on Anelisa, a bit further in the background – you can distinctly see the flash shadow on her legs.

So that took care of the brute adjustment – and the RAW file has better leeway for this kind of adjustment.

Then of course, I also did the usual changes in Exposure, Color Balance, Saturation and Contrast, in adjusting the RAW file.

Then, after generating a JPG from the edited RAW file, I pulled the JPG image into Photoshop:
– I swapped heads with another image; and
– removed clutter with the use of the Clone Tool and Healing Brush in Photoshop.
– I removed the crane, and the water-tower on top of the building.
– I desaturated the red of the awning on the left. The color was too strong and distracting.
– That pesky pigeon in the sky also had to go too!

To give the final image that warm sun-drenched look, I used my own recipe created in Radlab.


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a little bit of homework

How do my camera settings relate to the Sunny 16 Rule?


photo gear (and equivalents) used in this photo session


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{ 10 comments. } Add a Comment

1 elton August 13, 2013 at 4:50 am

that’s some awesome work. actually, both this post and the previous one (where you took a hand from another photo) have me wondering how much further do i have to go in my photoshop skills!


2 Tilo August 13, 2013 at 5:26 am

The result looks just great!!
So a little bit of LR and PS sturdust promoted the image from good to great, …. I dont know, why people sometimes only want sooc pictures. Well perhaps for the newspaper …

thanks for the making-of, all the best, Tilo


3 Rudy August 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Anelisa’s pose is stunning and would love to see it as its own shot with some shallow dof…


4 Stanley Parrish Jr August 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm

It’s like magic! Great job Neil! I would love to do a video training session with you one day. – I will one day!


5 Mark Soon August 15, 2013 at 2:40 am

Hey Neil,

Great shot. Just wondering, if you were better prepared for this shot with the models, would you/should you, have used a CTO gel on the flash?

What’s your take on daylight flash fills against a more yellow/orange, sunlit background?




6 Neil vN August 15, 2013 at 3:31 am

In this instance there wasn’t a real need for the flash to be gelled for a warm available light. The sun was quite high up.

But yes, if you need to match the flash against the sunlight when the sun is much lower, then it makes sense. I’ve done so with a 1/2 CTS.


7 chaim meiersdorf August 15, 2013 at 4:05 am

Please explain what this means.
I used my own recipe created in Radlab


8 Neil vN August 15, 2013 at 4:10 am

Click on the link, and then click through to “RadLab” where it has all the information on the custom settings you get with this Photoshop Plug-In. There’s also an explanation of how you can adapt these and create your own recipes / presets.


9 Rick Shin September 8, 2013 at 7:50 am


This is a stunning photo. I wonder how long it took you to adjust the local exposure in LR? It would take me a good hour or two. PS is another order of magnitude more strenuous for me.


10 Baart1980 March 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm

If sunny 16 rule = ISO 100, f/16, 1/100, then in bright conditions you need max sync speed. So if MSS is 1/250 then you need to change other variables = ISO 100, 1/250, f/11


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