Editing a traditional studio portrait

In the first part of this article, we explored two different creative approaches to similar photos. In this part, we’ll see the traditional studio portrait editing against a white background, give it a classic film look, then batch apply that same look to multiple photos!

There is also a video version of this tip at the end, which will cover some of the same info, will have a lot of other tidbits, and may not include everything listed in this article. In other-words… enjoy both!

Thinking about the Batch Process

There are multiple ways to go about this of course; I’m going to process these using Photoshop as the host, and use the Nik Collection plugin Color Efex Pro. The process for doing this is quite simple, actually, but you do need to plan it in advance. All you have you to remember to do is to start recording an action before you jump into the plugin, then whoever you do in the Nik plugin can be batch-applied to any number of images using that action. If you forget to start recording though, I’ll tell you how to work around that at the end.

I find it best to open all the photos you’re planning to batch at once in Camera Raw, so you can get them all looking the same to begin with. Balance their exposure and do any raw retouching here that you want to. You can either open the image normally and retouch on the pixel level, then save that as a TIF, which makes those TIF files ready for batch processing, OR you can do all of your work in Camera RAW, close the app without actually saving anything, and all of your changes will be saved tot he XML file, so when you open the RAW file for the batch process, those changes will already be there. I’m going to do the later; work entirely with RAW files.

Open the RAW photos

So first up, open all those RAW images! Go through and do any color/exposure balancing you need, retouch blemishes, add radial gradients to dodge and burn, etc. This is actually just like working in Lightroom at this point! When you’re done, open one of the images as a Smart Object by holding down the shift key so the Open Image button becomes Open Object.

Start Recording an Action

Under the Action tab (Window > Actions), press the New button, give it a name, and hit OK. It will automatically start recording.

If you forget to hit record before moving into the Nik plugin, or even just realized later that you should have been recording this, that’s no problem. Just save your progress in the Nik plugin as a recipe (preset), back out of there and start recording an action. Head back into the plugin, load your preset, and continue where you left off!

Time to use Color Efex pro 4!

With the Smart Object layer selected, load your plugin of choice. I’m going to choose Color Efex Pro 4 for this one.

I usually advise to start with presets, simply because it’s a great way to explore the possibilities, and potentially be inspired to take your image in a new direction. But in this case, I want to keep things simple and clean, and I already have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. So I’ll just start with a blank slate and add the filters I need.

To remove any existing filter that may have loaded, click the X next to each one in the list on the right hand side to remove them.

I think all the filters I want are going to be under the PORTRAIT category, so loading that list will save me some scrolling later.

Editing a portrait with the Dynamic skin Softener

I’ll start with the Dynamic Skin Softener. Even though my subject is quite young, it can’t hurt to soften up the subject’s skin and add a little glow. When you apply the filter, there is a critical first step, and that is to sample the subject’s skin color. This took works off of a known color, and is set by default to a generic skin tone. So you may see an effect applied when you first load it. But to really see what it can do, click the eye dropper next to Skin Color, then click on the subject’s skin. All skins have variation in tones. So look for something that is midway between the lightest and darkest tones on the subject to start with. You can expand or constrict the variance later.

Be sure to zoom into 100% on the photo, and start adjusting the sliders. Color Reach is basically how far away from the sampled color the filter should try to smooth. In most cases, the default setting of 25% is just fine. But if you find too much or not enough of the subject is being smoothed you can dial it down a bit. Don’t worry about making it perfect there though. If you can’t find the right position, you can always further restrict the effect of the filter by adding a Control Point!

Adjusting the small, medium and large details is completely the artist’s choice. These sliders increase or decrease the amount of softening being applied to small, medium and large details in the image. As a general guideline, the smaller details can get more smoothing than the larger ones and still look natural.

It’s easy to overdo it with this filter. So do keep an eye on the image and don’t get carried away with the smoothing! I think these settings work well for my photo:


Next, I want to add a little warmth to the image. There are sunlight filters and warming filters, but for a really gentle touch, I like the Skylight filter. Before you add a new filter, don’t forget to click the Add Filter button at the bottom of the filter stack to add an empty filter holder, then select the Skylight filter. Even this can be heavy-handed, so I dialed it back to about 7%.

While this looks good on the skin, it’s adding quite a bit of color to the white background (which already is a bit tinted, so we’ll have to address that too). But to limit the Skylight filter to her face, all you have to do is add a control point! One right on her nose and sized to cover her whole face does a beautiful job. Here’s with and without the Skylight filter:

White neutralizer

As mentioned, there’s still a slight color cast to the white background, and I’d like to make it more neutral. To do that I’ll use the White Neutralizer (you’ll find it under All filters). Just like with the Skin Softener, you have to sample the area you want to affect. In this case, selecting the eye dropper and clicking on the background is the thing to do.

Then, because this  is a nice clean background, I can set the “Adjust Whole Image” setting quite low. This will limit the affect to only what matches the sampled background quite closely. Then that means I can drag the “Neutralize Whites”: up quite high, which is going to have a stronger affect on the selected area.

Because we can’t rely on our eyes or our screen to gauge true neutral, it’s a good idea to watch the histogram. Admittedly this isn’t a perfect analysis here. But you definitely can see the difference in the histogram between the neutralized and non-neutralized image. In the before/after below, check out the part of the histogram the arrow is pointing at.

Now to Apply to the Rest of the Photos

We’re set! Go ahead and apply the filer now, closing bringing us back to Photoshop.Stop the recording on the Action. You can save this photo or just let it get processed again in the batch;

In Photoshop, choose File > Automate > Batch… and

  1. Make sure the Action is set to the one you just recorded (it should be selected by default
  2. Choose the source folder; that’s the folder with your unprocessed image
  3. Choose (create if you have to) a destination folder for the processed image
  4. Click OK to start!

If you’re doing this to RAW images, you’ll be presented with the Camera Raw dialog for each image so you can make any tweaks needed. Be sure to hold shift again so you can open as an object. This will give you the ability to go back to each processed image and tweak the settings in the RAW file or in the filter itself at any time.

Your traditional studio portrait is ready!

Your traditional studio portrait editing is done!

That’s all there is to it! The batch will proceed though all the images. This particular workflow is set up so you have to babysit it and click OK on a few steps, but you could build more of the opening/saving into the action too if you wanted to completely automate the process. You now have all the keys to make the perfect traditional studio portrait editing.


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