How to edit a portrait

Portraiture is a wonderful form of photography because it’s one of the most diverse things you can possibly shoot. Not only are the subjects themselves incredibly diverse, but you can approach the lighting, the set, the posing, and even the post processing. Indeed, there are a billion ways to approach portraiture editing.

In this two-part series, I’ll treat three portraits in three different ways. The first two come from the same shoot; a “post apocalyptic” shoot that I was fortunate to be a part of, but each photo will be treated dramatically differently — the first with Color Efex Pro for a colorful film look, and the second with Analog Efex Pro for a grungy old-photo appearance. The third photo, or batch of photos, are much more traditional studio portraits, and will be treated with a subtle and natural film look with Color Efex Pro, then batch processed so you can learn how to apply the same look to multiple photos at once!

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.

The Cool and Warm Photo

Here’s the original photo, compared to a slightly enhanced RAW image out of Adobe Camera Raw. The enhanced version was opened as a Smart Object in Photoshop (hold Shift in Camera Raw and the Open Image button becomes Open Object), so that any Nik filter applied would be a Smart Filter. Here is one of the billion ways to approach portraiture editing.

For this photo, I didn’t want to stray too far from the original look. The rich blue background is wonderful, and the light on her skin (from window behind me) is pretty good, although a little cool. I basically want to make this a deep, rich image and add some warmth to the subject.

Personally I like to start with the preset “recipes” in any of the Nik plugins, as I often am inspired by something I see there. In this case, the preset from the new “En Vogue” collection, titled “Even on a Cloudy Day” is very good.

But it’s not enough to just look at presets! I’ll often also just click through many filters on their own (after first clearing out each existing one by clicking the X next to its title in the filter stack on there right hand side).

I don’t expect any one filter, especially at its default settings, to finish the image, but I do once again look for inspiration. The filters Midnight and Skylight both gave me ideas. Midnight is really rich, although a bit too dark and dreamy, but it has promise. Skylight adds the warmth to the skin tone I’m looking for. So I think the two of those combined, along with Levels & Curves to counteract some of the too-much-darkness added by Midnight, might be the right combination! Notice I moved the Levels & Curves to the beginning of the stack, so that happens to the image first.

Here’s the final result! I like it… it’s got that deep dark look without being underexposed, and the colors are rich and creamy. Done!

The Grungy Old Film Photo

As we said before, there are billion ways to approach portrait editing. This original image is dark and foreboding. The model’s makeup is clean and sharp, but the environment is dirty and dangerous. Going through the presets, it’s hard to pick a bad one… so many of these look great for this photo!

My favorite is the last one in this list, Classic Camera 9. But it’s not perfect as it is. So, the best approach here is to carefully look at the different effects being applied, and see if you can identify what you don’t like about it, and either reduce or eliminate it!

In this case, the Dirt & Scratches is a bit too much. I don’t like how it’s putting marks directly on her face and shoulder. Here’s the same photo with that filter turned on and off.

After playing with the sliders a bit more, I found that the Detail Extraction under Basic Adjustments brightened up the image nicely, and if I dragged it really high it looked amazing on her shirt — but not on her face. So I used a couple of Control Points on her face to dial the Detail Extraction back down a bit.

To wrap up this old photo grungy apocalyptic look, I want to add a border or frame to it. To add the Frames effect, first you have to click on the Camera Kit under the camera type selector, then click the + icon next to the Frames tool. One of the options under the Film strip category is pretty cool, but it’s reaching onto her head in a way I don’t like, and overall it’s too strong. See below:

Next Up… How to edit a traditional portrait

Now we have learnt the billion ways to approach portrait editing. And in the Creative Portrait, part 2 article, we’ll take a more traditional approach to portrait editing, and learn how to batch process too!

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