First off, I’d like to start by stating that these images are inspired by George Hurrell, but are certainly not supposed to be a direct copy of his work.
I’d like to continue with the story where I left off when I decided to ask Jenny, the dancer in the previous composite, if she wanted to model for me. I already mentioned that I had been envisioning this kind of photo for a very long time with a model with a specific look. There were a few women at this event that had this look. I spoke to one or two that night letting them know to contact me if they were interested; having never heard from them, I hope it’s because they weren’t interested and not that they forgot or something. Anyhow, Natalie, the darker haired of the two women in the above slide show was one of the women that had the look I had envisioned. Emily the other young woman, I had in mind for another sort of shot; in the end, I had both women pose for both types of shots. I was a bit nervous about proposing this idea to these two ladies as I didn’t know Natalie at all and only barely knew Emily. However, they both seemed really cool, so I definitely thought it was worth the shot.
Turns out, I was right on both counts; the ladies looked as expected in the image and were very good company for the several hours the shoot took. The three women I photographed that evening are definitely some folks that I am very happy to know.
Anyhow, let’s move on to how the images were made.
I had several lighting ideas pieced together from many different things that I read. The two that I thought worked best.
- Place a beauty dish almost overhead without a diffusion sock. Bring it down at an angle to the camera until the models eyes are illuminated. Directly overhead leaves her eyes in a shadow, not a good look. Then power this flash up so that it illuminates her skin extremely brightly, but not blown-out. Then have a strip bank in front of the model for fill. Power this flash down to where it just barely provides some detail in the shadow areas.
- Use the fill precisely as in #1. Take the beauty dish off the key light. Replace it with a grid. Place it such that it is 45° above and to the side. Aim it by asking the model to look at it and watch for when she can see the flash tube. Please remember to power the flash down before doing this, I forgot, this being my first time to use the technique and for a brief time I made Natalie quite uncomfortable. Without any diffusing materials in front of the flash, the light will be much brighter so this much lower power setting will probably give you the exposure you need, again you want to be approaching blown-out, but not yet there. This was my preferred of these two methods.
Then it’s on to post processing. I initially start in Lightroom, choosing the images I want to use. Then I apply the Camera Portrait profile and remove chromatic aberrations. Finally, I move to the basic panel and increase the contrast to +20 and increase the black setting until only a few pixels are showing black. At this point I right click on the image and choose Edit In> Photoshop.
Once in Photoshop, I start by converting the image to black and white in Silver Efex Pro2. I do this first because the image being in black and white sometimes changes what needs to be retouched, and thus you can save time by doing this first. For example, my method includes using the red color filter and this lightens everything red, this often makes the veins in ones eyes blend with the white, thus making retouching this completely unnecessary. Speaking of my method for this, I have created a preset in Silver Efex Pro2 for this. It includes a red filter, approximately +20 in contrast and soft contrast, -50 in highlight structure, -20 in midtone structure, +30 in shadow structure and +20 in fine structure. I then check to see if any shadow areas need local adjustment to bring out detail and I apply the copper toner using the most subtle preset.
At this point, it’s time for the basic retouching. I use the techniques from Scott Kelby’s Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers using Photoshop. I recommend you get this book. I got it in the spiral bound version, easier to use as a reference while you’re doing the retouching. A basic overview of what I do is lighten the eyes, retouch veins if they’re visible at all, lighten highlights in hair, retouch any blemishes, reduce the intensity of wrinkles (you could entirely eliminate, but I choose to maintain more reality than that), soften skin, and dodge and burn contours to accentuate dimensionality of face. For skin softening, I use the “High Pass Skin Softening” method discussed in the book; I mention it specifically because I vastly prefer it to other methods. It is very controllable and does an excellent job. I find the most important step for this look is the dodging and burning and I’ll explain why in the next paragraph.
After doing this retouch, I stamp all visible layers to the top; the [shift][ctrl][alt][e] shortcut. Then I open that in Color Efex Pro4. I run the Glamour Glow filter on the Warm Glow preset. I tweak this, primarily by lowering the warmth. This is where the dodging and burning really pays off, what the Glamour Glow filter does with that is truly magical and you’ll see it again in an upcoming blog post. It makes the image look almost three dimensional. Finally, to accentuate the look I use the Darken/Lighten Center filter. I place the center directly on whichever eye I think is more important to the composition, reduce the size of the center to the minimum size and then tweak the luminosities of center and border.
Hope you give this look a try; it’s a lot of fun. These sorts of images help your models/clients experience a bit of fantasy as well.