Stock images for this tutorial
- BigStockPhoto: Title
Full Size Screenshots
The studio portrait is a versatile shot, and designers find lots of ways to incorporate it into their advertising projects. Because most studio shots use solid backdrops that are easily selected and removed, it’s easy to swap in just about any background image and then use these studio shots for virtually any kind of concept. Most studio portraits need some level of lighting adjustment, however, and you’ll often find that the subject’s facial features can be enhanced by adding soft shadows.
Lighting effects can quickly change the tone of a photo.
This tutorial takes a studio portrait that’s too brightly lit and improves upon it, softening its focus in the style of publicity photos from the era of black-and-white films. Desaturating the image will also make softening the woman’s skin tone easier. If you won’t be working in grayscale, the same effect can be achieved with the Clone tool, but that process is far more complicated and time consuming. By working in black and white, we streamline our process considerably.
The goal of this tutorial is to make you familiar with a particular process so you can put it to use when you work with any image that has similar characteristics. That said, you may need to adjust some settings if the portrait you’re working with is much different from mine.
- Open the original studio portrait and reset the foreground and background colors by pressing D in the canvas window.
- Let’s start by selecting the background. Choose the Fuzzy Select tool from the toolbox. In the Tool Options dialog set the Threshold to 45. (You can experiment with different values to find the setting that allows you to grab the background with a single selection.) Click the upper-left corner of the image to create the selection.
- Grow this selection by 1 pixel (Select->Grow) and then feather it by 3 pixels (Select->Feather).
- Save the selection to a channel (Select->Save to Channel) and name the channel Old Backdrop.
- Deselect all (ctrl-shift-A).
It helps to start with a good studio portrait, but the backdrop is irrelevant because it will be replaced. A solid background that contrasts sharply with the foreground is easily isolated with the Fuzzy Select tool, although you may want to use the Quick Mask tool to clean up.
- Making Color and Lighting Adjustments
- In the Layers dialog click the Background layer to make that layer active (it won’t be highlighted after you’ve saved the selection to a channel).
- This is a full-color image, so the next step is to desaturate it (Colors->Desaturate).
- This particular image was lit from the front with a bright and direct light. Reducing the contrast (ColorsBrightness-Contrast) reveals detail in the sweater that was hidden in the shadows. Although we don’t really need that detail, the fact that the detail emerges tells us that the original lighting was quite harsh. Reducing the contrast is an improvement.
- Because we’ll be adding light back into the scene, let’s darken the ambient light by using the Curves dialog (Colors->Curves) as shown here.
It’s necessary to darken the subject before adding light back into the scene because the original image was already quite bright, making it difficult to add highlights.
Creating a Replacement Backdrop
- Add a transparent layer (Layer->New Layer) and name it Portrait Backdrop.
- Open the Plasma filter (Filters->Render->Clouds->Plasma). The Plasma filter’s default settings are fine for this project—just keep the Turbulence value low. Click OK to apply the settings to this layer.
- Desaturate the layer (Colors->Desaturate).
- Open the Gaussian Blur filter (Filters->Blur->Gaussian Blur). Set the Blur Radius to at least 20 pixels, and then click OK to apply this filter to the layer.
Plasma is placed in its own layer.
- Add a white layer mask to the Portrait Backdrop layer (Layer->Mask->Add Layer Mask).
- Retrieve the saved selection by opening the Channels dialog (Windows->Dockable Dialogs->Channels). Click the Old Backdrop channel to make that channel active, and then click the Channel to Selection button at the bottom of the dialog.
- Feather the selection by 2 pixels (Select->Feather), and then invert the selection (Select->Invert).
- In the Layers dialog click the Portrait Backdrop layer mask to make that mask active. Fill the selection with black by dragging the background color from the toolbox into the selection.
- Deselect all (ctrl-shift-A).
The plasma layer needs a mask that allows the model to show through. Alternatively, the plasma layer could have been placed below the model and a mask applied to the layer that contains the model. The first approach is the best one for this situation because we’ll use the plasma layer to block out other effects later.
Highlighting the Face
- Add a new transparent layer by choosing Layer->New Layer and setting the Layer Fill Type to Transparency. Name the new layer Facial Highlights. In the Layers dialog move this layer so it is below the Portrait Backdrop layer.
- Choose the Ellipse Select tool from the toolbox. Drag to create a selection around the woman’s face.
- Choose the Rotate tool from the toolbox. In the Tool Options dialog click the Selection button next to the word Transform (it’s the middle of the three buttons and its icon is a red square with a dotted outline). Click the canvas to open the Rotation Information dialog, and then drag through the canvas until the bounding box appears to align with the slope of the face, as shown here. Click the Rotate button to apply the rotation.
- If necessary, use the Move tool to position the selection over the face.
- The selection can be rotated by setting the Transform option to Selection in the Tool Options dialog.
- Feather the selection by 10 pixels (Select->Feather).
- Choose the Blend tool from the toolbox. In the Tool Options dialog set the Gradient to FG to Transparent and set the Shape to Radial. If the foreground color box in the toolbox is not white, press D and then X in the canvas window to reset and swap the foreground and background colors. In the canvas window click near the bridge of the subject’s nose and drag out toward the edge of the canvas to apply a radial white gradient.
- Set the layer mode for the Facial Highlights layer to Soft Light, and then deselect all (Select->None).
A highlight is applied using a radial gradient within the oval selection.
Highlighting the Hair
- Let’s apply the same kind of highlight to the woman’s hair.
- Add a new transparent layer by choosing Layer->New Layer and setting the Layer Fill Type to Transparency. Name the new layer Hair Highlights and place it just above the Facial Highlights layer in the Layers dialog.
- Use the Ellipse Select tool to make another selection, this time over the model’s hair on the left of the image. Then rotate it as needed and feather it by 10 pixels.
- Apply the same white radial gradient to this selection by clicking the outside edge of the woman’s hair and dragging in toward her face, and then set the layer mode to Soft Light and set the Opacity for the layer to about 70%.
- Deselect all (Select->None).
- If necessary, use the Gaussian Blur filter (Filters->Blur->Gaussian Blur) to soften the edges of the hair highlight. The blur should be fairly large in comparison to the canvas size. For this image, I use a blur of 100 pixels.
The second highlight is applied over the hair and may overlap the first highlight a bit.
Softening the Face
- Click the Background layer in the Layers dialog to make it the active layer.
- Choose the Ellipse Select tool from the toolbox. Make a selection of the woman’s face.
- Copy the selection, and then paste it as a new layer by pressing ctrl-V and then choosing Layer->To New Layer. Name the new layer Softened Face.
- In the Layers dialog uncheck the Lock Alpha Channel box for this new layer, and then move the layer so it’s just above the Background layer.
- Open the Gaussian Blur filter again (Filters->Blur->Gaussian Blur). Apply a blur of 10 to 20 pixels to this layer.
- In the Layers dialog reduce the layer’s Opacity to between 60 and 80 percent.
We could use the Smudge tool to smooth away facial imperfections, but the Gaussian Blur filter handles the situation just as easily.
- Add a white layer mask to this layer (Layer->Mask->Add Layer Mask). In the Brushes dialog choose a soft-edged brush, such as Round Fuzzy.
- Choose the Airbrush tool from the toolbox and adjust the size in the Tool Options. Make sure that the foreground color is set to black. Spray over the woman’s lips, eyes, nostrils, and hair until all of these areas come into focus.
Masking out the eyes in the Softened Face layer allows the details below to show through while keeping the soft glow we added to the skin.
Black-and-white photographs like this one get most of their impact from contrast. In this case, the black sweater adds plenty of contrast and makes the model’s face the focal point of the image. You might even think that the sweater provides too much contrast, and it may be true that a sweater with more texture is more appropriate for your project.