Before there was light, there was Photoshop . . . or was it the other way around?
(Mouse-over to see the original image.)
A rather surreal looking character indeed.
For demonstration purposes in this tutorial I searched through my files for the roughest, toughest looking hombre I could find whose skin texture would lend itself well in illustrating 3-D manipulation. This image was exposed with only available light. The old gentlemen was sitting in an alcove in the shade. The midday sun was bouncing up from the pavement just in front of him, which caused the surreal, somewhat scary lighting. This accentuated his wrinkles, which makes for an easy illustration of my 3-D workflow action that works equally as well with color or black and white images.
Though the mission of Stroborati is to highlight the possibilities of small, portable lighting setups in exotic, remote locations, I will always need the “magic” of Photoshop for post manipulation. No matter how sophisticated, or not, my lighting setups in the field might become, I’ll be moving fast in uncontrollable environments usually with extreme limitations in time, manpower and realistic artificial lighting possibilities. So I’ll rely on Photoshop to add the extra punch.
In this exercise today, however, let’s eliminate artificial lighting altogether just for the sake of demonstrating the subtle uses of Photoshop to create depth, sculptural lighting effects and mood. In fact, for ALL my lighting setups in the field I’ll be adding my own flavor of post-production strategies. So it’s best I share them now. While I could take these adjustments to the extreme, I will try to control myself and limit results to those that only “slightly” exaggerate possibility. Today I’ll share strategies to subtlety enhance 3-D sculptural characteristics when dealing with images shot with available light. Below I’ll outline my entire Photoshop workflow, which I’ve automated with a Photoshop action that has 227 steps and generates 30 layers in the final image. Note, however, that I included the kitchen sink in this action and not all the layers will be used in every image. The idea is to toss all layers not used but to have them generated by the action so one doesn’t forget anything. You’ll need a few minutes to decipher my explanations. Most of these strategies are not new, I’ve just organized them into a tight little package that speeds up my life in the process.
I photographed this not-too-happy-looking Rajasthani man in Jodhpur, India. I love his wrinkles and tough facial characteristics. But much can be done to enhance his ruddy complexion and to make him appear even more rugged if desired. I elected to convert this image to black and white and left the original rather dull and flat so that you can more easily see the tonal variation possibilities of the action.
Below is the original Camera RAW image on the left (with with only a few basic Lightroom adjustments) compared to my final Photoshopped version on the right using my 3-D workflow action. Notice how much more three-dimensional the image on the right appears.
(Mouse-over the righthand image to see the original.)
Before launching an image into Photoshop I make as many adjustments in Lightroom as possible since those corrections are stored as non-destructible metadata. There I clone and spot away annoying distractions, like loose threads and skin imperfections and add vignetting if the image seems to benefit from it.
To make my life easier while on the road, I finally decided to create a very thorough Photoshop 3-D workflow action that generates 30 correction layers and gets much of the grunt work done for me automatically. The difference in the two images above is not just created by adding contrast. The action uses High Pass filtration and layer masks that automatically isolate effects to the highlight and shadow tonal ranges of the image. I’ve included all these steps so I don’t forget to consider every possible aspect of manipulation I’d ever need. Not every adjustment layer will be used for every image. Though there are numerous stop messages in the action that prompt one to make specific adjustments at each stage, basically it only takes about a minute or so for the action to generate all the layers, which saves huge amounts of time. In the past I’d spend four or more hours on each image playing with all this stuff. Now with this action I’ve cut the time down to 20 or 30 minutes and—most importantly–I don’t forget anything. Before saving the final image, I trash all the layers I don’t use just to keep the file size down. For the first few times, if you run the action one step at a time you’ll more easily understand why each step is necessary. Note that to run the action one step at a time simply hold down the “Command” key for a Mac or the “Control” key for a PC and click the action play button for that step. Once you become familiar with the action, if you decide to deactivate certain steps to create your own unique workflow, you can do so by simply unticking the check mark for those steps. Note, however, that if you deactivate steps that are required for certain sequences, the action may not work properly in transitioning to the next stage. It’s best to save a duplicate copy of the action just in case you ever want to go back to the original version.