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Make Money Fast!

March 28th, 2012  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

The long awaited Nikon D4, D800 and Canon 5D Mark III have all started shipping this month and these new cameras hold the promise of helping us do our jobs better, faster, and easier. They also invoke the reality of helping to empty our bank accounts. So for this week’s ShootStyle blog post I’m writing about something that will help you make money to save for a new camera, or if you’re like me, to help you pay off your credit card for the cameras you just bought.  :-)

But I’m not going to give you advice on how to raise your prices, sell wall collages, or market to high end planners. No, I want to help you make money the old fashioned way… by selling your crap on eBay!


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Guest Shot

December 7th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot


If a wedding were a movie, the bride and groom would be starring in the leading roles. They’ll get most of the closeups and the camera will linger on them throughout the day. We’ll also see other supporting members of the cast as they interact the couple or react to the unfolding events. Then there are some people in the movie we’ll barely see at all, but they play important visual role of populating the universe of the film. Without them, the feature film wedding would merely be an short subject elopement. That’s why I often go out of my way to create photos that include wedding guests as part of the composition.

As wedding photographers, we all shoot the guests. We often try to get a shot of as many guests’ faces as possible for the bride and groom. Those shots are important but they’re not quite what I’m getting at now. And to be clear, I’m not also talking about shots like this:

Boston Wedding Photographer

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Let it Bleed

September 21st, 2011  |  by  |  published in Featured, Style

In the good ol’ days, wedding albums were usually made by taking individual photographic prints and slipping them into album pages that had standard size mat openings. That had a couple of implications – every photo needed to be cropped to a standard dimension like 8×10 or 5×7 and every photo appeared with a border around it. As a way to present photos that approach was clean and traditional but somewhat hum drum. And if you shot in 35mm (which has a 2×3 ratio) you ended up cropping out much of your composition.

Today it’s much more common for a wedding album to created as a flush mount book, where one or more images can be placed on the page without restrictions about size or placement. Yet it’s common for contemporary wedding albums to echo their ancestral counterparts by placing images on the page surrounded by large borders. It’s as if these album designs are haunted by the papery ghosts of forgotten album mats that lie mouldering next to dusty enlargers in the basements of photographers who long ago traded film for digital.

If such traditional album designs sound eerily familiar to you, I appeal to you to let your images bleed!
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Default Line

July 27th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

If you’re like me, you shoot your photos in raw format… so there’s also a pretty good chance you use Adobe Lightroom for processing your images. You might even have started using Lightroom because of its reputation for making processing workflow faster. In that vein, this week I’d like to talk about a Lightroom feature that I use every day on every image I shoot. A feature so efficient I’d nearly forgotten I was using it! A feature unexcitingly called Camera Defaults.

You’ve probably noticed that when you open an image in Lightroom’s Develop module, many of the settings are already chosen for you. These are Lightroom’s default settings.

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HyperSync and the PocketWizard MiniTT1

May 4th, 2011  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

Warning, today’s blog post is for flash nerds. If charts and talk of flash gear and sync speeds doesn’t appeal to you, I invite you to read last week’s post about a boudoir shoot ShootStyle hosted.  :-)

I recently purchased a PocketWizard MiniTT1 to experiment with. For folks unfamiliar with PocketWizard’s new MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 triggers, their main selling point is that they allow you to shoot in TTL Flash mode wirelessly.

That’s a super awesome capability, but I’m not ready to wrestle with the vagaries of TTL flash just yet; I like the control and predictability of using my flashes on manual. Smartly, PocketWizard designed their new triggers to be useful to people like me as these new units can control old style Plus, Plus II and MultiMax triggers, and maybe even breath new life into them.

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Just My Type

February 2nd, 2011  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

The winter is here and if you’re like me, this is the time of year when you revisit your marketing materials. I’m currently looking at my brochures, price lists, web site and blog to see I need to update my branding. In these cold months I even start to wonder if my old logo needs updating. One of the most basic decisions I face when creating a new marketing piece or updating an old one is what typeface to use. Now, this is not to say that the font used is more important the the actual words and ideas expressed in the piece, but to me the font is what gives the message character before someone even reads it.

As you can see below, a weathered, beat-up, grungy typeface might communicate that my marketing piece is (trying to be) hip. A elegant calligraphic script might impart a sense of style and class. A traditional, legible, newsy font could help convey that what I’m saying is authoritative.

Are you tired of the fonts that came with your computer? Do you need some new typefaces for project or rebranding effort you’re working on? I’d like to share a few of the sources I use to research, identify, and obtain new fonts.

First, there are couple of tried and true websites that offer thousands of fonts free to download. If you want to easily experiment with a bunch of new typefaces, take a look at the sites DaFont and FontSpace.



Both these sites offer boatloads of fonts and sometimes they can be a lot to wade through. Even though the quality of many free fonts isn’t the best, browse long enough and you’ll be rewarded with some fabulous fonts. To help people circumvent this quality issue the editors over at Smashing Magazine frequently do round-ups of small collections of high quality free fonts.  Here is a link to some font round-ups on their search page. (Smashing Magazine also features free blog themes, backgrounds and textures too, so poke around there when you’ve got some time.)

After a while you’ll probably notice that the best free fonts tend to turn up in a lot of places. I guess that just makes sense, but it can be a bummer to see another photographer or a random banner ad using your favorite font. If you want to create marketing materials that are more distinctive you’ll probably need to buy some fonts.

My favorite place to research and purchase new fonts is the site MyFonts.

There are number of reasons why MyFonts is my favorite place to research and buy fonts. First, you can browse fonts by bestselling status or look at lists of hot or new fonts. There is even a sale section. Tags are probably the most useful feature of MyFonts. Users can tag any font with words they feel describe it, and then you can search on those tags. Interested in a font that is both vintage and feminine? A quick search and bingo! MyFonts hooks you up with 144 possibilities.

If your find a font is close to what you what, but not quite, (perhaps it’s a little pricey) you can click on a link to quickly see other similar fonts.

You can also explore fonts with related tags by clicking in the tag cloud for each font or search result.

To quickly get a feel for the personality of different typefaces, you can customize the sample text that MyFonts uses with text that you might be using in your work.

Imagine that you’re reading a magazine or browsing a website and you come across a beautiful typeface that you know will be perfect for the project you’re working on. Just scan it or take a screen capture of it and MyFonts has a couple of ways to help you figure out what font they used. First, head on over to the WhatTheFont tool. It will try to identify the font used in a jpg file that you upload. It’s actually kind of amazing. For example, here’s a very small version of my logo that I grabbed off my web site:

I upload the image to WhatTheFont and its first guess at the typeface is correct, Bentwood.

In fact, WhatTheFont’s other guesses are pretty good too and can make a great starting point for finding the perfect typeface for your project. If the WhatTheFont tool doesn’t guess the font, you can also post the image to the WhatTheFont forum where some scary smart folks will help you figure out what font it is and what other fonts may be similar.

So if you want to spruce up your branding or just have a bit of fun with your marketing, check out these sites and find some fonts that are just your type..


Walk the Walk

December 2nd, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Style

One thing I almost invariably do at a wedding is to get a shot of the couple walking. At most weddings there’s a bunch of time spent getting from here to there: from the house to the ceremony, from the ceremony to the reception, from the reception to the spot where we’re going to be taking photos, etc. These could easily be wasted moments photographically. I have this constant desire for just another minute to fiddle with my equipment or set up a shot, so it would be easy for me to focus on getting to the destination ahead of the couple. But I slow down and stay with the couple as they’re walking, because I love the photos I can get from these moments.

Most people aren’t used to having a camera pointed at them but they are used to putting one foot in front of another over and over.  When people are walking, muscle memory takes over and they stop posing. They become more aware of their environment and less aware of me. The couple gets a chance to take a break from their guests and be together for a moment which also helps them act and interact more naturally.

The simple fact that my subjects are in motion makes the photos a little more interesting. These photos also help tell the story of the day by providing transitions from one scene to the next, which can be useful in a slideshow or an album. Taking these photos is a challenge because I have to frame and shoot quickly, then move along and do it again, but the effort pays off in images I love.

Boston Wedding Photographer

Boston Wedding Photographer


Edit A Wedding In Three Hours Or Less

October 13th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot


October is crunch time for my wedding photography so this week’s ShootStyle post is going to be short and sweet. In fact, brevity is really the underlying theme of what I’m going to discuss – editing a wedding.

So what is an edit? In my workflow, editing a wedding is the process of getting from the thousands of images I captured on the wedding day down to the few hundred images that I’m going to process and present to the client. In some respects this is can be the most overwhelming part of the post production process because I’m trigger happy and have it’s not unusual for me to shoot 7000-8000 images at a wedding. Add in images from a second photographer and I could be looking at 10,000+ images to review. (Thank goodness I don’t shoot film as that would be 278 rolls!)

Over the years, I’ve used a number of tools to edit my weddings including Adobe Bridge, Phase One Expression Media (formerly iView Multimedia) and Adobe Lightroom. Each of these tools had plusses and minuses, and every time I switched tools it was because I found the newer tool was faster. Before talking about what I currently use, here are the reasons the tools I’ve mentioned have fallen by the wayside.

Adobe Bridge shows you the contents of a folder of images in a thumbnail form. It’s totally possible to edit a wedding using Bridge and the fact that it comes free with Photoshop is a bonus. Unfortunately, when you open a folder using bridge, it scans the images and caches their thumbnails to use in it’s display. This happens pretty quick when you dealing with few dozen images, but once you get up to a few thousand images, the process of building all the thumbnails takes forever. Well, not forever, but more time than I want to spend sitting watching my computer churn.

Both Expression Media and Adobe Lightroom operate by creating a catalogs of the images you want to work with. The process of building these catalogs and creating the preview images they use can take a long time. On the other hand, once a catalog is built, moving from image to image can be quite speedy. So really, all of your suffering is done up front. But do I really want to take the time to build previews for thousands of images I know I’m going to be throwing out eventually? No ma’am, I do not.

I’d still be using Lightroom to edit my images today if some of my friends hadn’t turned me on to the Mack Daddy of all photo editing software, Photo Mechanic. This amazing little piece of software has a number of really useful capabilities targeted at professional photographers. Some of it best features are the ability to:

  • ingest your flash cards while simultaneously renaming the files and backing the images up into two locations
  • embed copyright and other metadata into your photos
  • adjust capture dates and times for when you forget to time sync your cameras before a shoot
  • tag each photo a 0-5 star rating and/or a color class
  • sort your images according to capture time
  • flexibly rename your images

But more than anything else, Photo Mechanic’s main feature is speed. It’s can open and display a folder full of images faster than anything else on the market. Way faster. And then it lets you view a large preview of each image and going back and forth between these previews is also super fast.

Here’s how I approach my edit using Photo Mechanic. I’m kind of old school and I don’t trust any intermediary software to transfer my images from my card to my computer, so I don’t use Photo Mechanic’s slick automatic card ingesting feature. For each wedding I create a folder called “Raw Downloads” and within that another folder for each card I shot. I then drag the files from the card to it’s corresponding folder using the Macintosh finder. This gives me the security of knowing that if something goes wrong during the transfer, I’ll quickly be able to determine which card gave me the error.

On the left side of the Photo Mechanic window, there is a navigation area that lists of all your hard drives and common folders on your computer.


If a drive or folder has a triangle next to it, that means it is not empty and it’s contents can be displayed by clicking on the triangle. In this way I drill down to that Raw Downloads folder for my wedding. I tell Photo Mechanic to show me all of the images in each of the card folders by right-clicking on the Raw Downloads folder and choosing to open all the subfolders.


Blammo! In mere seconds every image I shot that day opens up into a slide-sorter style interface.


Before I get down to the business of editing, I like to have all of my photos in a single folder in chronological order. I shoot with multiple cameras, so before the wedding I sync the time on my cameras. At the top of the Photo Mechanic window I simply change the sorting from Filename to Capture Time. This operation does take a little time, but it’s well worth it for me.


I like to “bake in” the capture time sorting by renaming the files. This way they retain their chronological order even outside of Photo Mechanic. I select all the images and choose Rename Files form the File menu to open the renaming dialog.


I set the name to a sequence number followed by the couples names and the word “unedited”. Setting the sequence {seqn} variable lets me choose the starting number (usually 1) and indicate how many zeros I want Photo Mechanic to add.

I’m going to take a short time out to mention a couple of preference settings that help me work efficiently with Photo Mechanic. the Accessibility Tab in the programs preferences allows you to choose how to set the single key short cut for tagging images. I have it set to use the number keys for star ratings:

This IPTC/XMP Preference screen shows how I have set up Photo Mechanic so that it’s tags are read correctly by lightroom. I won’t go into what all the obscure details, but if you set your preference like this, Lightroom should automatically read your Photo Mechanic tags when it imports your photos.

OK, Back to the edit.

Now that all the images are renamed in time order, I move them to a folder called “Unedited Originals” where I perform the actual edit. I open that folder in Photo Mechanic and double click on either the very first or very last image. (Sometimes it’s nice to work backwards as often I shoot a series of images of the same thing and my best shot is likely the last one I took before moving on to the next scene.) Double clicking on that first or last image opens it large in the preview window. I usually resize the window to fill the entire screen.


This is were things get really fast. In this preview window, the left and right arrow keys instantly display the previous or next photo and the numbers 1 through 5 assign star ratings to the images. I can pretty much edit the whole wedding using just three keys on my keyboard: Left arrow, right arrow and the number 1. I use the number 1 that’s on my key pad as it sits right next the arrow keys allowing me to do all of the editing with one hand.

If I open the preview to last image of the wedding, my process will be:

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

Every time I hit the 1 key, that photo gets tagged with one star which is displayed under both the large preview image and the thumbnail.

1starb 1stara

I’m essentially going through and finding all the “keepers”. This approach is known as “editing in”. To some people it’s a little counter intuitive as they instinctively want to get rid of the bad photos, so they go through their images deleting or labeling the bad images in some way. I used to do that too. But with my style of shooting, I’ll could take 5000 images and only 500 are keepers. If I were to use the edit out approach, I’d have to hit a key to tag or delete an image 4500 times, vs just 500 times for the editing in approach. Say NO to carpel tunnel and edit in! Interestingly, a side benefit to editing in is that I get tighter edits. I guess in my mind it’s harder to explicitly decide to ditch a photo than it is to simple not tag it as being good.

By the way, I don’t promise a specific number of images to my clients so I’m not editing down to a target amount. I just deliver every good shot which could be 400 or 900.

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

If I change my mind and find a better image, no problem, I just tag it with 1 star and hit the left arrow to go back to my original choice and hit the 0 key. If I see that I’m approaching a series of similar images I’ll sometimes just arrow key through them all before going back and tagging one with a star.

As I’m going through my images I’ll inevitably come across ones that I consider blog worthy. Instead of trying to remember which ones they were when I do my blog post, I’ll tag them with 2 stars instead of one. If I see an images that I think is totally awesome I might even tag it with 3 stars. Later on when I’m processing the images in Lightroom, I can easily filter out images with less then two stars giving me quick access to my absolute favorite shots from the wedding.

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(blog worthy photo) press 2 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

Once I’ve finished my edit, I go to the bottom of the main Photo Mechanic window and click on the “0″ in the rating filter.


This hides every image that still has less than one star, leaving only my keepers. I select all the keepers and drag them into a folder named “Edited Originals” and I rename them one more time using just a three digit sequence number and the couples names.

Ironically, writing this blog post describing my process actually took longer than doing the actual edit will. Using this workflow, I can usually edit an entire wedding in 2-3 hours, depending on my caffeine level. I still have to do the raw processing and color correction, which I’ll tackle in Lightroom, but at least not I don’t have to import thousands of images into Lightroom that I’ll never use.

I can’t claim to have any special insight on the editing process, what I know I’ve learned from other talented photographers and through the experience of editing my work. I’m sure there are other refinements that can make this part of the job even more efficient. I’d love to hear about your editing techniques in the comments section.

Thanks for reading. Now I’m off to actually edit this wedding for real!


Skin Deep – How I Retouch A Face

June 9th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

I’ve been doing a lot of model shoots recently, which means a lot of skin retouching, so I thought I’d share some of the basics of how I approach retouching a face. Well, actually, all the techniques would be the same if I were retouching arms, legs, or other skin, but I figured that I’d start with the face as that’s the most important part of person.

The example I’m going to be using for this article is a photo I took of my favorite model, Rachel. Looking at her, you might wonder why in the world you’d need to retouch her at all. In all honesty, if all you were going to do were post a small image on the web, you might not have to do anything at all. But if you plan on printing the image large, you’ll start to find things that just jump out at you. They are often things that you wouldn’t even notice in real life. You only notice them when you have time the study the image.

In general I try to keep my retouching natural-looking. I try to avoid anything that screams “Hey, look at the photoshopped face!” Because of this, I can’t rely solely on any of the actions and filters or plugins for Photoshop that intend to make skin look softer.

I’ve found that for the most part they are too noticeable for my taste. They cause the image to lose detail and make face look plasticky. For my work there’s no substitute a bunch of detail oriented editing. That doesn’t mean these tools don’t have their place, in fact there are a couple I use all the time for part of my retouching process.

So let’s get into it. If you want to follow along, I’ve posted a high resolution version of the image I’m working on here:

Another way to follow along is to watch the following QuickTime slideshow, which has a closeup from every major step along the way:

After I open an image in Photoshop, the first thing I do before working on it is to duplicate the background layer and duplicate the background layer by typing Command + J. I rename the resulting layer ‘retouch’.

Working on this retouch layer allows me to revert back to my original image if I make a mistake at any point.

The first thing I attack when retouching a face is small blemishes, pimples, flakes of makeup, or any tiny dark spot or bump on the subjects skin. To get these little buggers, I select the Spot Healing Brush Tool. by typing the letter ‘j’.

One of the best ways to speed up your retouching, or any Photoshop activity, really, is to learn to use the shortcut keys associated with the tools you use most frequently. Click and hold on the Spot Healing Brush Tool and a menu will pop up allowing you to choose any of the related tools in this group including the Spot Healing Brush Tool, the regular Healing Brush Tool, the Patch Tool and the Red Eye Tool.

Notice that next to each tool is the letter J. This is to let you know that you can select the currently visible tool in this group at any time by clicking j on your keyboard. Even better, if you hold down the Shift key and press J repeatedly, you can cycle through and select any of these tools without having to click on the icon in the toolbar. This is a HUGE time saver.

So if you’re following along, type shift-j-j-j until the Spot Healing Brush is selected.

Now go to the Options Bar above the tool bar and set the painting mode to Lighten. This will cause the brush to make darker area lighter while having little or no effect on lighter areas.

I like to work at 100% size so I can see actual pixels when retouching. To quickly zoom to 100%, type Command + Option + 0.

With the Spot Healing Brush, you just click on spots you want to fix. It works best if the brush size is about the same size as the spots you are clicking on.

Here I’m using a brush size of 20. You can change the brush size by clicking on the Brush menu in the Options Bar, or even easier by using the bracket keys [ and ] on you keyboard. then just go around and click on any dark spots or blemishes you see. Here is an example of all the spots I clicked on:

The white dots show both the location and the sizes I used for the brush.

Now let’s switch the Spot Healing Brush to Darken mode and click on any dark spots, like stray glitter or shiny bumps.

After getting rid of small spots on the skin, I work on wrinkles. When working on wrinkles, I duplicate the retouch layer by typing Command + J. This gives me the ability to quickly restore some of the lines I remove later.

Because these lines are bigger, I use the Patch Tool instead of a Healing Brush to remove them. So if you’re following along, type shift-j-j-j until the Patch Tool is selected.

You can also click on it in the tool bar. (But why would you when typing shift-j-j-j is so fast?)

Also, make sure the Patch Tool is set to Source in the Options Bar.

Let’s start by working around the eyes. Type Command and the + key to zoom in to 200%. Using the Patch Tool, draw a selection around a line near the eyes. Make the selection close to the line.

Now drag the selection to an area of smoother skin to patch it. You’ll see that the selected area now takes on the appearance of the area of skin that you dragged to.

The key to making the patch tool work well is always dragging to an area that has a similar skin texture to the region you are patching. Also, don’t always drag to the exact same area or you’ll end up with a skin texture that repeats and looks photoshopped.

Continue the process by selecting each line around the eyes and patching it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. :)

Done? Great! Now that we’ve removed all those lines and wrinkles, it’s time to bring them back… somewhat. Having some wrinkles and lines is a part of the personality of the face, and to eliminate them totally can look a little too botox-y. We did all of this patching on a copy of the retouch layer so that we could easily turn the opacity of the entire layer up and down until we find the perfect amount amount of smoothness.

For me that turned out to be about 50% opacity.

Now that we’re satisfied with the skin around the eyes, type Command + E to merge the top layer back down into the retouch layer.

The other area of the face that has lines I often want to reduce is the forehead, so let’s work on that next. This will be very similar to the process we used for the eyes.

Start by duplicating the retouch layer by typing Command + J.

Draw a selection around lines on the forehead and drag to areas of the forehead that have a similar texture. Don’t try to select long lines all at once – break them up into multiple smaller selections. Also, some wrinkles and lines you may not want to touch at all.

For example, the wrinkles above Rachel’s raised eyebrow really need to stay there for her expression to look natural.

Just like with the eyes, once you’ve removed all the lines and wrinkles from the forehead, it’s time to lower the opacity of this layer to bring them back a little. I’ll bet an opacity of around 65% works great. If you agree, type Command + E to merge the top layer down into the retouch layer.

While I have the patch tool selected, I’ll go around and patch other things that draw my attention, like the bright spot to the right of the nose, the dark spot on tip of her nose, the dark spots on chin, and some faint lines and spots on her neck. This is also a great time to patch all the things you missed way back at the beginning when you were working with the spot healing brush.

This brings us to the eyes themselves. Rachel’s eyes present a number of challenges. They are slightly bloodshot and a little red and in shadow.

Type l to select the lasso tool.

Or click on the Lasso tool in the Toolbar.

Now click and drag a circle loosely around one eye to select it. Hold down the shift key to add to the selection and drag a circle loosely around the other eye to select it as well. Your selection should look something like this:

It’s fine if you’ve selected a little extra, but make sure you have all of both eyes selected.

So far, every other time we created a layer using Command + J, we got an exact duplicate of the layer we were working on. But now we have something selected. Type Command + J and notice that instead of getting a duplicate layer, we get a new layer that’s blank except for the eyes.

We’re going to be doing some detail work here, so if you’re not still zoomed in, zoom way in to 200% or 400%.

The first thing to retouch about the eyes are the red veins. To remove these let’s type S to select the Clone Stamp Tool. In the Options Bar, set the painting mode to Lighten, and set the opacity to 50%. With the Clone Stamp Tool, you Option + Click on an area first to tell the tool what part of the image you want to sample. then you click and paint somewhere else on the image. Whatever you option-clicked gets painted into the area you are working on. Here’s how we’re going to tackle cloning out the veins in the eye:

Using the bracket keys [ and ] on you keyboard, set the size of your brush to be about the same thickness as a vein. In the diagram above, the green circles are areas you are going to sample by Option-Clicking. After you Option-Click, start painting at the point where the yellow circle is located and move in the direction of the arrow. Your opacity is 50% so it may well take more than one stroke to cover a line.

You’ll notice that you are sampling areas very close to where you are painting, and when you are painting near the eyelid, you are sampling a similar edge of the eyelid and then painting out into the eye.

Use the Clone Stamp tool to remove the veins from both eyes.

You may have some weird transitions left over which you can clean up with patch tool.

With the veins removed, we can now remove the overall red cast from the eyes by desaturating them a bit. Command-Click on the eye layer’s thumbnail in the Layers Palette. This selects everything that is not transparent in the layer.

Now from the Layer Menu, choose New Adjustment Layer–>Hue/Saturation. In the new Hue/Saturation layer, turn the saturation all the way down to 0. This will look weird as the eyes will go black and white.

That’s OK for now as we are going to paint out the areas of skin that we don’t want affected on the layer mask. To get ready to paint on the layer mask, type the following:
B – to select the Brush Tool
D – to default the colors to black and white
X – to switch the black and white swatches in palette so you’ll be painting with black

With the Brush Tool selected, paint on the areas of skin around the eyeballs as well as the irises and pupils. As you paint in black on the layer mask, the area you paint will return to full color. Once you’re done, lower the opacity of the Hue/Saturation layer to whatever feels right. You want enough color so that it seems real, but not so much that it looks too red. For me 30% seemed to work well.

Type Command + E to merge the Hue/Saturation layer down into eyes layer.

Now let’s brighten the eyes a little. Again we’ll Command-Click on the eye layer’s thumbnail in the Layers Palette to select everything that’s not transparent in the layer.

Now from the Layer Menu, choose New Adjustment Layer–>Levels. In the new Levels layer, move the middle gray arrow to the left to brighten the eyes to taste. It’s OK to make them a hair too bright as you can lower the opacity of the layer later.

That helps the eyes pop a lot without looking too fake. It’s affecting part of the skin too, so with the Brush Tool still selected, paint on the layer mask of the Levels layer to hide the areas of skin around the eyeballs.

When it looks good to you, type Command + E to merge the Levels layer down into eyes layer, then type Command + E one more time to merge the Eyes layer down into the retouch layer.

Remember way back at the beginning of this article, I said that there were some skin softening plugins and actions that I would use as part of my retouching workflow? Well this is were I use them. Now that I’ve done all of the intricate detail work on an image, a lightly applied filter that evens out the remaining skin tones a little can be useful. The plugin I find myself reaching for most often these days is the Portraiture Plug in from Imagenomic.

The reasons I like Portraiture are:

1) It targets skin tones and leaves objects with other colors in the photo alone.
2) It retains a lot of detail in the areas it targets for smoothing.
3) I can tell it what color the skin tones in my image are.
4) It creates a layer that is transparent except for the areas it is softening, making it easy for me to further tweak the softening by erasing it from areas of the image or changing the opacity of the entire layer.

The above image shows both the default (lowest) setting for Portraiture and the highest setting. As you can see, it retains a lot of detail and avoids looking too plasticky even at it’s highest setting.

Finally, I’ll do a little dodging and burning, selectively lightening and darkening areas of the image to finish it off. I could use some of the dodging and burning techniques I demonstrated in my earlier Blending Fun article, but instead I think I’ll plug another maker of cool Photoshop Tools. Yin/Yang is a dodging and burning action that is part of the Totally Rad Actions Set, Volume one. This set is chock full of insanely useful actions like Yin/Yang that I find myself using all the time.

Yin/Yang creates two layers called Yin and Yang. Paint on the layer mask of Yin to darken areas of your image, and on the layer mask of Yang to brighten parts of the image. You can see from the image above that I used Yin to darken the edges of the image and to darken the red wall a little. I used Yang to brighten up the black feathery area of the hat and to brighten some of the shadow areas of Rachel’s face.

And that’s about it. But before we go, here’s a before and after of the image.

And here’s a link to a high res version of the final image:

I know there are a million ways to ‘skin’ this particular cat :). I’d love to hear how you approach retouching faces in your workflow. Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.


Blending Fun

April 15th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot


I know. I wish this article were about margarita recipes too – ohhh for the research I’d have been able to do. But the blenders I’m talking about today are Photoshop’s Blending Modes. Please folks, try to contain your excitement.

There are a lot of ‘ah-ha!’ moments that come with learning Photoshop. A couple of the big ah-ha’s for me were how working in layers allows you make changes to your image without committing to them permanently, and how working with layer masks lets you selectively hide or show just the parts of a layer that you are interested in. These two concepts really hit home with me because they appeal to both my inner laziness (I don’t like to have to do things twice) and inner control freak (I like to make my images as perfect as possible).

If you’ve experienced the thrill of the layer and layer mask ah-ha’s, it’s time to strap in and get ready for using blending modes to really do some useful wild things to your images.

But before we go there, you might be wondering what in the Sam Hill blending modes are. The simple answer is that when you have one layer on top of another, Photoshop uses blending modes to determine how a layer visually affects the layers underneath it. You can find list of blending modes on top of the Layer Palette:


The default blending mode is called Normal and it just shows you every pixel in the top layer, effectively hiding all the layers below it. Not very exciting.

But what about some of those others, like say Multiply? What do they do?

You probably know that digital images are made up of pixels and that each pixel is a color represented by three numbers, usually in RGB (red, green and blue) format, and that each of those numbers can be anything from 0 to 255. The purest red is represented as 255,0,0, the purest blue is 0,0,255, and so on. Everything that Photoshop does is basically just fancy math applied to those RGB numbers.

When you choose Multiply as a blend mode, Photoshop takes the numerical value of each pixel in the top layer, and multiplies it by the value of the pixel below it. It then divides the result by 255 so that the final value falls between 0 and 255.

I’m going to guess that you don’t read blogs to learn about math so let me just show you what it looks like. Here is an image in which the background has just been duplicated to a new layer. The blend mode is still at the default setting of Normal.


But when you switch the blend mode to Multiply, look what happens.


The image gets markedly darker since each pixel has been multiplied by the pixel directly underneath it. This technique might not seem incredibly useful at first, but what if we were starting with an over-exposed image? (Which I never take of course.) Below is an over-exposed image on the left and that same image copied to a new layer and set to Multiply on the right.


You can see that Multiply brought life back to the picture, recovering some of the lost detail in the trees, and making the gray dress black as it should be.

If you only need to darken your image a little, you can adjust the opacity of the top layer to dial in the amount of effect that suits your taste. If you need to darken it more, you can duplicate the layer again and have two or more layers set to multiply.

The opposite blending mode to Multiply is called Screen. The math is funkier, but the effect is that pixels in the top layer make pixels in the bottom layer lighter. Here’s that first photo again and then a version in which background has been duplicated to a new layer and set to Screen.



Again, maybe not super useful on a well-exposed image, but it can really help an image that was underexposed when it was shot.


In all honesty, I’d never use blending modes to adjust my exposures these days. There are much better tools like Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw for that part of my workflow. But I do use techniques like this all the time on almost every finished image I produce. What for? Nondestructive dodging and burning.

The real beauty of this technique comes by combining a Multiply layer and a Screen layer with a layer mask, so that you can selectively control which areas of the image to lighten or darken. Here’s how I set it up:

1) Duplicate the background (command-J on Mac/control-J on PC).

2) Name the new layer Darken or something similar.

3) Option-click the Add Layer Mask button addlayermask on the bottom of the Layers palette (On the PC it’s Alt-click)

4) Set the blending mode of the layer to Multiply.

5) Duplicate the Darken layer (command-J on Mac/control-J on PC).

6) Name the new layer Lighten or something similar.

7) Set the blending mode of the layer to Screen.

At this point my layers palette will look something like this:


8) Choose the brush tool. (Set the brush color to white, the opacity to 20% and the brush size to whatever feels right).

9) In the Layers palette, click on the black layer mask’s thumbnail of the Darken layer to select it.

10) Now in the image, burn in areas by painting with the brush anywhere you want to darken the photo.

In my image, I want the model to stand out more, so I’m going to burn in the areas of the truck, the road, the sky, and the construction machinery in the background.



Looking at the white areas of the layer mask’s thumbnail, you can see the parts of the photo that I burned in.

11) In the Layers palette, click on the black layer mask’s thumbnail of the Lighten layer to select it.

12) Now in the image, dodge areas by painting with the brush anywhere you want to lighten the photo.

In my image, I just wanted to make the shadow side of the model’s face a touch lighter.


You can see the areas that I dodged as the white parts of the Screen (Lighten) layer mask’s thumbnail.

The best part of dodging and burning this way is that I can change my mind about what I did later. Let’s say I was up all night editing images. (Again, not something I ever do.) The next day I’m reviewing my files and I notice that I went waaay overboard on some of the dodging and burning. No problemo! I saved the images as Photoshop files thus preserving all the layers, so all I have to do is open the offending images and paint in black on the layer mask where I want less of a dodging or burning effect.

So, Normal, Multiply and Screen are only three of the twenty-five blend modes available in Photoshop, you’re probably wondering what all the others do.

Well, I’m not going to tell you.

Kidding. Well, I’m sort of kidding. This article would be crazy long and cause your eyes to bleed if I tried to discuss and give examples of every blend mode.

The best way to understand what all the different blend modes do is to play around with them. Experiment, have fun, and just explore the effects of each different mode. You’ll find that you have some favorite ones that you go to again and again. Here are some of the ones I use over and over.

Overlay is a cool blend mode because it takes the dark parts of your image and makes them darker while at the same time making the light parts of your image even lighter. The effect is that it adds contrast and increases saturation giving the image a definite pop. In fact, it’s usually too much pop, so I invariably have to reduce the opacity of the overlay layer to lessen the effect.


The Soft Light blend mode is Overlay’s suburban cousin. It also adds contrast and increases saturation, but not as dramatically as Overlay. Because it’s not as strong an effect Soft Light can be run at 100%. I’ll often jump back and forth between Soft Light and Overlay to see which works best with the image I’m editing.


In all of the examples I’ve demonstrated so far, the top layer has been the same as the bottom layer. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can create interesting effects with blending modes when the top layer is different than the bottom layer. A common example of this is adding texture to an image.

Let’s use this texture to grunge up the image of the model in front of the truck.


When working with textures you will find that you have to tweak and experiment with every image. For this image I put the texture in a layer on top of the photo. I set the texture layer to the Hard Light blending mode. Hard Light is similar to Overlay, but it adds even more contrast.


I had to play with the opacity of the texture layer to get the amount of texture I wanted. In this case it turned out to work well at 50% opacity. I also had to add a layer mask and paint the effect off of the model. People just don’t look good with textured skin.

When working with textures, I will often use the Soft Light, Overlay, Hard Light or Multiply blending modes.

And finally, here’s an effect that reminds me of an image that’s been reproduced on a bad photocopier. (Don’t ask me why I’d want an image that looks like it was reproduced on a bad photocopier… this is art!) This technique uses the Hard Light blend mode as well, but in this case I’ve desaturated the top layer. This gives the image a lot of contrast, but plays with the colors in peculiar ways. Again the top layer needs to have it’s opacity reduced. I might finish an image like this by adding some noise for grain or even by adding a texture added on top.


Do you have unique effects that you’ve created using blend modes? Bust them out in the comments section.


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