On Using Photoshop
Many photographers who read my articles, blog posts, and books think I have an intense dislike when it comes to using Photoshop. This is simply not the case and they misunderstand my feelings about it. While it is true that I hate the time it takes to use Photoshop to correct simple mistakes that I can correct in the camera before I take a picture; I am totally into using Photoshop if I must use it to correct a mistake that couldn’t be avoided or if I can use it to create something unique. The dictionary definition of “unique” is: “1. Being the only one” and “2. Being without a like or equal”. Sometimes these definitions can satisfy both fixing a mistake and/or being unique! In truth, I’m already moving away from being in love with the picture of the bride’s flowers in color against a black and white background (even though I still sell that image to many bridal couples). I feel this way (and it is only my opinion) because, like the photographs of the bride and groom toasting while superimposed on a goblet or the couple dancing while superimposed on the sheet music of their song from the yesterday’s wedding photography, it is already becoming an over-worked cliché!
Regardless, I often shoot wedding and/or family photographs in public parks and, because I like to get my subjects far off a background so as to throw the background out of focus, other people using the park often wander through my background. Since these wanderers have as much right as me to use the park and they usually, purposely, try not to be in the background I’m using, I never say anything to chastise them for their wandering! But, when they are in my background, I am aware of them and often time my photographs so the extras on the set are hidden behind my subjects when I push the button. What follows is a series of 5 images that starts with just such a wanderer walking into the background from the left while obliviously talking on the phone, then disappearing behind my subjects, then reappearing on the right side of my subjects, and then the wanderer is gone.
As is often the case, even though there are similar images after she’s gone, the very best image in this burst of images is one in which she just reappears to the right of my subjects. In the print for the wedding album I used Photoshop to remove her, take care of a shrub that was dying (on the right), and remove three leaf clusters that had fallen to the ground on the lower left side of the picture that bothered me. All three of these fixes could be classified as “ mistakes that couldn’t be avoided” and they, as a group, are in the first 5 images shown below. But, the couple liked the final album image (number 6 below which is the middle one of the first five after it was retouched) so much they wanted it for a large canvas print to hang in their new apartment. To make this image more unique I borrowed a technique taught to me by one of my wedding workshop attendees at the Maine Media Workshops.
His name is Michael Brook (MichaelBrookPhotography.com) and, told with his permission, the technique he taught me is using Photoshop layers to both sharpen and soften an image simultaneously. Working in lab color mode (under the image menu/mode), he starts by making a duplicate layer and uses a combination of unsharp mask (in the sharpen menu under filters), and the lightness channel in the layers window under the windows menu to intensify the black part of the image (such as the eyes) and then he creates a duplicate layer of the background to which he adds a Guassian blur (under the filters menu under blur) experimenting with the amount of opacity (which is in the layers window next to layer) of the blur layer. The first operation (the unsharp mask) makes the image look crisp but adding the Gaussian blur to the second layer makes the highlights start to halo. When he’s satisfied with his results he goes back into RGB mode and ends by merging the layers together (in the layers menu under “merge visible”).
Finally, to make a centrally located subject literally pop off the paper it’s printed on I used the rectangular marquee tool to form a border around the picture about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in from the edges, then use the select tool to create the inverse of rectangular marquee and choose refine edge/modify/feather also under the select menu to soften the edge of the marquee. I finished up with using image adjust/brightness-contrast in the image menu to do what I can only describe as traditional wet darkroom printing technique called an edge burn and I’m done.
This entire process takes about 10 minutes and that means that on a typical 60 image wedding album doing it on every photograph would add about 10 hours to my post production time so it obviously isn’t for every picture. But, when I want to do something that cannot be accomplished in my camera, something that is not a cliché, and something that looks unique, this is just one of the ways I go about it! The last photograph shown below is a compilation of all these techniques. Hopefully, this will dispel the comments I often get that I hate using Photoshop – it’s just not true!
Happy Holidays to All!