Tutorial: How to use Photoshop for your blog
Listen up! It's rare that you'll find a photographer willing to talk about their editing process, but if you keep it on the down low I'll give you a peek into the work that goes into my own blog posts. It's a lot more complicated than snap and upload, but Photoshop doesn't have to be intimidating, and it doesn't mean distorting your face or your figure beyond recognition. In fact, unless I'm dealing with a commissioned shoot, I never retouch birthmarks or reshape figures — that's just the way we are, and if the viewer doesn't like it, that's his/her problem.
This tutorial is best suited to studio-style shots with diffused lighting, but I've also used these techniques before when I've taken photos of people outdoors and have had to move them around within the image for various reasons. The gradient map at step 4 and exposure painting at 5 are also really useful to know in plenty of different settings, so they're well worth practising.
Despite what I said earlier, I don't have any problem with blasting a fat pimple. Skin changes every day, and frankly they can really distract from an otherwise great photograph. Use the spot healing brush over any standout blemishes, but make sure you create a new layer before you do so by pressing command+J on a Mac or control+J on a PC. This way, if you make a mistake you can delete the layer and start again.
The biggest problem with this photo is that there isn't enough space on the left-hand side. (You always need space in the direction the subject is looking, but that's a whole 'nother blog post!) What a bother! The best way to fix this is to get it right when you're taking the photo, but that ain't easy when you're using self-timer.
Use the Quick Selection Tool (press W) to select your subject (make sure you include the reflection of the shoes on the floor) and copy it into a new layer. Don't select any distracting elements; for me this meant I eliminated the dangling bits from the jacket. (It's rare that I'll actually change a piece of clothing so that it looks better in a photo, other than ironing out wrinkles, but in this case it's only zippers so it won't affect the context.)
Now we have to make the background smooth again. Make invisible the new layer you created and select the subject in the layer which we want to be just a plain wall. Go to Edit>Fill in CS5 and this menu will appear. Press OK and it will fill your selection with what it thinks should be the background.
Now when you make visible the layer which you've copied on top, you can see the background is far from clear. You can still see the lines where the subject once was. What you'll have to do is use the healing brush (press J, then Shift+J until you reach the healing brush, NOT the spot healing brush) to eliminate those lines, and use a slightly transparent brush to paint a bit of white over the shadows. As you'll see below, I didn't do a very good job in cleaning up the floor, but hey, it's not going on the side of the bus.
Even after eliminating those lines, you'll end up with something like this in the background (making the top layer invisible). Far from clean. To fix that we'll copy the wall layer (press command+J for Mac or control+J for PC) and ensure your foreground colour is black and your background colour is white by pressing D. Make sure the layer you've just copied is selected, and press Image>Adjustments>Gradient Map, and press OK when the menu pops up. Change the layer blending option to Hard Light and the opacity to anything between 40 and 100%, whatever looks even without being too harsh. You may need to paint on a little shadowing behind the subject if it's too white.
Make your subject visible again and do the same. (Copy the layer, apply gradient map, change gradient map layer blending, but this time change the blending to Soft Light with opacity between 40 and 70%. When you're dealing with skin tones, you don't want to be too harsh.)
Here we can see the difference the gradient map has made, but we can still make the facial features slightly more engaging by highlighting them. Create an exposure layer and set it to 0.5. Press X to make your foreground colour white, and press B to use a brush. Set the brush opacity (in the top bar) to about 40% (whatever you're comfortable with really) and make sure the hardness is at 0 by right clicking anywhere on the image. Select the exposure layer mask (that little black rectangle beside the exposure layer) and now you can begin painting where you would like it a little brighter. Usually those areas are going to be the forehead, cheekbones and chin.
If you're a young photography enthusiast, you've probably heard about curves. This is where I must emphasise that CURVES ARE NOT EVERYTHING. Simply applying a curve somebody else has made at 100% isn't going to suffice when it comes to post-processing. I rarely apply curves above 50%, and when I do, they're usually my own, but there's nothing wrong with trying out others' now and again. In this case I've used "bugs & boys", one Lucia Pang gave away last year, at 50%.
Sharpening is a minefield, but used well, it's important to finish off an image. Press command+shift+E (substitute command for control on a PC) to merge the layers before you sharpen. I prefer the Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask method, but I'd never set it above 25%. It's always better to have an unsharpened image than an over-sharpened, crispy one.
And that's it! If you like it I'll share more how-tos in future. Please, let me know in the comments section of this post if you have any requests for future tutorials, questions about specific images on my blog, or questions about this tutorial.
This post has been submitted to IFB's Project 99, where you'll find a heap of other great fashion blogging tutorials to distract yourself with.