On-Location Portrait Fixes

We all enjoy creating on-location portraits. Often, we want to go beyond the straight portrait and add a little digital darkroom magic to enhance the photograph, to create a more dramatic image.

In this column, I’ll share techniques that you can use to add some color and drama to your portraits—techniques that can also make your pictures look more professional.

Here’s the original RAW file that I used to created the opening image for this column. As you can see, it lacks strong color and needs a bit of cropping.

After cropping my image, I added some color by using one of the Bi-Color filters in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro. Several different color combinations are available in this filter, and you can adjust where in the frame you want to place each color and how to blend each color.

As an aside, I got the starburst effect by setting my aperture to ƒ/22. I carefully positioned the sun so that it was just peeking out from behind the cowboy’s boot. I also carefully posed the cowboy and the horse so they were backlit. And, so the cowboy could be identified in the photograph, I asked him to look off to his right so that I got a strong profile in the image. Had he been looking at or away from the camera, he would have looked like any cowpoke.

In portraiture, one technique is to make the subject stand out from the background. In the field, we can do that by using a telephoto lens set at a wide aperture.

In the digital darkroom, we can quickly and easily blur the background using a variety of blur techniques and filters.

But first things first. I took this image of a cowgirl on an overcast day, so it looked a bit flat. Because most people, especially those on the web, like images that "pop," I boosted the contrast. When you do this, be careful about not boosting it too much, or you’ll wash out the highlights and block up the shadows in your image.

One of the newest and coolest ways to selectively blur parts of an image is to use the Iris Blur filter in Photoshop CS6. When using this filter, you can control the placement of the effect and the degree of the effect using anchor points and the circular slider in the center of the control area. This filter does a great job in simulating shooting at a wide aperture with a telephoto lens. If you don’t have Photoshop CS6, other software options for blurring the background include Alien Skin’s Bokeh, onOne Software’s FocalPoint 2 and Topaz Lens Effects from Topaz Labs.

Here’s my original image. My first step actually was to clone out the distracting branch on the left side of the frame. My final step was to use the Dodge tool in Photoshop to whiten the cowgirl’s eyes ever so slightly. That’s a technique many fashion magazine art directors use to draw your attention to the model. Try it; you’ll like it.

I hope these quick tips inspire you to add a touch of artistry to your portraits. See you here next time.

Our friend Rick Sammon has been writing this column for more than 10 years. He took these images during his recent Black Hills Photo Shootout workshop. Visit with Rick at www.ricksammon.info to learn more about his workshops.

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