Xmas Portraits

28 12 2007

OK… Wife wanted pictures of the kids this Xmas… about time I stopped taking pictures of the sea and took some of the family…. OK OK… I guess I better have a go at turning out some half-decent portraits.

I decided to stay away from the typical Xmas portrait and instead take some more radical shots of the kids doing what kids do best… playing.

Here’s the first in a series of 3 portraits. Middle son Tim who got a skateboard for Xmas.

Tim Skateboarding Portrait

Here’s how I shot this.

The Capture:

Put him in the sun which was lighting him from the back (see shadows on the ground in background).

I sat on the ground with my 12-24mm lens… set at 12mm. My other son held my Nikon SB600 flash that was connected by a cable… He was about 1 foot to my left (almost opposite the sun).

Tim did a few jumps and it wasn’t too hard to capture him in mid flight. I wanted the flash to punch in very hard and very low… I wasn’t after a soft portrait.

The Processing:

I did a dual conversion (one for clouds and one for Tim)

and then blended the two images together (in much the same way as I did the Martian rock processing described in detail earlier.

I colour corrected for the blue of the flash using curves (I found a really cool “recipe” for colour balancing skin tones… works like a treat). If anyone is interested, drop me a note and maybe I’ll post the recipe here.

Then I merged the visible layers into a new composite layer (create new layer) then highlight this layer and “Merge Visible” Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E

Then I did a Bleach bypass effect to create the edgy look. To create this effect, the first step is to do a black and white conversion and put this b&w image on the top of layer stack. Use whatever B&W conversion method you prefer. I used Alien Skin Exposure.

Then change the blend mode of this B&W layer to overlay…. It will make the image look very edgy. You can then use the opacity slider to reduce the amount of this effect. I also used a bit of masking to reduce the effect from some of the corners (it was darkening them too much).

After that I duplicated the layer and blurred it using Gaussian Blur and then used a mask to only apply the blur to the background. I used a Gaussian Blur setting of 5 pixels. This blurring of the background further separates Tim from the background.

Final step was to apply a concrete texture to the blurred background. I went to this very cool free texture site and chose a concrete texture that I liked. Added the texture in as a new layer and then used the free transform function to stretch it to fit my picture (they are a bit small in their original form).

Once the texture is added I just changed the layer blend mode to “overlay”, apply a mask and paint with a black brush to reduce the texture on his face, arms and legs and then reduced the opacity slider on the concrete layer until the effect is not too strong.

I then created some dramatic vignetting by adding a levels adjustment layer and dragging the mid-point slider to the right (so that it read a value of 50).

This makes your whole image look like crap, so to fix this invert your mask (Ctrl+I) now your mask is all black and you can just paint with white on your mask where you would like your vignette effects to appear.

Final step was to apply some sharpening (I use Nik Sharpener).

Stay tuned for portrait number 2… Eldest son Ben playing Guitar Hero III.



7 responses

28 12 2007

Awesome as always, Brent. On the background/foreground merge (when you process once for each), what technique do you use to keep the edges (where the two different layers meet) from looking unnatural? I’ve tried feathering a selection, brushing out the lines w/ a low-opacity brush on the mask, etc., but it’s tough. Thanks–these are great.

29 12 2007
Brent Pearson

Hey CJ

I use a Wacom tablet with a pressure sensitive stylus when I am creating the masks between two images.

This way I can just paint the mask and use my eye to blend seamlessly.

I used make “precise” masks using some pretty complex methods, but now my masks take about a minute or two (maximum) to make and are pretty much invisible.

If you don’t have a tablet, I would urge you to buy a Wacom today.

Hope this helps.


31 12 2007

Wow, there is truly nothing you can’t photograph. Very cool portrait and thanks for posting the process! I would love to know the skin tone “recipe” you were talking about.

Thanks again. Hope you had a good Christmas.

31 12 2007
Brent Pearson

Hey Lindsey

Yes, there are plenty of things I can’t photograph well.

Regarding the “skin tone” recipe, I’ll see if I can put that up in the next week or two.

Happy New Year


31 12 2007


Yep, helps a good deal. I’ve heard many individuals echo your endorsement of the Wacom tablet. Does your use of the tablet (the pressure sensitivity, perhaps?) somehow allow the point where the two layers meet to look more natural? I guess I’m not clear as to how that transition (from the darker sky to the lighter foreground, say) is made in such a way–using the mask–such that you don’t get a weird/obvious hard edge where the two meet like you do if you were to select the whole sky into a new layer and adjust the levels to make it much darker. Thanks again–this time for your patience.

31 12 2007

Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é http://www.provedorcrescenet.com . Um abraço.

31 12 2007
Brent Pearson

Yes CJ, the pressure sensitve tablet allows you to very easily control the transition between exposures. It is very intuitive…. As you draw on the mask, if you see a halo, you just lightly draw over it until it dissappears. If you go too far, press X and paint with the opposite colour… you can keep swapping around until you get the mask perfect.

To give you a feel for how easy it is, on most of my photos where I am blending exposures (the majority of them), I would spend anywhere from 20 sec for a quick blend, through to maybe 2 min for a more complex blend…. Never much more than that.

It’s probably faster than it is to put a Grad ND filter on your camera and then align it.


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