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Why Photographers Don’t Get Modern Art via DIYPhotography.net -DIY Photography and Studio Lighting

It’s understandable that the great unwashed masses of the larger population might not appreciate contemporary art. But you’d think that photographers, who are creatives in their own right, would appreciate the art and creativity of others in all of its various forms. What I’ve seen instead is that, when it comes to much contemporary art, most (but not all!) photographers tend to dismiss the work outright. Instead of being more open to contemporary artwork than nonartists, photographers actually tend to be more dismissive.

As a photographer myself, I wince when I hear my peers heap scorn upon acknowledged artwork when it doesn’t meet their preconceptions of what “good art” should be. Sometimes I want to shout at a dismissive social media post, “Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s bad art!” More than just a point of contention however, contemporary art is important to photographers as both a source of inspiration and creativity. By taking the time to engage with current art practices, photographers stand to grow their work, improve their own standing in the marketplace and even open the door to becoming a collected artist themselves.

If nothing else, as a photographer friend of mine recently commented, “It’s a conversation worth having.”

Two Fossils, 2017 John Raymond Mireles

What is (and is not) Modern Art?

Before we can dive into the reasons why photographers tend to eschew “modern” art, first we have to understand what exactly it is that we’re talking about. Though most people consider all non-traditional or avante guard art of this and the past century “modern art,” the label of modern art actually applies to a specific segment and style of work from the first half of the 20th century. Since then, we’ve seen various styles of art — from abstract-expressionism to minimalism and pop art — take precedence for short periods of time.

As I write this, there’s a myriad of styles and types of work so there’s no one label being applied to work created from the past thirty years to the present. Post-modernism is often used to describe recent work, however the designation is actually a philosophically oriented movement, not a specific visual style. Current work recognized by the art world as “Art” is generally referred to as contemporary art — which runs the gamut from abstract painting, some photography, performance art, conceptual art, installation art and so forth. More traditional works such as landscapes, Western themed bronze sculptures and poker playing dogs, though they may be created by currently working artists, are generally not considered contemporary art.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll use the term “contemporary art” instead of “modern art” to refer to the non-traditional art forms in question here.

Supply & Demand, 1972 by Carl Cheng

Upon viewing a work such as that above, it’s not uncommon to hear complaints along the lines of: “That’s not art.” “What’s the point?” “Where is the skill?” “That’s boring.” and the all too common “I could have done that.” When you look at the photo below, Rheine II by Andreas Gursky, all of the aforementioned critiques might come to mind as you ponder the fact that, when it sold at auction in 2011 for $4.3 million, it became the most expensive photograph ever sold.

Rheine II by Andreas Gursky

A Brief History of Art

If you’re a photographer and wondering how on Earth the photo above could be worth so much, it’s important to first know some history. Going back nearly 200 years ago, before photography existed as a medium, painting served as the primary method for visual communication. If you wanted to share a story visually, you’d have to paint it. Once photography came along, however, painting began to suffer an identity crisis since photography more conveniently and accurately represented the three-dimensional world on two-dimensional surfaces.

Meanwhile, photography was trying to establish itself as an art form. Sure photography was fine for portraits and landscapes, but was it art with a capital A? Seeing as how art was dominated by painting, photographers began trying to make their photographs look more like paintings. From these efforts, the style known as pictorialism was born. Soft, dreamy photos often devoid of fine detail became the style du jour of the late 1800’s.

London, 1899 by Leonard Missonne

So here we had photographers muscling into painters’ turf and painters questioning the relevancy of their medium — to the point where the French painter Paul Delaroche famously proclaimed that “photography has killed painting.” Art as artists knew it was in question and under seige.

The answer to this existential pickle came in the form of Modernism — a movement which is probably most easily and aptly understood in the context of the commonly heard expression “form follows function.” Applying this maxim to photography, the argument was made that what photography can do better than any other medium is efficiently and effectively reproduce the visible world onto a flat surface. If we agree that this therefore serves as its function, then, according to Modernist thinking, the form of photography should consist of imagery that uses the full technical capabilities of camera and capture medium to faithfully convey maximum information about the scene being documented.

The epitomy of the modernist photographer is probably someone you’d never associate with the movement: the iconic landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Adams famously created images that were sharp from front to back, developed a still used system for pulling every bit of information from his negatives (the Zone System), precisely composed his images and created some of the most technically precise prints of all time. To this day, virtually all photographers have adopted the modernist tenants as exemplified by Ansel Adams and the many others, from Richard Avedon to Sabastio Salgado, who have followed in his wake.

If you’re a photographer, that no doubt includes you as well. Realize it or not, you’re a modernist!

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 by Ansel Adams.

Meanwhile, back in the world of painting, this notion of “form follows function” led painters in a completely different direction. If the function of painting was no longer the realistic reproduction of the visual world — that was photography’s job now — then it became free to pursue other, nonrealistic representations of time, space and form. For example, instead of a single spatial perspective, multiple perspectives (or even none) could be incorporated into a single painting. Think Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon where his nudes occupy no defined space, or Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase which depicts an abstracted figure over multiple points in time.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 by Pablo Picasso

Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912 by Marcel Duchamp

So… both mediums similarly embraced Modernism, but with opposite results: Photography zealously pursuing realism while painting abandoned realism in favor of conceptual abstractions. When we understand this divergence of purpose, it’s easy to see how photographers who are so steeped in the Modernist tradition of exquisitely recreating reality can find it hard to accept work that so strongly ignores this reality. Unfortunately, for photographers, the plot thickens further…

While Modernism still rules in the world of professional and enthusiast photography, it has largely been abandoned by artists working with photography as a medium. Instead of unique compositions and magic hour light, art photographers often adopt a uniform, objective perspective for all of their compositions. The straightforward shot of a banal subject in ordinary light is a common motif within art photography. What the art world considers “art,” photographers often consider boring.

Series by Bernd and Hilla Becher

This straightforward and technically unrefined aesthetic, commonly referred to as the “deadpan look” has carried itself through to portraiture as well. Compare this portrait by Alec Soth, an art world favorite, to a more stylized — and photographer friendly — portrait by Mark Seliger. Though popular commercially, Seliger’s work hardly registers in contemporary art circles.

from Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2002 by Alec Soth

In the photo below by Mark Seliger, the artifice (wardrobe and props), elegant lighting, expression, and physical beauty of the subject — all elements important to professional photographers — are anathema to the contemporary art aesthetic.

Image by Mark Seliger

Art photographers don’t even have to create the photos anymore since what is important isn’t so much the artwork but the underlying conceptual currency. For example, this Richard Prince image is in reality a photo he took of an old Marlboro ad from the 70’s. Taken from its original context, the image is now a “Deconstruction of an American archetype. Prince’s picture is a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy).” That this plagiarization fetched $3.4 million at auction only serves to disgust photographers with the entire contemporary art photography genre.

Untitled 1989 by Richard Prince

In essence, the contemporary art world is essentially saying to photographers, “All the things you care about: technical mastery, creative composition and even originality of content, no longer matter.” Ouch.

It would be easy to say that all that matters is the idea or the emotion evoked — but that wouldn’t be true. Instead, what matters to the contemporary art world mafia (curators, gallery directors and reviewers) is how the work and the concept behind the work references cues within the culture, philosophy and other art works, present and past. And oh yeah, if the work is well-crafted (or was made by a famous person), so much the better.

Photography v. Contemporary

This relationship between photography and contemporary art gets trickier still, because on the other side of the equation — the side with painting and three dimensional art — the move away from craft has intensified as well. In its divorce from realism, art has increasingly focused on exploring concepts and philosophies and less on advancing art on its aesthetic merits. Postmodern art especially is about dissecting historical perspectives and denouncing traditional narratives. Basically, you have no idea what you’re looking at nor how to judge it unless you read the often densely written artist statement afixed to the nearby wall.

When the viewer is expected to comprehend concepts such as the simulacra, deconstruction and semiotics in order to appreciate an artwork, it’s not surprising when even experienced art patrons “don’t get it.” As one retired photo educator complained, “ I always have the sense that I am joining the telling of a story in the middle, trying to play catchup.” (From an article entitled “A Disturbing Trend in Photography”)

by John Raymond Mireles

This idea that one must read additional documentation to understand an artwork contradicts those Modernist values held dear to photographers — especially the precept that an image should be complete in and of itself. A successful image in the Modernist tradition uses its visual elements to construct a narrative that is understandable to viewers without the need for external information. When you see this editorial image of the woman in sexy lingerie created by me (above), you intuitively get the story being told within.

Contrast that with the Tracy Emin installation work (below) where it’s all too easy to ask, “What the hell?” Yet the ambiguous “My Bed” made the short list for the Turner prize and is considered a seminal work by one of the groundbreaking YBA’s (Young British Artists). It last sold at auction for $2.5 million.

My Bed, 1998 by Tracy Emin

Last Thoughts

As painful as this may sound to many, the profession and study of photography are stuck in an evolutionary dead-end. While there will continue to be many great, even iconic images created in the years to come, so long as photography is wedded to the constraints of Modernism, it’s unlikely to be accepted into the world of contemporary art. That latter body of work will continue to develop and grow (and sell for ever higher amounts of money) while photography — as practiced by photographers — will be forever left behind.

A few years ago, I ran into the landscape photographer Jeff Mitchum as we both photographed an ocean sunset. He complained, with discernible bitterness, that despite the fact that his work sold to clients all over the world via galleries in upscale La Jolla and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, the curator of the local museum would not return his calls, much less show his work. Clearly, he failed to understand the divide between contemporary art and photography — and on which side he stood.

The important point here for those readers who are interested in making the leap into contemporary art scene is to not make that same mistake. Yes, it may take some study of art and history to comprehend the seemingly dense world of present day art, but I’ve found that the more I know about my craft and art, the more informed decisions I can make as I advance my career.

Perhaps the next time you’re in some white-walled gallery space (or looking at Beyonce’s pregnancy photos) and you’re confronted with some odd mishmash of uncrafted content that, on the surface, makes no sense, you’ll have a better understanding of why that artist made the choices that they did. Who knows? You might even like it.

About the Author

John Raymond Mireles is an artist presently based in New York City. To see more of his work, visit his website, like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter and Instagram (here and here). This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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Your Official Instagram Hashtag Guide for Photographers: A List Of The Best Hashtags [Instagram Tips: Part 2] via Fstoppers

In Part 1 of my Instagram Tips series, three sure-fire tips were shared to grow the right following, the right way on Instagram. One of the methods was to use the correct hashtags for your audience. This week we’re diving a little deeper into what specific hashtags will work best for you based on specific genre. Get your notes out and lets go!

Why Do Hashtags Matter?

They may not mean everything, but they do mean something. It’s a piece of the puzzle to growing your audience on Instagram. Look at it as if you’re advertising your work to the Instagram world. No one will know you exist unless you put your work out there at some capacity.

Hashtags Increase the Likelihood of Being Featured

In the Instagram world, there are a plethora of "Instagram Feature Pages," especially in the photography community. For example at Fstoppers, we have our very own feature page. Feature pages essentially act as a modern day magazine where quality content is congregated to one Instagram page for those to enjoy. The benefits of your work being featured on multiple of these pages are very beneficial. Your username is most likely tagged where other users can click and explore your work, which can exponentially translate into more followers. 

What Makes A Good Hashtag?

The sum of posts posted under a specific hashtag does not mean that hashtag is the right hashtag for you. There are a number of factors: sum of posts, the quality of the content, and the engagement of a community. I find the more niche a hashtag is the better. Why? Because people searching these pages genuinely care about the content that is catered to them. They aren’t spam bots buzzing through #vsco or #instamood which hold no value to anyone. 

A good rule of thumb is to not post hashtags that contain over five million posts or so. That way your image will not be bogged down within seconds to a "black hole" of no return on that hashtag feed, because many users are posting that same hashtag at the same time as you. As a user, you want your image to be on the top of the hashtag feed as long as possible to those who are genuine enough to engage with you!

The Hashtag Guide

So here you have it! A complete list of hashtags handpicked for you to utilize when posting on Instagram, whatever your genre may be! You may find yourself mixing-and-matching some of these categories that best fit you. Remember, you’re only allowed to use a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. With that being said, pull out your Notes app and get ready to copy and paste these hashtags!

Genre (# of Hashtags Provided)

General Photography (32)

#agameoftones #ig_masterpiece #ig_exquisite #ig_shotz #global_hotshotz #superhubs #main_vision #master_shots #exclusive_shots #hubs_united #jaw_dropping_shotz #worldshotz #theworldshotz #pixel_ig #photographyislifee #photographyislife #photographysouls #photographyeveryday #photographylover #worldbestgram #iglobal_photographers #ig_great_pics #ig_myshot #shotwithlove #justgoshoot #xposuremag #icatching #collectivelycreate #wanderlust #heatercentral #highsnobiety #shotzdelight 

Portrait (30)

#portraits #portrait #portraits_ig #pixel_ig #portraiture #expofilm3k #portrait_perfection #portraitstyles_gf #snowisblack #portraits_universe #featurepalette #bleachmyfilm #portraitmood #featurepalette  #rsa_portraits #makeportraits #profile_vision #top_portraits #igersstpete #life_portraits #postthepeople #quietthechaos #2instagood #way2ill #justgoshoot #artofvisuals #l0tsabraids #ftwotw #igPodium_portraits #ftmedd

Landscape (32)

#landscapephotography #landscapelover #landscape_captures #landscapes #landscape_photography #pixel_ig #landscape_hunter #landscape_lovers #landscapecaptures #landscapestyles_gf #landscape_specialist #landscapeporn #getlost #landscapephotomag #ig_landscape #trapping_tones #ig_masterpiece #ig_podium #splendid_earth #gramslayers #agameoftones #optoutside #discoverearth #exploretheglobe #nakedplanet #places_wow 

#earthfocus #ourplanetdaily #earthofficial #natgeo #nationalgeographic #awesome_earthpix

Animal/Wildlife/Nature (27)

#animal_captures #animals_in_world #splendid_animals #animals_captures #animal_fanatics #animalelite #animal_sultans #animal_sultans #wildlifephotography #wildlifephotography #birdphotography #wildlifephoto #wildlifelovers #earthfocus #wildlifeplanet #wildlifeonearth #wildlifeaddicts #natgeowild #natgeo #natgeohub #natgeowildlife #natgeopl #natgeowild_hd #natgeoru #natgeopix #wildlifeperfection

Astro (20)

#astrophotography #universetoday #milkyway #astrophoto #astrography #nightsky #nightscaper #starphotography #starscape #longexpo_additction ;#udog_sky #landscape_captures #awesomeearth #milkywaychasers #natgeospace #starrynight #longexposure #astro_photography_ #ic_longexpo #fs_longexpo

Automotive (13)

#carphotography #automotivephotography #carporn #carsofinstagram #carlovers #caroftheday #carswithoutlimits #cargram #carinstagram #carlifestyle #sportscars #madwhips #cargasm 

Black & White (30)

#bwstylesgf #bnw_captures #bnw_universe #insta_bw #bwmasters #igfotogram_bw #excellent_bnw #igblacknwhite #blackandwhite_perfection #bnw_demand #bnwmood #bnw_planet #bnw_society #bnw_magazine #bnw_globe #bnw_of_our_world #top_bnw #bw_lovers #bw_photooftheday #bw_crew #bwstyleoftheday #noir_vision #bnw_diamond #flair_bw #rsa_bnw #bnw_life #bnw_guru #love_bnw #jj_blackwhite #bwsquare

Boudoir/Glamour (24)

#boudoirphotography #boudoirphotographer #boudoirshoot #boudoirinspiration #boudoirphotos #beautyandboudoir #boudoir #implied #impliedmagazine #uncoverme #uncoveredmagazine #nakidmag #forguysmag #fusemagazineonline #sensual_ladies #sensualdays #great_captures_sensual #igf_sensual2 #sensual_guru #ig_sensual_art #glamourshots #modelsofinstagram #glamourshot #glamourmodel

Drone (24)

#dronephotography #droneoftheday #dronestagram #dronesdaily #dronefly #dronegear #drone #mavic #dji #quadcopter #djiphantom3 #uas #dronelife #dronebois #aerialphotography #phantom3 #phantom2 #phantom4 #droneporn #djiglobal #djiphantom #fromwhereidrone #natgeoworld #natgeotravel

Fashion (20)

#fashionphotographer #fashionshoot #fashioneditorial #fashionmagazine #fashionmodel #fashionph #vogue #fashiongram #fashiondiaries #topmodel #modeloftheday #modelfashion #modelsworld #testshoot #testshoots #newface #facesobsessed #endlessfaces #highfashion 

Film (23)

#filmphotography #filmisnotdead #35mm #ishootfilm #35mmfilm #filmcamera #staybrokeshootfilm #believeinfilm #buyfilmnotmegapixels #istillshootfilm #filmisalive 

#shotonfilm #filmcommunity #grainisgood #keepfilmalive #filmfeed #thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter #analogue #analoguevibes #analog #analogfeatures #analogphotography

Fine Art (18)

#fineartphotography #finearephotographer #conceptualphotography #fineartportrait #artisticphotography #emotive #artisoninstagram #of2humans #capturedconcepts #visualsoflife #l0tsabraids #featuremeofh #pixel_ig #marvelshot #whyconcept #forbiddenart #visualcreators #visualsgang

Food (27)

#feedfeed #thefeedfeed #huffposttaste #foodie_features #foodoftheday #foodpost #foodaddict #foodlife #foodinsta #foodgram #chefsofinstagram #cheflife #chefsroll #buzzfeast #hautecuisines #gloobyfood #beautifulcuisines #f52grams #foodgawker #foods4thought #foodblogfeed #todayfood #tastingtable #thekitchen #onthetable

Music (13)

#concertphoto #concertphotographer #musicphoto #musicphotography #gigphotography #livemusicphotography #onstage #ontour #bestmusicshots #liveauthentic #shows #musiclover #musicblogger 

Sports (9)

#sportsphotography #sportphotography #maxpreps #sportphoto #championship #sportsman #sportphotographer #mondaymotivation #actionphotography 

Street/Urban (41)

#killyourcity #citykillerz #illgramers #way2ill #agameoftones #urbex #createexplore #exploretocreate #streetactivityteam #streetdreamsmag #neverstopexploring #featuremeinstagood #igersone #shoot2kill #streetshared #streetmobs #urbanphotography #streetphotography #streetexploration #urbanandstreet #imaginatones #streettogether #streetmagazine #streetmobs #peopleinsquare #moodygrams #illgrammers #instamagazine #twgrammers #shotaroundmag #illkillers #killergrams #superhubs #urbanromantix #livefolk #shotaward #_heater #yngkillers #shotzdelight #1stinstinct  #heatercentral 

Travel (37)

#getlost #explorer #optoutside #worldshotz #theworldshotz #createexplore #exploretocreate #discoverearth #travelphoto #travelworld #keepexploring #globe_travel #theglobewanderer #roamtheplanet #letsgosomewhere #exploretheglobe #nakedplanet #places_wow #instapassport #instatraveling #igtravel #travelblog #instago #mytravelgram #travelingram #sharetravelpics #worldtravelpics #stayandwander #keepitwild #rei1440project #earthfocus #ourplanetdaily #earthofficial #natgeo #nationalgeographic #awesome_earthpix #travelstoke

Wedding (27)

#weddingphotography #weddingphotographer #weddingphoto #weddingday #weddingmoments #weddingceremony #weddingstyle #weddingfashion #bridalfashion #weddinginspirations #weddingdetails #weddingideas #weddinginspo #weddingrings #weddingblog #weddingblogger #weddingplanning #loveauthentic #junebugweddings

 #destinationweddingphotographer #bridalphotographer #couplesphotography #engagementphotos #engagmentphotography #engagementsession #bridebook #vscowedding 

 

Stay Tuned For Part Three! 

In Part Three and the final portion of this series, I’ll be sharing the fastest way to post hashtags when using Instagram. So you spend less time on Instagram and more time shooting. So stay tuned for that! In the mean time, be sure to give me a shout on Instagram and let me know what you think of the list!

Incase you missed Part One, checkout three sure-fire tips on how to gain the right followers, the right way on Instagram. Check it out here!

What Do You Think?

Did you find this list useful? Share your thoughts! Did I miss a category or hashtag? Let me know in the comments!

 

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This is why ultra-high ISO is important in photography via DIYPhotography.net -DIY Photography and Studio Lighting

This is why ultra-high ISO is important in photography

Ultra high ISO with lots of noise… There’s a lot of buzz going around about the new Pentax with it’s rumoured ISO of 819200

Every comment I read says ‘what’s the point’?

Well here are two: late night framing and focus

I love taking landscape shots late at night, but that kind of photography comes with difficulties. It’s extremely hard to focus (your autofocus wont work) and sometimes you can’t even see what’s in the frame.

My solution to this is to use ultra high ISO to check your framing and focus before taking the ‘real’ shot. Here’s an example:

I was shooting a Gannet colony in New Zealand at a place called Muriwai. To capture these nesting birds in this light I needed a 60 second exposure at f/3.5, followed by a 60 second cool down time while my camera performed long shutter noise reduction. That meant 2 minutes for every image!… I’m patient but I don’t want to wait 2 minutes to find out that I don’t like the composition or I’m out of focus. So I took 2 shots:

The first, at my GX8′s maximum ISO of 25′600 at 5 seconds just to check that I liked what was in the frame and that the lens was in focus

Once I was happy with that I took the seond image at a much more reasonable ISO 1800 for 60 seconds. This has had some distortion correction and is ready to publish!

About the Author

Charles Brooks is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. He is internationally renowned for his commercial, portrait and landscape photos. He is particularly acclaimed for his musician portraits, and his landscapes have been featured in National Geographic and he continuously explores new locations, subjects and styles. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website, follow him on Instagram and Twitter and like his Facebook page.

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5 Tips to Avoid Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography via 500px / Blog

Lighting a portrait is a subtle science full of small details that together make a big difference. For example, the angle of a light or your subject’s pose can dramatically alter the way a person looks. This article will help train your eyes to spot the subtleties of portrait lighting.

Jake Hicks is an editorial and portrait photographer based in the UK. His photography is known for its slick use of colour and impeccable lighting. In this article, Jake has shared his favorite tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes and light your portraits like a pro.

Jake Hicks Photography Papercut Magazine Editorial by Jake Hicks Photography on 500px.com

I want to start off by saying that photography is a subjective field, and just like any other art form, there are going to be people who agree and disagree with what I class as “mistakes.” History lecturers, for example, will teach us that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989; mathematicians will tell us that 2 + 2 = 4.

I am going to highlight 5 key things that I see portrait photographers doing that I consider to be “wrong” and although there are no hard-and-fast rules to photography try to think of it as being similar to an instrument being slightly out of tune or a meal that’s perhaps too salty. These are glaringly obvious errors to the well informed but may not be so obvious to those who are just starting out.

1.Placement of Catchlights

The first one is nice and simple to avoid once you know what you’re looking for, and thankfully, it’s super easy to know when you’ve done it not. It is, of course, catchlights in the subject’s eyes. Catchlights are the spectral highlights in eyes created by the direct reflection of the key light.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Catchlights

The image on the left barely has a catchlight at all and as a result the eyes look very dark indeed. By lowering the light and taking another shot you can clearly see that the lighting is not only more flattering but also adds a lot of light to the eyes.

Having these highlights present means that you’re giving the eyes shape, and without them, eyes can often look dead and lifeless. In fact, to further cement my point, I’ve seen filmmakers simply digitally remove catchlights to signify the death of a character on screen. Catchlights are certainly powerful signifiers of life, so correctly positioning the key light just above the model’s head and slightly in front will ensure the face is lit properly and that the eyes are receiving light to give them that tell-tale sparkle.These are what we refer to as facts—but in our world of the arts, we aren’t quite so strictly governed. I am going to highlight 5 key things that I see portrait photographers doing that I consider to be “wrong,” and although there are no hard-and-fast rules to photography, try to think of it as being similar to an instrument being slightly out of tune or a meal that’s perhaps too salty. These are glaringly obvious errors to the well-informed but may not be so obvious to those who are just starting out.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Catchlight Clock Example

Catchlights should appear at 10 o’clock , 11, 12, 1 and 2. If they appear any lower at 9 and 3 o’clock then we start to get under-lighting which is another big lighting
mistake.

2. Under-lighting

Under-lighting is simply lighting that is coming from below the subject in relation to the camera. Think of those 1960s horror movies that needed to make monsters and creatures scarier—they’d simply light them from below.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Under-lighting

In the above images, you should be able to see that on the left we have no fill light. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but introducing a little light from underneath can add a lot of detail back into the shot just like we see on the far right image above. Add too much light from below and we start to get the under lighting effect like we can see here in the middle image.

The reason this looks so bad is because we’re used to seeing one another when we’re lit from above. We go outside and the sun is lighting us from above; when we’re indoors the lights are lighting us from above. In fact, this is so present in our visual recognition of the world that lighting from anywhere other than above simply tells our brains that something is wrong. So although this should be painfully obvious to us and very few of us would make the mistake of lighting a subject solely from below, I still see the same effect happening when photographers decide to introduce fill lights. The under-lighting effect happens when the fill light is actually casting more light on the subject’s face than the key light. I see this done all the time and often by apparent professionals. In fact, not too long ago, a corporate head of one of the world’s leading camera manufacturers released a headshot with horrendous under-lighting, so it’s not just enthusiasts that fall foul to this one. Thankfully it’s easy to fix: simply turn down your fill light. Yup, that’s it—simply turn the power down. To be extra safe, take some test shots at varying powers of fill light if you’re not sure and then choose the favored image and corresponding power. It’s very easy to see which you prefer when images are side-by-side in this way, so it’s definitely worth doing.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Under-lighting-softbox-fill-light

A simple small softbox below the model is all that’s needed to add a little fill-light.

PRO TIP: If you’re photographing a series of people, like a group of corporate head shots, PAY ATTENTION to each individual you photograph. If you’re photographing a 6’5″ man and then a 5’3″ lady afterward, adjust and move your key lights and fill lights accordingly. Failing to do so will mean that the young lady is going to be a lot closer to the fill light than the key light. And guess what? You’ll have created under-lighting by simply not changing a single thing.

3. Lack of Subject to Background Separation

This one could be argued as a little more based on preference, and I’ve seen it done well for effect in both instances—but as a rule, if you’re starting out with lighting, try to avoid it. This lighting technique is about showing shape and form with shadow or the absence of light.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography --Subject to background separation

The above lighting setup is exactly the same, the only thing that has changed is how far away you, the model and the light is from the background. You can clearly see how the model is completely lost in the background on the left-hand image, but by simply allowing your subjects light to spill onto the backdrop you immediately see a lot more shape and form being brought back to the model.

If you’re photographing a subject with only a single light, for example, and they’re a short distance away from the background, then that background will drop off into pure darkness just like the shadow side of your subject does. What happens now is that visually the background and the shadow side of your subject are indiscernible from one another, and the viewer’s eye is not able to tell where the subject ends and the background begins. More often than not, this leads to the subject appearing far larger in the shot than they might like.

This is one of those lighting techniques where you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong but you could definitely be doing something better. If you only have a single light, then move your subject and setup closer to the background and allow your light to spill over onto the surroundings so that it now appears in the shot behind the model. This is a very simple technique and obvious once it’s been pointed out, but incredibly effective at dramatically changing how a shot and your subject can look—especially if you only have a single light to work with.

4. Shadows

Again, this is a mistake that is quite subtle and sometimes tricky to avoid, but it always worth being aware of it. A basic rule of lighting for me is that you always want to create “clean lighting.” Clean lighting is lighting that doesn’t scream “Hey, look at me, I’m using 6 lights in this setup”—it’s lighting that compliments the subject and nothing more.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Joined Up Shadows

The idea of ‘clean-lighting’ takes a little more time to perfect because at first it may not be apparent as to what you’re looking for. As a general guide, joining up shadows on the subjects face is a good place to start. Sometimes it’s not even about the lighting placement at all but more about working with subjects pose. In these images, the shot on the left has a nose shadow that doesn’t join the cheek shadow, visually that can make the nose appear bigger than it actually is. Simply getting your subject to move their head a little can fix this and then you can join those shadows up and create a visually cleaner looking shot.

If you’re looking for an example of the cleanest lighting around, it can often be found in the hands of car photographers. Good car photography is arguably one of the hardest disciplines in our field to master. If you position a light in the wrong place when lighting a car, then the ultra-shiny surface of the car will lose its clean lines and shape instantly. Car photographers never use more lights than they have to, but each one is positioned with absolute precision. In fact, I’ve even seen some car photographers place lights solely to generate hub-cap catch-lights in the shot but not actually light the surface of the car in any way. They are indeed a patient breed.

For those of us that are photographing people, we often don’t have the time or the need to be that precise, but it’s still certainly worth knowing what looks good and why. One way to do this is to join up your shadows. Thankfully, this is easier to do that you might think; you just have to watch out for it. In this example image here, I’m using one light to illustrate my point, but every light you add to a scene should be under the same scrutiny. The one thing that we as portrait photographers have to contend with over car photographers is that our subject is often moving—but we can use it to our advantage if we’re clever.

In this shot, I am specifically looking at the shadow created by the nose: you should see that in one shot, the shadow ends and then some light cuts across the cheek, and then another shadow is created by the cheekbone itself. This is what I would refer to as messy lighting; it’s creating more distracting elements to a shot than necessary. In the other shot, we have no gap of light between the nose shadow and the cheekbone shadow. This lack of a gap essentially gives the impression of a single shadow area on the face, and this is what I refer to as “clean lighting.” It might not seem like much, but imagine this happening with fill lights, hair lights, and background lights in the mix—the lighting would start to look very messy and untidy, very quickly. Watch out for these additional shadows, and where possible, adjust your lights to avoid these shadows. Better yet, get your subject to move and pose to avoid them as well.

5. Poor Hair Light Placement

The placement of hair lights is another example of how something looks fine until you’re shown how it could look better. Firstly, you have to know why you’re using hair lights, to begin with—are you simply adding them to add a little shine to the hair, are you trying to accentuate shape in the hair, or are you just trying to create a strong separation between your subject and background? All of these are valid reasons, and with a little care and attention, your hair light placement can achieve all of these goals. For a lot of my portrait work, unless it’s a specific hair shoot where I would have multiple hair lights, my general aim is to show clear separation between the model and the background. Imagine you have a dark background and a subject with very dark hair; you’ll quickly see that the two will begin to merge into one another. Placing some hair lights can be a simple solution to avoid this.

Jake Hicks - Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography - Poor Hairlight Placement

The image on the left shows a simple key and fill-light with no hair lights present. There’s technically nothing “wrong” with this shot, but I feel the addition of a couple of hair lights can add a lot of depth to the image. When adding hair lights be careful not to bring them too far forward so that they create unwanted highlights on the face like we can see in the middle image here. By moving the hair lights back we can remove the highlights from the face but still keep the shape and highlights on the hair like

So now that we know why we want to use the hair lights, what’s the best way to use them? First off is the placement of the lights, and this is crucial, as they won’t be in the same place for every subject you photograph. As a guide, the lights should be placed behind the subject and should be pointing forward towards the edges of the subject’s head. Next, they should be placed just far enough apart so that no light falls onto the front of the face and the tips of the nose and lips. This may sound incredibly obvious, but keep an eye out for how many shots you see where the hair lights are catching the front of the face and causing incredibly confusing and distracting lighting on the subject’s features. You have to ask yourself, “Which shot looks better—the shot with or without multiple highlights falling on the subject’s face?” It should be plain to see when it’s pointed out, but you’d be surprised how often you see professional portraits with this error.

5-correcthairlightplacement

The other key factor is the power of the hair lights, and as a rule, I tend to stick to as little amount of light as I can get away with. Remember, flash photography is never about “look at how many lights I’m using” but about adding lights to compliment the subject—so most of the time, these additional lights in the setup will require less power than you think.

So there you have it, just a few of the classic lighting mistakes that can often be avoided by those setting up portrait lighting. These are subjective and there is always an occasion to bend the rules with lighting, but if you want to attach commercial merit to what I’ve mentioned, then it’s worth pointing out that I was responsible for training new portrait photographers in a large studio for many years. It’s factors like the ones I’ve outlined above that when rectified significantly increased that photographer’s client average spend per shoot so take from that what you will.

My lighting philosophy is to keep the lighting as clean as possible. Does adding an additional light to the setup add an interesting element, or does it highlight a distracting one? Keep that in mind when you’re setting up each and every light, and you’ll be fine.

If you found these tips helpful and would like to know more about my thoughts on lighting and other photographic techniques, then please check out the “Techniques” page of my website. I also teach lighting workshops predominantly focused on my personal style and techniques involving gelled lighting. To find out more, please check out the “Workshops” page of my website.

The post 5 Tips to Avoid Common Lighting Mistakes in Portrait Photography appeared first on 500px ISO.

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How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop via Digital Photography School

Lighting is a huge integral part of a movie’s success. The same applies to photography. It’s all about the light or lack of it to create the drama in an image. Rim lighting, as the term suggests, is also called edge or back lighting. In this article I will show you how to create this dramatic style of lighting.

how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop

A rim light effect created in-camera and an Inner Glow effect added in Photoshop.

Rim lighting adds drama

There’s a particular scene in the movie Alien (1979) in which the character played by Harry Dean Stanton goes to find Jones the cat. That scene had me glued to my chair with both hands up to my mouth and fingers lodged between my teeth. You just knew something bad was going to happen but it was drawn out with unbelievable tension.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop Alien

Alien Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The lighting throughout the movie was low key to give that moody atmospheric feel.

A good example of rim lighting is using two side lights or one light from behind the subject, as in the image below.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

In this photo the light is behind the subject creating an edge or rim light around the subject’s head. This is also called a hair light.

Before I demonstrate how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop. I want to show you just how easy it is to get a rim light effect in-camera, so you can try it out in the comfort of your own home.

Create a rim light effect in-camera at home

I used the following setup to create my rim light:

  • One bottle of water
  • One glossy black tile
  • Two lights
  • A camera mounted on a tripod

I picked up a sample black glossy tile from a local tile shop, where I was able to purchase just the one. As for the lighting, strip softboxes are ideal for this type of rim lighting. You place a strip softbox on each side, and slightly behind (closer to the background), the subject.

Unlike standard softboxes, strip softboxes are narrow and rectangular in shape. But, for the purpose of this article so that you can easily do a similar setup in your own home, use whatever light sources that you already have at your disposal.

Using my iPad placed vertically to one side of the bottle, I opened the Soft Box app which is free to download and set it to white. I placed an LED light on the other side of the bottle. My kitchen table was used for the setup.

As you can see in the photo below, I was able to angle the lights so that I could control the rim light hitting the bottle. My camera settings were: ISO 2000, 1/60th of a second, at an aperture of f/5.6.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

A simple setup that you can do at home to create a rim light effect in-camera using a black glossy tile, a prop, and two lights.

NOTE:

If you don’t want to use two lights and you have a regular softbox, try placing it directly behind the object and cover the center of the softbox with a strip of black card (that will become your background). You will need to experiment to get the rim lighting around the object.

how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop

This is the bottle of Water straight out of the camera.

Let’s dive into Photoshop.

Creating a rim light effect in Photoshop

The key to adding the rim light effect in Photoshop is Layer Styles and having the subject isolated from the background. Before any layer style can be applied, it is necessary that the image that you are applying the style to has been carefully cut out. Use whatever selection tool you want but I would recommend using the pen tool.

Layer style

Let’s take a look at Layer Styles. With Photoshop open, go over to the Layers Panel. Scroll down to the bottom and you will see a group of icons. You will see this icon, fx second to the right. Click on that and a pop-up dialog box will appear with different preset style options.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop layer styles

The Layer Styles presets are accessed by clicking on the fx icon located at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop - The Inner Glow preset

The Inner Glow preset

Alternatively, you can access the Layer Styles by going back to the top right corner of the Layers Panel and clicking on the downward arrow icon with horizontal lines beside it. Scroll down to where it says Blending Options. The same Layer Style option box appears and just click on Inner Glow.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

When you click on any of the Layer Style options, the settings are all preset options, but they can be easily edited. In this example, leave some of the settings as they are and only adjust the following three:

  1. Choke – similar to feathering
  2. Size
  3. Opacity

Experiment until you get the desired effect, then click the OK button.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

The Layer Style pop-up dialog box with the default settings.

adding a rim light effect in Photoshop

A rim light effect is added in Photoshop using Inner Glow from the presets in the Layer Styles.

Using Color Dodge Blend Mode instead of Screen

My preference when using this Layer Style technique is to change the Blend Mode from Screen to Color Dodge. I used this on the bottle of water in the title shot. To illustrate the subtle differences between the two Blend Modes, see the two photos below. The first image is the Inner Glow with Screen as the

The first image is the Inner Glow with Screen as the default setting. For the second image, I changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge.

alt=

Changing the Blend Mode to Color Dodge

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop inner glow

Rim light effect created in Photoshop using Inner Glow from the presets in Layer Styles.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

This rim light effect is created using Inner Glow from the Layer Style presets but I changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge.

Creating a rim light from scratch using Photoshop

However, this technique really does shine when you have to create the rim light effect totally in Photoshop. For example, take this Owl Butterfly image that I got from www.pixabay.com. It has no rim light effect on it at all.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl

Owl Butterfly from Pixabay 1668956 – dowload the image if you want to follow along.

I isolated the Owl Butterfly from the background using the Pen Tool and placed it against a different background shot to which I added a Gaussian Blur.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl

Wheat from Pixabay 8244_1920

As I had the Butterfly on its own separate layer, I added an Inner Glow from the Layer Styles and changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge and chose a darkish yellow. I wanted a backlight to appear on the wings of the Butterfly caused by the setting sun in the background.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl before

The Owl Butterfly was cut out using the Pen Tool in Photoshop and placed it against another background image. I blurred the background using Gaussian Blur.

I put this Layer Style effect on its own separate layer. Then I applied a layer mask and brushed in the yellow glow on the wings to give it a more realistic look. I did a bit more retouching by adding a gradient Overlay and then applied the Filter>Blur>Average to blend the colors from the two images.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop layer style

By placing the Layer Style effect on its own separate layer. I was able to apply a layer mask and brush the Glow effect onto to the wings of the Butterfly.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl after

An Inner Glow was added using the blend Mode set to Color Dodge. I then added a Gradient Overlay to darken the bottom part of the Butterfly and I applied an Average Blur to blend the color of the two images.

Your turn

I hope I have been able to show you how effective creating a rim light in Photoshop can enhance your images. Do you use this effect on your images? Feel free to give it a try and post your results below, I will try to answer any questions and would love to see your images.

The post How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop by Sarah Hipwell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop via Digital Photography School

Lighting is a huge integral part of a movie’s success. The same applies to photography. It’s all about the light or lack of it to create the drama in an image. Rim lighting, as the term suggests, is also called edge or back lighting. In this article I will show you how to create this dramatic style of lighting.

how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop

A rim light effect created in-camera and an Inner Glow effect added in Photoshop.

Rim lighting adds drama

There’s a particular scene in the movie Alien (1979) in which the character played by Harry Dean Stanton goes to find Jones the cat. That scene had me glued to my chair with both hands up to my mouth and fingers lodged between my teeth. You just knew something bad was going to happen but it was drawn out with unbelievable tension.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop Alien

Alien Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The lighting throughout the movie was low key to give that moody atmospheric feel.

A good example of rim lighting is using two side lights or one light from behind the subject, as in the image below.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

In this photo the light is behind the subject creating an edge or rim light around the subject’s head. This is also called a hair light.

Before I demonstrate how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop. I want to show you just how easy it is to get a rim light effect in-camera, so you can try it out in the comfort of your own home.

Create a rim light effect in-camera at home

I used the following setup to create my rim light:

  • One bottle of water
  • One glossy black tile
  • Two lights
  • A camera mounted on a tripod

I picked up a sample black glossy tile from a local tile shop, where I was able to purchase just the one. As for the lighting, strip softboxes are ideal for this type of rim lighting. You place a strip softbox on each side, and slightly behind (closer to the background), the subject.

Unlike standard softboxes, strip softboxes are narrow and rectangular in shape. But, for the purpose of this article so that you can easily do a similar setup in your own home, use whatever light sources that you already have at your disposal.

Using my iPad placed vertically to one side of the bottle, I opened the Soft Box app which is free to download and set it to white. I placed an LED light on the other side of the bottle. My kitchen table was used for the setup.

As you can see in the photo below, I was able to angle the lights so that I could control the rim light hitting the bottle. My camera settings were: ISO 2000, 1/60th of a second, at an aperture of f/5.6.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

A simple setup that you can do at home to create a rim light effect in-camera using a black glossy tile, a prop, and two lights.

NOTE:

If you don’t want to use two lights and you have a regular softbox, try placing it directly behind the object and cover the center of the softbox with a strip of black card (that will become your background). You will need to experiment to get the rim lighting around the object.

how to create a rim light effect in Photoshop

This is the bottle of Water straight out of the camera.

Let’s dive into Photoshop.

Creating a rim light effect in Photoshop

The key to adding the rim light effect in Photoshop is Layer Styles and having the subject isolated from the background. Before any layer style can be applied, it is necessary that the image that you are applying the style to has been carefully cut out. Use whatever selection tool you want but I would recommend using the pen tool.

Layer style

Let’s take a look at Layer Styles. With Photoshop open, go over to the Layers Panel. Scroll down to the bottom and you will see a group of icons. You will see this icon, fx second to the right. Click on that and a pop-up dialog box will appear with different preset style options.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop layer styles

The Layer Styles presets are accessed by clicking on the fx icon located at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop - The Inner Glow preset

The Inner Glow preset

Alternatively, you can access the Layer Styles by going back to the top right corner of the Layers Panel and clicking on the downward arrow icon with horizontal lines beside it. Scroll down to where it says Blending Options. The same Layer Style option box appears and just click on Inner Glow.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

When you click on any of the Layer Style options, the settings are all preset options, but they can be easily edited. In this example, leave some of the settings as they are and only adjust the following three:

  1. Choke – similar to feathering
  2. Size
  3. Opacity

Experiment until you get the desired effect, then click the OK button.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

The Layer Style pop-up dialog box with the default settings.

adding a rim light effect in Photoshop

A rim light effect is added in Photoshop using Inner Glow from the presets in the Layer Styles.

Using Color Dodge Blend Mode instead of Screen

My preference when using this Layer Style technique is to change the Blend Mode from Screen to Color Dodge. I used this on the bottle of water in the title shot. To illustrate the subtle differences between the two Blend Modes, see the two photos below. The first image is the Inner Glow with Screen as the

The first image is the Inner Glow with Screen as the default setting. For the second image, I changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge.

alt=

Changing the Blend Mode to Color Dodge

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop inner glow

Rim light effect created in Photoshop using Inner Glow from the presets in Layer Styles.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop

This rim light effect is created using Inner Glow from the Layer Style presets but I changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge.

Creating a rim light from scratch using Photoshop

However, this technique really does shine when you have to create the rim light effect totally in Photoshop. For example, take this Owl Butterfly image that I got from www.pixabay.com. It has no rim light effect on it at all.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl

Owl Butterfly from Pixabay 1668956 – dowload the image if you want to follow along.

I isolated the Owl Butterfly from the background using the Pen Tool and placed it against a different background shot to which I added a Gaussian Blur.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl

Wheat from Pixabay 8244_1920

As I had the Butterfly on its own separate layer, I added an Inner Glow from the Layer Styles and changed the Blend Mode to Color Dodge and chose a darkish yellow. I wanted a backlight to appear on the wings of the Butterfly caused by the setting sun in the background.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl before

The Owl Butterfly was cut out using the Pen Tool in Photoshop and placed it against another background image. I blurred the background using Gaussian Blur.

I put this Layer Style effect on its own separate layer. Then I applied a layer mask and brushed in the yellow glow on the wings to give it a more realistic look. I did a bit more retouching by adding a gradient Overlay and then applied the Filter>Blur>Average to blend the colors from the two images.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop layer style

By placing the Layer Style effect on its own separate layer. I was able to apply a layer mask and brush the Glow effect onto to the wings of the Butterfly.

How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop owl after

An Inner Glow was added using the blend Mode set to Color Dodge. I then added a Gradient Overlay to darken the bottom part of the Butterfly and I applied an Average Blur to blend the color of the two images.

Your turn

I hope I have been able to show you how effective creating a rim light in Photoshop can enhance your images. Do you use this effect on your images? Feel free to give it a try and post your results below, I will try to answer any questions and would love to see your images.

The post How to Create a Rim Light Effect Using Photoshop by Sarah Hipwell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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In-Depth Beauty Retouching with Sarah Tucker via Fstoppers

Beauty retouching isn’t anything new, yet it can be a long and tedious process that may not be so easy to pick up right away. If you are looking into doing it yourself versus contracting it out but are not sure were to start, you can find yourself going through plenty of tutorials and videos that cover this editing process. Where do you begin?

Recently, full-time retoucher Sarah Tucker released her series of YouTube videos covering her complete editing process. This isn’t for someone who just installed Photoshop for the first time, but is instead aimed at people who are familiar enough with Photoshop to not need a beginner’s lesson. This isn’t just a video were you watch her edit, either. Sarah does a great job of explaining what techniques she’s doing and her reasoning behind it.

I have watched several videos in the past when I was first learning, so a lot of the techniques where not new to me, a few were, and then some were a slightly different approach to the technique. With Photoshop, there isn’t one way to do a task, but several. You have to find the one that works best for you while not taking too much time, either.

Sarah says she doesn’t often use frequency separation in her editing workflow because it tends to look flayed and paper on skin to her, but she still shows us how to go through the process in an area where it was the best option. There was a variation in her process through this technique that I never thought of before, and I would think its safe to assume many others didn’t use this method either. Instead of using Gaussian blur for the low layer in the technique as I have seen many times before, Sarah chooses to use Dust & Scratches to hold the edges better. I plan to try this variation out to see if I notice a difference in my future work.

Sarah does speed through some bits of her editing, but as you can see, it is relatively a long process that is non-destructive which I think is a preferred way to edit your work. There are a few other little things I picked up from this series. I suggest to watch the series and see if there’s anything that you pick up that could improve or speed up your beauty retouching. Lots of professionals use the same techniques to a certain degree with their own style added to it. Learn what you can and add your own mix and style to your work.

Videos in the series:

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Create Seamless Selections Using Luminosity Masks via Fstoppers

Creating selections in Photoshop can be a painstaking process, oftentimes with mixed results. I learned about luminosity masking by way of exposure blending for landscapes, but its applications are varied.

Luminosity masks, or better yet, luminosity channels, are selections of tonal values in an image that allow you to execute seamless edits as they are perfectly feathered. There are actions you can pay for online to create these masks but the process of doing so yourself is pretty straightforward, so why not invest your cash elsewhere.

Creating Selections for Light Values

Creating selections for the most luminous values in your image is the starting point. To do so, go to your Channels tab and Cmd+Click, or Ctrl+Click for a PC, on the RGB channel. This will create a set of marching ants that represents only the highlights in your image. Next, click the box with a circle inside a rectangle to save this as a new channel. Name the channel “highlights.”

Using our new highlights channel we can now create additional subsets of channels that select only the brighter and brightest parts of an image. Load the highlights channel as a selection by Cmd+Clicking, or Ctrl+click, the thumbnail. Then intersect the mask by Shift+Opt+Cmd+Click, or Shift+Ctrl+Alt+Click, on the highlights thumbnail one more time. Save this selection as “highlights 2.” You now have a channel that contains the next brightest values in the image. Repeat this process as many times as needed by clicking on each consecutive channel, intersecting the mask, and saving it as a new channel. “Highlights 3” is often sufficient but it really depends on what you intend to use the selection for.

It should be noted that this process lends itself well to being saved as a Photoshop action which will eliminate the need to repeat these steps each time. Once complete, your channels palette will look like this:

Creating Selections for Dark Values

Next we can create channels for our darkest values in the image. Start by Cmd+click, or Ctrl+click on a PC, the highlights thumbnail to load the selection. Then invert the selection by holding Shift+Cmd+I, or Shift+Ctrl+I. Finally, save this inversion as a new channel and name it “shadows.”

Now we can again create consecutive subsets of darker values by loading the shadows channel as a selection and performing the same steps as above. Load the most recent channel and then intersect the mask by Shift+Opt+Cmd+Click, or Shift+Ctrl+Alt+Click on the most recent thumbnail. Once complete, your channels tab should look similar to this:

Creating Selections for Midtone Values

Probably the most useful aspect of this technique is the ability to create a selection for just the midtones in your image. 

First, hit Cmd+A, or Ctrl+A, to select your entire image. Next, subtract your highlights channel by Opt+Cmd+Click, or Opt+Ctrl+click, on the highlights thumbnail. Then do the same for the shadows channel. Photoshop will signal a warning about the selection edge not being visible because no pixels greater than 50% are selected which is OK. Save this as a new selection and name it “midtones.”

Using the Luminosity Masks

Now that we have our targeted masks, we can have some fun. Here are three simple suggestions for putting them to work. 

Selectively Dodge and Burn

Since we can effectively target just the highlights or shadows, we can enhance those areas as well while keeping the edit unnoticeable. For this portrait I wanted to enhance her facial features by dodging and burning certain areas of her face. To do so I loaded the highlights channel as a selection by Cmd+clicking, Ctrl+clicking, on the thumbnail.  With the selection loaded, I created a curves adjustment layer and moved the midpoint up just a touch. Then I did the same with a shadows selection except the midpoint was moved down to darken the shadows. Finally, I moved both layers to a group where I applied a black mask and then painted in the adjustments with a white brush just to her face. The edit now appears much cleaner than if I had freehanded as the masks used to create it are perfectly feathered.

Enhance Color

With the midtones channel, we can boost saturation and add color in a controlled and subtle manner. Load the midtones channel as a selection by Cmd+clicking, or Ctrl+clicking, on the thumbnail. Create a new Hue/Saturation layer. Move the saturation slider to taste or adjust the individual colors in your image using the dropdown menu and hue slider. In this shot below, I wanted to boost the fall colors so I adjusted saturation and changed the hue of the greens and red.

Increase Dynamic Range

Luminosity masks are perfect for landscapes where you have extreme highlight and shadow information. This shot of the sunrise consists of four images to retain the sun’s outline and the wavy foreground with each being about a half stop darker than the last. I loaded all four images into Photoshop and stacked them darkest to lightest. With just the first two layers visible, I added a black layer mask to the second. Then I loaded my highlights channel as a selection and with a white brush set to around 20% opacity and 0% hardness, I painted the areas around the sun to bring back its detail. Then I did the same to each consecutive layer above but used highlights 2, and finally 3. This was the result:

The uses for luminosity masks are limitless and only require a little imagination. By saving these steps as actions you can create them quickly and use them to selectively edit your images with precision. As always, constructive feedback and suggestions are appreciated.

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