Loaded: A look into my Editing

Getting together with people in the photographic industry such as models, photographers and makeup artists is  a really great thing to help bolster creativity and make connections.  The Big Shoot, a monthly gathering around the Halifax, Nova Scotia area is just such an opportunity.  

For the month of October, the big shoot was organized by the model showcased in my photos below, Tasha MacDonald.  She was able to contact the owner/operator of the Riverbreeze Corn Maze and Haunted farm house and got us into the facility during their downtime in the middle of the week.  We had free reign of the maze and Haunted house, and did our best to find some spooky shots!  

Final image, complete with vignetting and a deathly stare.

I'd like to take you through my editing process, from the time I got home to the time I published this photo on my 500px page.  I use a couple of programs to accomplish my goals including Apple Aperture 3 and Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4.  

Let's get the techy stuff out of the way: the original photo was taken with my Canon 5D Mark II at F5.6, 1/125th at ISO400. To achieve the desired lighting, I used a wireless trigger to set off my flash, mounted to a Lumodi Beauty dish and positioned approximately 1m (3 feet for those south of the border) above Tasha's face, just out of frame.   

The beauty dish 'ring' effect at the top of the photo provides a natural vignette.  My goal for the final product is to look gritty, dark, and focused on Tasha. 
Original image, as shot in RAW

So, I got my light where I wanted it and I felt good about the photo's execution, but there's still a lot of work to do.

As mentioned previously, I use Aperture for my editing, and I primarily use it in full-screen mode.  This  allows me to really focus on the image, without any distractions from menus etc.    Once the photo is in aperture, it's time to start by eliminating some of the distracting elements from the photo, such as the screws that are marking up the wall behind Tasha.  I want this place looking more like someone's home, and less like a set.

I zoom in on my details and usually wind up using the "Retouch" setting of the retouch tool.  I will occasionally use the clone tool when I need very precise edits, but since I'm only removing some blemishes from the wall, I'll let the computer do my thinking.

I also want to make sure to remove any blemishes or pimples that might be distracting on the model.  In Tasha's case, she'd spent a load of time on her makeup so I didn't actually have a lot of work to do.  I only removed one spot on her face.

Now, typically in my portraits I like to apply skin-smoothing to reduce shadows and add a polished look to people's skin, but I try not to let it get overdone.  Since I know I'll be applying an effect from Color Efex Pro that enhances detail, I can get away with some skin smoothing here, but I don't want to create the porcelain effect that's so common on the cover of Vogue: this is supposed to be scary.

Applying some skin smoothing, starting with the forehead and working my way down the face

Final skin smoothing, shown with a colour overlay to allow me to see what I covered and what I didn't.  I left alone her eyebrows, hairline, mouth and nostril region to be sure to have detail.  

Now that the skin looks a bit nicer and smoother, I can focus on exposure fixes:  I want her left eye (camera right) to look bright and eerie.  Once again, because this is a halloween shoot, I get away with some extreme settings.  Normally, brightening someone's eyes too far would be a no-no, but in this case I can push it to look zombie-esque.

I applied a dodging tool on the eye to bring up the exposure level in that region.  I pushed the Amount slider up to 0.8 to get loads of eerie eyeball visibility.

Once again, the colour overlay lets you see where I've applied the brush-strokes for the Dodge tool.  

I now want to darken some areas.  Using the Burn tool, I lowered the exposure in the areas below Tasha, above her left shoulder and her left arm.  How do I know what to darken?  I want to be sure your eye goes to her face, which is ideally the brightest thing in the photograph.  By darkening the corners, I help the eye stay on the frame, and by lowering the light on her knee and arm, I make her face the bright point.

Here's the completed image, before it goes into Color Efex Pro 4.

The thing I like about Color Efex Pro 4 the most is the interface.  I started out with the Bleach Bypass filter, then increased the saturation until it was almost 0% and pushed up the Local Contrast to 65%.

Then, using an opacity control point, I removed the effect from Tasha's face.  Doing this helps to keep colour and smoothness in the face, but it's also helpful if you're getting haloes from the bleach bypass effect.  By reducing the opacity of the effect in certain regions you can reduce the haloes.

This is a halloween shot, so I'm actually okay with the weird haloes.
Size of the control point, limiting the effect

Opacity of the control point

Done in Color Efex Pro 4, I hit the "Save" button and let the program chomp away at my changes.  When it loads up in Aperture, It's time for some final tweaks.

I reduced the vibrancy, increased the white balance to about 5500K (typical for a flash) and used Auto Luminance on the Curves setting.  I then applied a vignette, and the final image is what you see at the top of the screen.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone using Aperture for photo editing.  I'll be doing another one of these posts at some point in the future to show what kind of editing I'd do on a typical model/fashion shoot and also a general portrait photo.  In the meantime, be sure to check out my portfolio at http://timlingley.500px.com to see more of my work and stay tuned for more updates!

Bonus: Here's two more images (similarly processed)  from The Big Shoot!