Jon Yager Photography » Jon Yager Photography

Photoshop Walk Through – Sam at Point Arena

I’ve had a few people ask me over the last few months how I do my post processing.  One of the more convincing in the this process was my new online photographer friend Mindy Milburn.  I follow her photoblog and we chat through twitter and comments about photography.  She has been pushing me recently to share some of my photoshop techniques.  As a matter of fact I let her pick the first picture I will do this with.   She chose the picture of my daughter “Sam at Point Arena”.  In some ways much of what I did in post processing here is subtle and small, but over all it makes a pretty big difference in the final image.  You can see the before and after here at my photoblog, just roll your mouse over the blue link that says “show original” to see the comparison.

Before I get going I thought I would share a few things with you.

  • First, this tutorial thing is harder then it looks.  I apologize if this is confusing or not as clear as other tutorials you’ve read. This is my first one on anything Photoshop.  I have a much higher respect for those people who do this all the time or on a full time basis.
  • Second, Photoshop to me is as much about relaxing and self therapy as it is about making great images.  It is the way I relax.  I get home from a busy day at the office and release stress by fooling around in Photoshop.  It is my way of doodling.  The reason you need to know this is because I do not do things in the most efficient way or maybe not even in the correct way.  I’m learning and I get better every day, but if you are looking for “technically” the best way to accomplish something in Photoshop this will not the place for you.  I’m more then willing to share what I do, but be nice.  If you are a Photoshop ninja don’t make fun of the way I do things, I do a lot of experimenting and just fooling around.
  • In this post, and in any future ones I do, I’m going to try to offer links to the places where I learned techniques, or to places where I think someone else has explained it much better then I ever could.  I highly recommend you follow those links and learn from the real experts.
  • I’m also assuming you now the basics of photoshop.  I can’t explain all the tools, and layers, and everything else in one post.  That would take a book, or many books to explain. In the comments let me know what you may want to know more about and I’ll add more detail around it.
  • One last thing – I would love feedback good or bad on this.  I plan on doing more of this in an effort to share and to learn in the process.  Let me know what you think or what would improve these postings.

Okay let’s get to it  Below is the original image.  It is basically straight out of the camera.  I applied a slight crop to the image in Lightroom before moving it over the photoshop.  As a side note, I always shot in Raw format.  Always.  I’ll save that discussion for a later post.

Before Post Processing in Photoshop

First thing I did was open the image in Photoshop. Normally I do that straight from Lightroom.  I use the “open as smart object” option, that way it goes right back into Lightroom stacked with the original image so I have both right next to each other in my catalog when I’m done.  In the screen print below I’m also showing my first step.  In this image I made an second copy of the backgound and layered it right on top of the first image.  I changed the blend mode to mulitply. This has the effect of both darkening the image and increasing the contast. I will lighten the image back up with a curve in another step, but I wanted to increase the contrast in parts of this image.  This is a technique I was experimenting with that I learned from Chromasia (the website of David Nightingale).  I HIGHLY recommend his tutorials.  I love his work and his tutorials have been very helpful for me.


Next thing I did was to lighten the image using a curve and increase the contast a bit more.  It was a fairly drastic lighting you can see from the curve in the bottom left of the screen print.  Using the curve like this also has the effect of increasing the saturation of the image.  I recently found a new way to correct this which I use in this image. You can also go up and change the blending mode of that layer to “luminosity”. This has the effect of lightening the image without effecting the colors.  In Photoshop there are plenty of ways to skin the cat, and mine may not always be the best (see notes above about how I come to some of my techniques)


The next thing I worked on was Sam’s eyes.  This could also take a book to explain what you can do with eyes in photoshop. As a matter of fact, I’m currently working my way thought a fantastic book on retouching portraits. Easy to read, great techniques.  It has been one of the better books I’ve read on portrait retouching. If you want to learn more, get this book from Scott Kelby! Much more information on Scott can be found on his website.

Basically I did two things to her eye to make it pop (I only needed to work on her left eye, because her right one is hidden in hair).  Before I get into what I did with her eye, take a look at this post by Glyn Dewis, another great blogger and photographer that I follow.  He did  a much better job of showing what I did that I can do in this post.  Pay close attention tot they way he used “quick mask” to mask just the portion of the eyes he wanted to work with.  I learned a lot from this post and from his site in general.

Step one of what I did was to mask out the iris of the eyes as Glyn showed in his post, then use “selective color” adjustment layer set to “neutrals” to change the color and contrast of just the iris of the eyes.  Make sure you read about his masking technique to get the iris, it saved me a lot of time.  The effect is subtle, but it is amazing how much a small change to the eyes will make in a portrait.  Our eyes naturally focus on and notice very small changes to other peoples eyes, and very small changes in your photographs here will yield huge dividends.


The second thing I did with Sam’s eyes is also in Glyn’s post and found in Scott Kelby’s book I mentioned previous.  I’m not going to attempt to show the technique here, but Glyn does a great job of explaining it is his post.


Next I used a curves adjustment layer to brighten up and add contrast to parts of her hair.  By adding a layer mask to the layer, filling it with black, then using the brush tool with a soft brush set to white you can control where this adjustment take effect.  Only the parts of the mask that show as white allow the adjustment layer to show though.  The masking and layering of effects is truly where Photoshop has all of its power. There is so much this software can do, and so many ways to do it, but the real power is in you ability to layers and masks as you build effects and changes.


Looking at the left eye, I now noticed that the area around the eye was still a bit too dark for me.  I used a curve tool to lighten it up a bit.  You can see from the screen print below that I changed the blending mode to “luminosity”. This allows the curve to lighted the area with out effecting the color saturation.  I again used a mask to allow it to only effect the area around the eye.

If you remember way back in step one, I added a second copy of the background layer and changed the blending mode to “multiply”.  This adds contrast but also can effect the colors.  Along the way, some of my curves can also effect the saturation and colors of areas of the image.  My next two steps that I’m going to explain correct that.  I recently learned a new technique with involves making another copy of the background layer and staking it on top of all the previous adjustment layers, but this time using the blend mode of “color”. This has the effect of only changing the colors of the pixels to closely match the colors of the the original image.  This may not be the best way to correct the colors, but I can see many times when this could be a great short cut to correcting colors after other adjustments have been made.

undefinedThe other step I did to adjust the color is something I do quite often with portraits.  I like t0 de-saturate my portraits a bit and my favorite way of doing it is using a black and white adjustment layer.  This allows me more control and also it can add a bit of character for portraits of men, and help smooth the skin very slightly for women and children.  The black and white adjustment layer allows you to choose “color filters”.    This is something that again would take an entire post to cover, but to make is simple, a red filter has the effect of brightening and hiding some of the imperfections in skin, and a blue filter has the effect of magnifying some of the same imperfections.  For females and children I highly recommend staying away from the blue filter if you want to keep your relationship on a positive level.  🙂

After adding the black and white adjustment layer, I simply change the opacity of the layer until I get the look I like.  Most of the time I end up with a opacity of someplace between 30% and 40%. This leaves much of the color intact but tones some of the saturation down.


At this point I made a small change to back ground with a curves adjustment layer.  I used a soft edge brush tool and painted on the mask over the Sam so just the background is left in white and is effected by the curve.  This just darkened the background up a tad.


The last thing I did to this image was add just a touch of a vignette.  I would much rather do this in Photoshop manually then using a pre-made filter or action or even doing it in lightroom.  My using the masking feature I’m just more able to control the vignette and get it only where I want it.  It is such a simple thing to do, but does involve a few steps that I think my next post may be the specific steps on how I do it.  Below is the screen print that shows the curve (very simple curve just darkening a bit) and the mask. Again the white parts of the mask are the only parts of the image that are effected.  You can see that the mask is not very even.  This ability to highly customize where the vignette is applied and by how much is why Photoshop is the place to do this for me.


Well that is it. The final image is below.  In doing this I realized how hard it is to explain all of these steps.  Let me know what you think.  More detail needed?  Less detail?  I plan on covering some of these steps in more detail with other images in the future.  I hope you got something out of my rambling anyway.


  • 15 May ’11 - 6:37 pm

    Mindy - I had to laugh when I first started reading and how kindly you described my pestering! I am so happy that you are going to make this a regular post on your blog. Just reading through I have already learned a few new steps that I would never have even thought to use and I can’t wait to try them out.

    The only suggestion I would make is that on most PS tutorials that I have had success with use a bullet point system of steps (with more detail in the paragraph above or below a set of steps) this really helps when you are trying to work through the steps and also make it easier for beginners that know many basic steps and tools but not much more than that lol.

    I never would have thought the multiply blending mode would be useful in portraits. Like I said, I can’t wait to try this out and THANK YOU for doing this!!ReplyCancel

    • 15 May ’11 - 6:45 pm

      Jon - Great feedback Mindy. Glad you liked it. I think it may be easier to cover one or two of the techniques so I can get into more detail of how to do it rather then cover the entire process from end to end. I’ll give that a try next time. Thanks for pushing me as well! With my day job taking up much of my time, I need someone to push me to keep me focused on the stuff I love.ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *