Freckles have to be one of my favorite facial features. So when I saw that one of the bridesmaids in a wedding I was shooting had them in spades, I was thrilled. Of course, the venue wasn’t ideal for classic portraiture, but I had to use what I had at my disposal. The room where the bridal party was getting ready was lit by one bulb planted squarely in the center of the ceiling and one blind-enclosed window. Because the groomsmen tended to gather almost right outside this window, we could only barely open the blinds at any given moment, meaning the light slanted steeply downward. In short, it was a low-light situation where I couldn’t capitalize on the direction of the light at hand.
But luckily I had the FA 31/1.8 with me, so I boosted the ISO to 400 and counted on it to do its magic.
I took one photo before she started posing for me (read: big smiles), and this is it:
The lighting, as I mentioned, was uneven – her torso and shoulder are much brighter than her face, but I figured I could fix that in post-processing; the important thing to me was to get her face correctly exposed so that I could bring out those freckles when the time came.
For the “classic” post-processing I ended up with, I actually changed very few of the original settings. The white balance (which was on “AUTO” for the camera) stayed the same; the basic tone elements – exposure, recovery, fill light, and blacks – also remained the same. I actually decreased the brightness and the contrast, which led to this slight difference:
The tone curve is where things start to go drastic. I set the Highlights to +90, the Lights to +100, the Darks to 50, and the Shadows to -57. The curve created is a deep falloff, with a crazy photo to prove it:
The idea, though, with trying to create a dramatic photo is that sometimes you have to use dramatic settings. Once we tone down the vibrance a bit (to -7) and the saturation (to -15), the photo already looks better:
As you can see, the blue dominates the photo, but there are two other important colors – red and orange. They comprise the majority of her facial colors. By adjusting the hue, saturation, and luminance of each of those colors, we can pinpoint precisely what we want to stand out (in my case, the freckles!).
I changed the hue of “Red” to +100, which is going to give it an oranger color. I like the look of slightly desaturated lips, so I adjusted saturation to -5. Then I brought up the luminance to +17 so that the red bits are a bit brighter:
Most of her skin is “Orange,” though, so by playing with those same settings, I’m really going to affect the overall photo. I set the hue toward the red end of the spectrum to -38. Next I desaturated it to -69 and brought the luminance all the way up to +100:
Now to get rid of that sea of blue. I left the hue the same and desatured to -57 and kicked the luminance up to +57 for the “Blues”:
So all those edits and a couple of tweaks with the yellow and aqua result in this:
Because so much of the color is gone, I like to add a bit back by adding split-toning. In this instance, I went for a gold highlight (Hue: 48, Saturation: 32) and a peach shadow (Hue: 39, Saturation: 17) with the balance between the two skewed toward the shadows (to the tune of -49).
A vignette pushed nearly to the max provides dark shadows around the edges.
I’m still not a fan of where the light is falling, so I decided to use a couple of the tools provided by Lightroom 2 – namely, the gradient and the brush.
For the first gradient, I reduced the exposure by nearly a full stop (-.90) and the brightness to -60. I also kicked up the clarity a bit to help alleviate the softness brought about by the shallow depth-of-field. I pulled the gradient up from the bottom-right corner.
For the second gradient, I actually increased the exposure to +.70 and pulled it directly from the right toward her face. The idea was to mimic light that would have been coming directly from an uncovered window rather than that downward light I had to deal with.
Next to the brushes. I ended up using five different brushes: one for the left side of her face, two for her hair, and two for her eyes. The key to using brushes is to pay strict attention to the feathering and to the flow.
For the first brush, I wanted to darken the left side of her face and bring out those freckles (disregard the settings. Lightroom doesn’t like having screencaps made of it). For the settings, I set Brightness to -20, Contrast to +30, and Clarity to +75. I had the feathering set to almost its maximum and the flow set toward the minimum. That meant I had to make multiple passes over the areas I wanted to affect the most, but this way there would be no tell-tale lines between brushed and non-brushed.
For the second brush, I wanted to bring out the details of the curls in her hair. Once again, I painted with a large brush set to lots of feathering and little flow. I used the “Erase” function with similar settings to make sure I didn’t accidentally brighten her face.
The third brush complemented the second; it specifically brightened the crown of her hairline where the hair sweeps back.
Next it was time to work on the eyes. They looked a little muddy to me, so I brightened the white portions by increasing the exposure and brightness.
And finally, to really make them pop, I used another brush where I focused mainly on the irises to increase the exposure, the contrast, and the clarity.