Print Finishing II
In 2007, I produced a video focusing on print finishing. This article is a second examination of the elements and features involved in finishing an image.
This image was made during a session with Vanessa, a new model,. The light was harsh, so I asked Vanessa pose in the shadow of a massive granite rock where the light was beautifully even. I planned to make the image with my infrared camera and my 17mm T/S lens. The infrared would elevate Vanessa’s skin tone, increase the contrast in the rock behind her, and keep the foliage around her feet bright, while the 17mm lens would give me the dramatic composition I wanted; by using a vertical shift I could prevent distortion of the scene, avoiding a common issue with ultra-wide angle lenses.
To overcome the contrast between the sunlit surroundings and the shadow in which Vanessa posed, I originally intended to use two separate exposures, one for Vanessa and one for the rock. As I prepared to make the image, however, I decided I wanted the sun in the frame; this complicated things and necessitated having three exposures in order to realize the final image.
The first exposure (below, left) was exposed for the sky but suffered from lens flare due to the sun being in the frame. The second image (below, centre) used the same exposure but I blocked out the sun with my hat to prevent flare. The final image (below right) was exposed for the shadow side of the rock, with my hat still shading the sun. The images below are shown processed unchanged from the RAW files, displaying the strong colour cast of the infrared files.
Once back at the computer, the first step is RAW processing. Once the files were imported into Adobe® Lightroom, I processed them into monochrome, using manual adjustments of the conversion to enhance the natural contrast of infrared photographs. Next, I adjusted the exposure and black settings to ensure I had a full tonal range for each image. Finally, I exported the images as 16-bit TIFF files in the PhotoPro colour space.
The next stage was to assemble the three images into their final form in Adobe® Photoshop CS4. I opened the two images that I exposed for the sky, and stacked them into layers, with the “Flare Layer” (the image with the sun and flare in it) on top of the “Hat Layer” (the image with my hat shielding the sun). I then placed a black layer mask on the “Flare Layer”, which completely concealed it from view. Finally, I used a white brush on the inverted mask to reveal the sun and some of the flare on the “Flare Layer”, effectively concealing the hat in the corner of the “Hat Layer”, below.
When this was completed, I merged the two layers into one image layer (renamed “Sky Blend”) and saved the file. Combining the two frames permitted me to have a photograph with the sun in the frame, but effectively limiting how much the sun flare affects the image.
Once the background image was finished, I pasted the last image, of Vanessa in the shadow of the rock, on top, and labeled this layer “Shadow & Nude”. On this layer, I created a layer mask, and painted out the sky, which revealed the “Sky Blend Layer” below. I had to work very carefully on the masking to ensure that none of the pure white sky of the “Shadow & Nude Layer” showed, and that none of the black rock of the “Sky Blend Layer” was visible either.
When the two masks were finished, the two layers blended almost perfectly, but the image still had tonal issues, mostly due to the fact that the shadow areas, usually 16x darker or more, were now as light as the sun-lit areas beyond.
Once the “Shadow & Nude Layer” layer was masked to match the “Sky Blend” layer, I added two adjustment layers to even out the interplay between the two layers. These layers began the real finishing of the image, removing evidence of the different exposures from immediate view.
The first adjustment layer, called “Foliage”, was a curve lightening the brush in the background, and better separating the granite rock from the landscape behind (shown below in red). The second adjustment layer, called “Rock Edge”, also a curve, lightened the edge of the rock, so it better matched the centre area of the rock on the “Shadow & Nude Layer” (shown below in blue).
The final adjustments were made to the “Shadow & Nude Layer” alone; in order to restrict the change to only this image layer, I clipped the adjustment layers to the image layer, limiting their effect.
The first adjustment layer, named “Hair”, is the most specific, and most exact adjustment of the image. With naturally dark locks, even in infrared much of the tone of Vanessa’s hair was dark, so I used an aggressive curve to lighten her hair, so the flow of it was more visible. The last adjustment layer, called “Shadows” used a final curve to darken the rock around Vanessa’s body so that it blended perfectly with image around it, matching it tonally. With this final layer, the image was finished, except for resizing to print/web size, and sharpening (which are destination and resolution dependent).
Below is the final image of Vanessa, created by combining three different image files, using six masks and four adjustment layers.