Previsualization And Post-Processing; Enhancing A “Monte Portrait”
Monte Zucker• Posted Nov 1, 2005
I've always said, "See the finished picture before you even snap the shutter!"
Well, sometimes it doesn't work, especially now that we're able to do so much postproduction work in Photoshop. Such was the case recently in Savannah, Georgia, when I photographed sculptor Bob Friedman. I wanted to do a strong character portrait because of his artistic background, but I had no idea that I would come up with something like this!
The portrait began here...
For the picture I used a Canon EOS 20D and a 24-70mm lens, shooting in large JPEG format. A Delkin memory card recorded the portrait. Lighting was with two Westcott Spiderlites and a Westcott silver reflector (Monte's Illuminator). The lights create a steady fluorescent glow, not a flash. What you see is what you get. The ISO of the camera was set to 800. I shot using Aperture Priority, stopping down the lens to f/6.3, so that I would get both eyes in focus.
I used one of the lights in profile position, lighting the right half of his face. The second light was at approximately a 90Þ angle from my camera, creating the modified loop-light pattern on his face. The reflector was positioned to the left side of his face. The far edge of the reflector remained forward of his face. Had the reflector been placed beside his face it would have brought light in from another direction. I didn't want to do that. I simply wanted to help push the light around onto the dark side of his face, retaining detail in the shadowed areas. The background was the black side of Westcott's 5/6-foot black/white background.
I changed the picture to black and white, because I felt that the color detracted from the intensity of his face.
The next stage of preparation is one that I really love doing. I go into the Layers palette and click on the half-dark, half-white circle at the bottom. This creates an adjustment layer. Then you have a choice of any number of adjustments you want to make. I select Curves. When Curves comes up on the screen I take the highlight end of the line (usually top right) and bring it down. If I want the edges to go completely black, I bring it all the way down to the bottom. The resulting image on the screen turns completely black. I've basically covered the image with a layer of the same picture that has been darkened down to where you see nothing.
If you've overdone the painting away with black, you can put back the deeper tone by painting with white. In a nutshell, black reveals and white conceals. It's as simple as that.
The crop and the blackness at the top and bottom do not break my cardinal rule: If you like the way it looks, go with it! I liked it and I did it! Of course, it takes a lot of experience to develop good taste. When one is just starting out it's easy to like something without knowing if it's really good or not. That works some of the time, but an educated opinion usually works better.
Some of the biggest changes took place at my next stage of preparation. First, I sharpened the entire image by going to Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask. I set the Unsharp Mask at: Amount--100 percent, Radius--1.0 pixels, Threshold--0. This showed up an amazing amount of detail throughout his face that I didn't see at first.
The final stage of transformation was to work on his eyes. At almost every stage along the way I was always working while viewing the image at 100 percent. With the eyes I went even larger, so that I could really see what I was doing.
Again using the Burning and Dodging tools, I cleaned up some of the white areas of his eyes, sometimes working on the bright areas and sometimes working on the mid tones. I didn't want to brighten them so much that they would look artificial. I'd seen that too many times in images that had been overworked by other photographers.
Finally, here is the finished portrait. Did I have this in mind when I first created the image? Yes and no. I wanted to create something artistic, something special. Did I know how I was going to do it? Not really. I knew that the 2/3 facial angle would show off his features the best. I always start out with a facial analysis. I also knew that by using two main lights--one split-lighting his face and the second one creating the modified loop-light pattern that I use for almost all of my portraits--I could create great three-dimensional lighting. I had just never worked the highlights and shadows as much as I did here. I also didn't know that I was going to convert the picture into black and white when I first began it.
Having learned negative retouching back in the "olden days" when we worked with pencils was a great help in teaching me how to brighten the highlights, work on specular highlights, etc. Yes, the experiences I learned as a kid all came back to me when I created and completed this portrait.