I’ve been getting an unprecedented number of queries regarding the self-portrait I’d uploaded on my Flickr stream some time back. Mom called twice, and Dad rang up an hour back to ask if I was feeling okay. Even my brother called up and asked me to take down the image immediately – apparently, it’s extremely inconvenient having to explain to everyone why his brother has nothing better to do than to click flattering photographs of himself and uploading them all over the web. He’s just jealous. Anyway, here’s the image that has created such a buzz at MIG Block 2, Old University Colony, Guwahati.
Light Setup: Back to Joel Grimes/ Dave Hill territory here. A regular 3 light setup. Two rim-lights to light my sides, while a soft-box acts as the main light from over the camera. I used a studio strobe inside the soft-box. And since I didn’t trade my kidneys for that one, it didn’t come with any way to control the intensity of light. So, that pretty much meant that I had to adjust the rest of the lighting around this big, ugly light. The rim lights are our good old Vivitar strobes, set at 2 stops higher than the main-lights. That’s just a fancy way of saying that I played around with the settings on the Vivitars till the light they threw was brighter than my main light. That’s so that you can see that shiny highlights on the edges of the painfully handsome face. The simplest way to go about this is to first just switch on the main light, and take a decent image. Once you’ve adjusted the shutter speed and aperture as per this, you then add one side light. Then another. I know. Very complicated. I am a genius. Bow.
Step 1 (Preparation): On to the post processing now. Here’s how the image looked straight out of the camera. More or less. I added a duplicate layer and played around with the curves to give the contrast a bit of punch. Then, I went on to clone out some of the bumps and irregularities on the face – this took me around a decade. Once I was satisfied that I was looking human again, I went on to step 2.
Step 2 (Shadows/ Highlights): This is the most important step. Here’s where we start giving the image the final shiny look. A lesser mortal will use Dodge/ Burn. But that would be too simple. (I have to justify a blog post, no?). So instead, here’s what I did. I created two blank layers, and in a flash of genius, renamed them Highlights and Shadows. For the Shadows layer, I took a small, soft brush and ‘black’ as the foreground colour. Opacity was set to somewhere between 5 to 10. Then I went on to darken the already dark portions of the photograph. This would mean the creases on the t-shirt, the vertical shadows framing the cheeks, the laugh lines, etc. Also, you might choose to darken out some of the distractions on the background. The result might not be readily obvious to you. In case you feel that the opacity is too low, be bold and crank it up to 15 or something – you’ll still be able to modify it later using the layer’s opacity. Anyway, the end result – you should just be able to make out the painted areas when you toggle the visibility of the shadow layer.
For the highlights layer, use the same setting as for the shadows layer, and choose white as the foreground colour. Now, paint over all the areas where the light from the flash was visible. This would include the extreme edges of the face, the hair to the left, the edges of the neck, and the creases of the t-shirt. I also chose to accentuate the sweat drop on the nose for some reason.
Step 3 (High Pass Filter): The next step is to select the original layer, and run a high pass filter on it. I went kind of nuclear on it, choosing a setting of around 200. Since it was a new layer anyway, it could do no harm. Also, I’d just been shouted at for not watering the plants. So, wasn’t in the mood for subtlety. Anyway, once done, I changed the blending mode of this layer to ‘soft light’ to tone down the disco.
Step 4 (HSL): I could leave the image here, but being the perfectionist, I chose to surprise you and add another layer of complexity – literally. I revisited the original layer, and added a Hue-Saturation adjustment layer. All I did here, was to change ’Master’ to ‘Red’, and brought down the saturation till the image started looking like one of those gritty, Christopher Nolan meets Guy Ritchie kind of images.
End Notes: For obvious reasons, I cloned out the logo from the t-shirt. You’ll be aware that my deal with Adidas has finally expired. And in the interest of artistic freedom, I’ve chosen to not renew it. Well that, and I just thought I’d look cooler.
If the above ileads to some horribly discoloured and zombie-style images on your computer, please note that the method is not mine. It’s actually a mix and match from a lot of sources. Chief among them are Joel Grimes, Dave Hill and Scott Kelby. If you love the method, on the other hand, remember that you read it here first and you owe me your kidneys.