March 28, 2009

Fun with Photoshop

A couple days ago I posted a photo of my friend Kelly and her friend Jennifer that I had taken outside our church last Sunday. A commenter asked some questions about how I ended up with that photo. I thought I'd answer those questions in this post.

Can you explain how you took this beautiful picture and what kind of background you used. Did you use an SLR digital camera? Was it somewhere in your church? Do you have 2 sources of light above?

One of the reasons that this picture works so well is that it has two beautiful women in it. That's always a good place to start. We didn't have much time between worship team practice and the beginning of the worship service, so we just ran outside to the front door of our church. I asked the ladies to stand on the grass a little ways away from the building so I could throw the background out of focus by using a shallow depth of field. The church building is not the best looking building around, so I thought the shallow depth of field would help to remove that distraction from the photo. As you can see in the original photo (the color image below), it didn't really help.

I used a Canon 50D digital SLR with a Canon 28mm to 70mm f/2.8 lens. I set the camera to aperture priority and set the aperture to f/4.5. The camera's exposure meter came up with a shutter speed of 250th/sec, which I complied with.

The light sources were the sun, which was behind the ladies at a relatively low angle (around 10:00 am) and my Canon flash, which I used as fill flash to brighten their faces because of the strong back-lighting.

When I decided to put the photo on the blog, I just had to manipulate it in Photoshop. I thoroughly enjoy doing portrait photography with Photoshop. I love black & white and I like to tweak the photos slightly when I post them on the blog to give my blog a unique look.

In this case I added a Gradient Map adjustment layer with a foreground of pure black and a background of pure white. That produces a nice high-contrast black & white that is reminiscent of Ansel Adams' photography.

Then I sampled the darkest color I could find in the hair (Jennifer's hair—the young lady on the right side of the pic). I used that color to paint out the background so that there would be no distraction at all. Once the majority of the background had been painted out, I lowered the opacity of the paint brush and carefully brushed around their hair so that the hair would blend well into the black background. There's a bit of glow around Jennifer's hair because I didn't have the time to be real careful with this process. I wanted to get the photo onto the blog before our Wednesday night worship team practice so I could tell Kelly about it.

I added a little bit of grain to make it look more like a negative film photograph rather than digital. If you'd like to see the other photos I took that morning, they may be found here in full resolution. They won't be there for long though, I just posted them there so Jennifer could get prints made if she wanted to. So you'll have to check them out within the next week.


  1. Thank you so much for the great description of what you did to the picture! I guess I will have to buy Photoshop and just try it out. Obviously you would recommend it. I think that is going to be the best way to learn more about photos/photography. Any other advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Depending on your current level of understanding of photographic principles, purchasing Photoshop may be a bit premature.

    The basic foundation for great photography is the interplay of light and shadows. You can learn how photography reacts to and reproduces light and shadow in many books, but Ansel Adams' classic trilogy on photographic theory is probably the best.

    I'd recommend that you use a digital SLR so you can try out different lenses, which can have a strong impact on your photos. And then, when you have a good understanding of your photography in general and your camera in particular, look into Photoshop or its less expensive sibling, Photoshop Elements.

    There are many books filling the bookstores that can tell you about many of the cool things you can do with Photoshop. Among my favorites are the "How to Wow" series (How to Wow with Photoshop, etc.) and the "Classroom In a Book" series.

    Feel free to email me any specific questions. I'd love to see your photography and hear how you're progressing. Photography is one of my deep passions in life. And I love to see others get excited by it. Check out the Decadent Housewife blog for some great everyday life photography.


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