Dr. Doug, Terlingua, Texas. Shot with a Sony α900 and a Zeiss 24-70mm lens at 70mm. Images exposed at ISO 100 at f2.8 for 1/90th of a second.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. I am in the midst of getting ready for a week in the field that will see my first trip into Canyon X in the Antelope Canyon Drainage. But before I get there I have all the usual “getting out of town” issues that seem to consume a lot of time. Getting a new blog post out was not on that list but I had started this one a few weeks ago and as it turned out it did not require too much time to finish the processing.
My frequent visitors will recognize this image as my wise old friend, Dr. Doug, of Terlinqua, Texas. Recently I was inspired by some beautiful portrait work of surfers on the North Shore of Lake Superior by my friend Alec Johnson. The gritty, hard look of these images were amazing and really brought out the character of the subjects. In today’s post I decided to explore my own version of the “gritty” portrait technique. The technique is characterized by a “hyper-sharpened”, desaturated processing technique. While I do not think it is appropriate for all portraits it is none the less an effective technique that produces an edgy look. The details in Dr. Doug’s face, from his piercing eyes, to his coarse beard, all lend themselves to applying the technique.
Dr. Doug. The processed RAW file used as the starting point for the "gritty" look.
The original shot was made in natural light in the late afternoon. I moved in close using a Zeiss 24-70mm lens at 70mm. To the left is the processed RAW file developed in Adobe Lightroom. I followed my usual processing procedures for the RAW file including curve adjustments, fill and recovery, color luminosity adjustments, and sharpening. The file was exported into Adobe Photoshop for the final finishing. The work for the final image proceeded in the following steps:
Step 1: I duplicated the file and performed a little “digital gardening” on the copy to remove a few dust spots.
Step 2: I added a Levels Layer and set the White and Black Point. I routinely perform this step on all my files.
Step 3: I created a Black and White Adjustment Layer set to Soft Light Blending Mode with an opacity of 40%. This is a salt to taste setting but generally 40% is a good starting point. You will begin to see the “gritty” effect with this layer.
Step 4: I created a Selective Color Layer. From there I went into the Red Color Selection and set Cyan to +20 and Yellow to +20. This has the combined effect of removing the Red Cast.
Step 5: I created a Hue/Saturation Layer and in the Master set the overall Saturation to -35. In the Red I set the Slider to -40, and -20 in the Yellow. Steps 4 and 5 are a salt to taste adjustment. Make sure the preview button is set so you can visually see the effect of the changes.
Step 6: Make sure the top layer in your layer stack is selected then go to the Layer Menu and select Merge Visible. Hold down the Option Key when you do this so you can retain your other layers. This will put a merged file on top of your layer stack.
This is my sharpening layer. For this effect I used two sharpening passes; A Large Aperture Sharpening Routine and a Small Aperture Routine. For the Large Aperture go to the Filter Menu and select Unsharp Mask. Set the Radius to 20 and the Amount to 75. Generally the amount will work between 50 and 100 but you will need to judge the effect on each image. Once you are finished close out to apply the sharpening. Add a filter layer and fill will black. This will hide the sharpening effects. Using a Soft Brush set to 15 to 20 percent, paint white over the filter layer to reveal the sharpening effect. I concentrated on Dr. Doug’s eyes, nose and part of his beard. I do not bring out all the sharpening. Only enough to begin to see the “hyper-sharpened” effect.
Now for the Small Aperture Routine. Using the same image layer go to the Filter Menu and select Unsharp Mask. Set the Radius to 5.0 and the amount to 225. This will tweak out finer detail but it will be mitigated but the Layer Mask. Using the Soft Brush at an Opacity of 20% to 25% I painted White over the eyes and the beard to bring out these areas. In a portrait the “eyes” are the key. This is where the soul resides.
Step 7: I made a Curves Layer and lightened Dr. Doug’s eyes to increase the intensity and bring out the lighter colors in the whites and the iris.
Step 8: I also created a Dodge and Burn Layer to Lighten and Darken a few areas in the portrait. This is a key component for all my work whether it is a portrait or a landscape. The pushing and pulling of light and dark is a painterly process that helps create the sense of depth I like in a photograph. To make a D and B layer add a new Layer on top of the Layer Stack. Change the Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 66%. Fill this layer with 50% Black. Using a Soft Brush set to a low opacity of 5% to 10% I paint in with White to lighten areas and Black to darken. This is a subtle building of tones. There is some intensive work on Doug’s eyes to create a 3-D quality.
And that is the technique. The combinations and applications of color adjustment, saturation, dodging and burning, and sharpening are all on a per image basis. The settings used above are a starting point. I also had a good, solid starting image to make the adjustments. The differences in my mind are not subtle. The starting image is soft and on its own would make a fine file under a normal workflow. But I like the intensity created by this technique. Dr. Doug appears more intense and worldly. The gritty look deepens the story for me.
Give this technique a try on your next portrait. I will be back in a week or so from my Grand Canyon/Canyon X trip. You can follow me through my Twitter and Facebook Feeds.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Hozógo nasádo (Navajo): Walk in Beauty