I took a dip into some of the older RAW files I haven’t done before with this edit because the current file didn’t inspire me at all. I liked the look of this one, and you can see straight away there is room for improvement. The photographer must have used a long lens with a big aperture to get that kind of background blur! Read on to see what direction I go…
First things first – yep, you guessed it – let’s check the exposure.
It’s a tiny bit underexposed, but nothing we can’t work with. A couple of things jump out straight away to me in regards to the colour – the white balance looks off and I can see a little bit of green in the skin tones, which is never a good look.
Before I worked on this I cropped the photo a bit tighter for two reasons – it looks better to my taste and it gave me room to straighten the eyes a little horizontally.
With portraits I always find white balances that lean towards the warmer side of the spectrum look more flattering, so I raise the colour temperature to +6000 and the tint to +2.
Next I deal with the exposure by raising it just over half a stop to +0.73. I leave the rest of the controls alone with the exception of the clarity slider, which I take to -29. This smooths out the skin, and I will add back in the details we want later with a local adjustment brush.
When you’re editing your photos use the clarity slider sparingly. If you take negative clarity too far on a portrait, you get that horrible effect whereby the skin looks unrealistically smooth. If I’m ever in two minds about whether I’ve gone too far or not, I walk away from the computer and make a cup of tea. I’ll leave the file open full screen so when I get back my gut reaction will usually tell me one of two things:
“That looks okay.”
If it’s the latter, I usually pull back or even start from scratch. Sometimes you can get so deep into editing that any adjustments you make are just relative to your previous steps. I find clarity, sharpening and noise reduction particularly bad for this.
Next we make a few adjustments to saturation in the HSL panel. The subject has nice red and orange tones in her hair, so why not give them a bit of a boost? Taking the red and orange saturation levels to +25 takes care of this.
We mentioned before that we would bring back the details lost with the negative clarity with a local adjustment brush. Let’s take a look at the settings for the brush and where I painted them.
Clarity +53 and sharpness +84 were enough to bring back the sharp detail in the finer features of the face and the hair paying particular attention to the eyes, eyebrows and lips. It makes such a big difference taking the time to do this and the image looks so much more natural for it.
The last thing I did was add a post-crop vignette of -20 and the edit was complete. The only thing I’m not quite happy about is the gap in the top right-hand corner. Ideally I would have liked no background peeking through, but it was a compromise.
I hope you like the final image.