I truly love looking at before and after comparisons. Anything from trashy tabloid cover stories about before-and-after plastic surgery disasters, to before-and-after car restoration photos. I especially love looking at unedited and nicely edited portraits. I am continually inspired by other photographers. There are a few who definitely stand out as real inspirations to me. On of them is Lisa Holloway. She’s a stunning portrait photographer in Kingman, AZ. When I first became obsessed with photography, I joined a popular photography forum, and Lisa was like a rock star over there. She always posted her before and after shots as well as her processing steps. At the time, I knew very little about photoshop and her generous knowledge sharing made all the difference in the world to my learning. She continues to inspire me. She posts before and after shots on her Facebook page and I am always in awe of her talent.
I wanted to share some of my own before and after shots with you guys. If you’ve ever watched me in action with my camera, you know that I’m constantly paying attention to every detail. I know what I want the shot to look like before I even tell you where and how to stand. I have that same focus and attention to detail throughout the entire editing process as I do during the actual photoshoot. I’ve learned to see color – this was a term that totally didn’t make sense to me when I first started out. I’ve learned to read light. I know how to make certain colors pop, others fade, others multiply. This is the second half of the custom photography experience. Knowing how to properly use tools like Photoshop and Lightroom is necessary, but no matter how good you are, you can’t make an image that is out of focus, not properly composed, or not well set up look amazing in post production. Its vital to get things right in the camera, and then put on the finishing touches in post production.
Since I began really understanding photography, I tried to explain that using photoshop on an image is like putting on make up… If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can make something beautiful look awful. If you do know what you’re doing, you can transform something that is already beautiful into something spectacular.
This has always been one of my favorite shots. First of all, this family made me so giddy when they pulled out not one, but two sets of clothes that coordinated beautifully. I always take a gazillion walking shots because I want to be able to pick out the very best one of the bunch. Besides my usual processing (I’ll explain further below), I added a very slight radial blur to this photo. Just enough to give it a dreaminess. They had me print this up big – a 24×36″ canvas and it was gorgeous.
I love baby on black shots. I wrote a tutorial for one of my online photography forums and I still get comments from people that it helped. For this shot, I got my white balance right in camera and didn’t have to make any adjustments. I did have to bring the exposure down a bit and even out the shadows some by making the bright side not so bright and the dark side a bit brighter. To make the black velvet completely black, I select it, do a levels layer and move the left slider over to the right until it almost entirely goes black. I mask back around the edge of the skin and paint in black on any other areas that need it. I also increased the canvas on top because I liked the negative space above the sweet little baby.
Its pretty obvious to see what I did with this photo. I thought all the stuff in the background was way too distracting so I fixed that with some cloning.
This was a family photo of my husband’s family. A friend took the shots (I think about 30 total) on a tripod. My fingers were crossed for one perfect photo where all 25 of us, babies included, were all looking at the camera and smiling. It didn’t happen. I ended up doing 11 head swaps on this. Some whole bodies, some just face. I also got rid of a lot of the dappled light. It was super hard finding a good spot for a group this large right around noon on a hot summer day in July. I also wrote a tutorial for my photography board on headswapping and tons of people loved seeing how to do it step by step. Its been a couple years since I processed this one and I still think its a bit too cool. I supposed I should have warmed it up a bit for this post. I’m always so critical of my work.
I’m not a big fan of vignettes, but this photo really needed one. This is the same spot they will be married, and I wanted it to feel like they had a big spotlight on them.
This is another old favorite of mine. I think it was the first time I used a radial blur and I just fell in love with the effect. I thought it really helped lead the eye to her in addition to the leading lines from the edge of the road and the telephone lines. I also made the colors much deeper and really increased the blue in the sky.
This is my sister and her family. It was really bright outside and I sat them right down on a bright neon patch of grass. Can you see the green color cast on their skin? They are as bad as if I was holding a neon green balloon under their face and the light was reflecting right off of it. I used a color cast removal tutorial from another photographer friend whom I have great admiration, David Rosen. Among the MANY valuable tips and tricks I’ve learned from David (including how I make my black & whites), he has also given me the most valuable critique on my work and my website and for that I am extremely grateful. So for the photo below, I removed the casts best I could from each of them and tried to restore a nice healthy glow. My sister was also showing a bit too much boob so I liquefied her shirt to make her more decent.
When my clients order the digitals of their photos (all of my wedding couples get ALL the digitals from their engagement session and wedding), I always give them in both color and black & white so they can choose which they like best. I almost always have a preference of either color or black & white for a particular photo. I knew when I was taking the shot below, I wanted it to be in black & white. I didn’t have a tripod. I just handheld my camera with a low shutter speed and had my couple stand still while everyone else was dancing. I didn’t see as much movement as I would have liked in the photo, so I added a bit of motion blur to the scene and masked my couple back in. Then I cropped in a bit tighter (I’m a big fan of the rule of thirds if you haven’t noticed) and converted it to black & white.
For this next one I want you to look at the after photo first. Looks like a big happy family enjoying a nice walk on a desolate beach, right? That’s what I was hoping for. Only, the problem was, this was Big Corona in Newport Beach on a warm gorgeous day, and those people wouldn’t leave the beach no matter how much I wanted them out of my shot. So, I used photoshop to eliminate the background noise. I feel like its that kind of work that is necessary to turn a snapshot into a portrait. I cropped the final version into a 10×20 aspect ratio.
I really adore this photo. I just feel it. I found the windows and the spotlight in the background so distracting, so I took them out. We took this photo after the sun had set and I had slightly underexposed it. In post, I brought up the exposure, warmed it up a bit, and added a gradual multiply vignette to really enhance the colors and put a spotlight feel on the couple. Did I mention how much I love this shot?
I put this sort of attention and detail into every photo I process. Want to see what I can do with yours?