Gritty portrait post processing technique
Try this commercial processing look
Just as the photographer is expected to adapt their shooting style to match their subject, the pro shooter should also know how to alter their approach to editing, to draw the most impact out of their images. While the overall technical skill remains the same, shooting male and female portraits differs in the treatment of tones and textures. Male portraits often benefit from ‘grittier’ processing, which makes the most of high contrast and micro-contrast to emphasise detail. Here we walk through a common pro Photoshop workflow, used to achieve a popular commercial look, found everywhere from magazine covers to TV fashion adverts.
Begin by darkening the image slightly to introduce a moody tone. This can be done using Levels, Brightness/Contrast or, as we did here, Curves. Add more contrast by pulling the upper midtones on the curve to create a classic S shape.
Duplicate the Background Layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer) and rename the new layer ‘Contrast’ or something similar. Then change the Blend Mode of this duplicate to Soft Light to create a high contrast style. You may need to lower the opacity slightly if you lose any detail in the shadows or highlights. Start with 80% and lower it further if necessary.
Use the Colour Balance tool (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Colour Balance) to add some cool hues to the shadows. Select Shadows from the drop down and pull the Yellow/Blue slider to the right until satisfied.
Blues and greens don’t often flatter skin tones and this situation is no different. Click on the Colour Balance layer’s mask (created automatically) and use a large, soft brush to paint black on the white mask to remove the cooling effect on the face and hands.
Next we’re going to add to the grittiness of the image using the HDR Toning feature in Photoshop CS5 and beyond. Duplicate the entire document (Image > Duplicate) name the copied image ‘HDR’ and flatten the image. HDR Toning will alternatively ask you to flatten by default as this tool does not function with layers intact. Then go Image > Adjustments > HDR Toning. Start by lowering the Exposure, using the slider provided and further darken the image using the Tone Curve. Simply drag down at the lower left end of the curve until the pre-HDR brightness is restored. Then increase the Detail Slider value by dragging it to the right to add some ‘grunge’. Tweak the other sliders as shown here.
Select the canvas and copy the HDR Toned image onto the first document. Create a Layer mask, invert it (Ctrl or Cmd + I) hit Q to enter quick mask mode and paint with white on the new black mask over the areas you want to add the HDR effect. This limits the HDR processing to the subject only, leaving the studio background unaffected.
We’re almost done. Now we simply have to perform the standard portrait retouching steps, using the Clone Stamp tool and Spot Healing Brush Tool to remove spots, blemishes and stray hairs.