Thursday, May 23, 2013

Portrait Retouching Tutorial #1: The Skin

Here's a simple truth; perfect skin is a myth. If not an outright myth, than rare enough that it could be classified as one. The proof is in the millions of dollars spent every year on makeup products, surgical procedures and airbrushed photos in magazines.

Sometimes the perfecting of skin is taken to the extreme and creates false notions of what real beauty is. Real beauty is strength, honesty, integrity of character, virtue, humor, and so many other noble characteristics. My intention in retouching a portrait is never to create an unattainable ideal, but to remove distractions. Let me explain.

When I meet a client in person, the first thing I notice is their expression. I watch their eyes and smile, and as we converse I try to get a sense of who they are so I can capture that on camera. Once the lights are in position and I'm pressing the shutter, though, I know that something is about to happen. The direction of the light and design of the  lens, meant to capture detail, is going to expose every little pore, blackhead, scar, imperfection in makeup application and uneven spot of skin tone.
While these are the furthest thing from my mind in person, when I'm viewing a portrait I can't help but notice those details.

Here is a before and after of the image I will be using in the tutorial, with only the skin edited. I hope it illustrates the point I'm trying to make.

                           Before                                                                   After

The purpose of a portrait is to capture the aspect of a person, parts of their personality, their expression and uniqueness. I want the viewer to notice those things and not be distracted by a pimple, or the fact that the light happens to cause certain wrinkles to look much more prominent on the screen and in print than it does in real life.

That and, let's face it, not everyone is confident in front of the camera. Sometimes the knowledge that certain aspects of their face or figure that they are uncomfortable with can be downplayed gives them enough confidence to have their portrait taken.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you how I edit portraits. Every now and then I will try to post a tutorial that gives you the run down on the techniques I use to retouch portraits. Kind of a fun, behind the scenes look that will hopefully be instructive in case retouching is something you're interested in.

And...away we go!

Frequency Separation

Keep in mind that the image I am editing is a 16 bit image. If you're working on an 8 bit image, these are the steps while setting up the high frequency or texture layer:

Select the high frequency/texture layer in the layers palette

select Image> Apply Image> layer: low frequency/color> 
blending mode subtract> Scale 2> offset 128


If you've got any questions, feel free to ask!

Here is the link to the same video on  youtube: Portrait Retouching: The Skin

Monday, May 20, 2013

15 Steps to Looking Great on Camera; Tips from Makeup Artist Serena Cook

Applying makeup is an art. When it comes to portraits, photographers know that a great makeup artist is indispensable. Not only does well applied makeup help to bring out one's natural beauty, it also gives the kind of confidence that that shines on camera. More than anything else, it's confidence that creates a stunning portrait.

I was lucky enough to work with talented makeup artist Serena Cook of Esoteric Makeup in Yelm, Washington. Not only can Serena create anything from fresh faced to dramatic beauty looks,  but she's also responsible for the gnarly transformation of some cute kids into the brain eating zombies in my recent zombie apocalypse survival family portrait shoot. Talk about well rounded!

Here's the thing...the makeup you wear everyday isn't always the most suitable makeup for having your photo taken. Serena breaks open some trade secrets so that those of us who AREN'T makeup artists can learn how to look amazing on camera.

Camera Ready Makeup: Portrait Photography



When you decide to get a portrait taken, whether it's a head shot for business or a family photo to cherish forever, you want to make sure that you're looking your best. My honest recommendation is to hire a professional makeup artist; even if you're going for a simple, natural look a professional can be that extra bonus that makes your portrait shine. A pro will know how to apply your makeup to make it look amazing for the camera, match your skin tone, and pick the right colors and the right technique for your individual features. Your time in the chair can also help to ease any nervousness and make you feel more confident that you're going to look great on camera. The better you feel, the better your pictures will to look!
There are a myriad of reasons why hiring a professional makeup artist can't happen, though. Finding a reliable, talented artist can be difficult, budget restrictions might mean it isn't feasible, or maybe you're just not comfortable with someone else doing your makeup. All of these are totally valid reasons; especially the last one since I'm the same way! Your next best option is to do your own makeup but sometimes this can be tricky. When Nicole asked me to share some tips on makeup for portraits I thought it would be a great opportunity to guarantee you can get good pictures even if someone like me can't be there.
  1. Properly hydrated skin is a must. Drink plenty of water in the days prior to your portrait session. Cleansing and moisturizing appropriately, gently exfoliating and trying to eat well can have a huge effect on the texture and condition of your skin. Even if you decide to hire a professional I can promise they'll be thankful if you walk in with hydrated, clean, well taken care of skin.
  2. It's a good idea to keep everything you used on hand so you can touch it up if necessary throughout the length of the session. That should include things like hairspray and extra bobby pins if you've got your hair styled.
  3. Lighting matters. If you're in a studio you will want to avoid anything with an SPF in it. The ingredients in an SPF can cause a white cast across your skin and reflect light at the camera when the photographer's flash is triggered. If you're going to be outdoors, make sure you wear an SPF but apply it before primer/foundation and give it time to soak in. This is a good tip even for everyday; makeup containing SPF doesn't provide enough coverage. You would have to use several times the normal amount of foundation or powder to get the sun protection listed on the label. It's far better to just use a separate product under your foundation.
  4. Studio lighting can wash out your makeup, so your application should be heavier. The opposite is true for outdoor portraits; apply your makeup with a light hand and in natural light if at all possible. Natural lighting can be unforgiving so keeping your makeup light and fresh will give you a much better result.
  5. Don't be afraid to ask your photographer for a test shot. It's a fantastic way to make sure everything looks good on camera with the exact lighting conditions in use.
  6. Prime! Prime your eyes with something like Urban Decay's Primer Potion to keep your eye makeup in place through your session. Prime your skin with a product appropriate for your skin type; key words for dry skin are luminous and radiant, for oily skin look for anti-shine and mattifying, for normal or combination skin a primer that is pore perfecting or ultra-smoothing should do the trick. These buzz words are also good for finding an appropriate foundation for your skin.
  7. Keep your eye makeup simple and do your eyes first. You can avoid removing foundation while cleaning up eyeshadow fallout if there isn't any foundation there yet!
  8. Fill in your brows with a pencil or powder unless they're naturally dark. Brows can get lost in studio flash and bright, sunny days. Since they help to frame your face you don't want them disappearing in your pictures.
  9. Make sure your foundation color is a good match that doesn't oxidize after application. Use your finger to dot your foundation on your forehead, nose, cheeks and chin then blend with a buffing brush similar to the Expert Face brush from Real Techniques. This will provide a streak free, photo ready application! Blend it well past your jaw and down your neck to prevent a line of demarcation. Also, avoid mineral makeup; it's great for daily use but can be too shiny for photography.
  10. Up the intensity of your blush for studio portraits as the lighting can wash it out. A well blended peachy-pink with subtle shimmer looks great on most skin tones while multitasking as a highlight and blush in one.
  11. Exfoliate your lips and apply lip balm prior to starting your makeup. This gives the balm time to sink in and ensures even application of lip products.
  12. Use a lip color similar your natural one or something in the pink family; whether its a pencil, lipstick or gloss is completely up to your preference. Layering products will make things last!
  13. Stick to matte textures, but if you love shimmer use it sparingly because it can cause a glare in your pictures. Good places for shimmer are the bridge of the nose, top of the cheekbone, the inner corner of the eye and the center of the mobile eyelid.

  14. Use a finishing powder to set everything, but silica powders like Make Up For Ever's HD powder should be used lightly because they can show up in an unflattering way with the use of flash.
  15. Blending is essential for all stages of application. Buffing brushes for foundation and fluffy, blending brushes for the eyes like the ever popular MAC 217 will prevent any harsh lines while guaranteeing your makeup looks more natural.

Correctly applied makeup can enhance your portrait but don't forget that your session is supposed to be fun! Try not to let yourself get so stressed out over your makeup or hair that you're stiff and uncomfortable during your session. Discomfort will show up on camera more readily than any level of makeup application. When in doubt, ask your photographer for a pro makeup artist or find one yourself before the shoot!


Head on over and check out Serena's work at Esoteric Makeup!

Image courtesy of [Marin] /

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Zombie Apocalypse

Not too long ago, I had an idea. I wanted to do something a little bit out of the box. I love to photograph families, but it was beginning to feel as if I'd taken, and seen, too many of the same "cookie cutter" photos. Something unique had to happen.

A concoction of uncommon proportions that would explode into fabulousness. 
I thought I'd share the recipe.

Start with a few cute kids.

Add one talented makeup artist, a la Serena of Esoteric makeup (check out her work, she ROCKS) to turn those cute kids into rotting, walking corpses...

 Bring in an awesome family with the guts to do something brave and unique for their family portraits. Mix in a couple tablespoons of ingenuity (and one WONDERFUL assistant who is willing to sacrifice her comfort to keep my equipment dry in the rain) and you get...

 Zombie Apocalypse Survival Family Portraits

I have to say, these two little sweethearts are a couple of the most adorable kids EVER.


I can't even tell you how much fun this was. Despite the rain (thanks again for keeping me safe and dry, wonderful Kortni!) despite the way the light flattened out due to the copious cloud cover, we managed to pull of a really fun series of shots.
I honestly hope this isn't the last chance I have to do something so fun and creative for some brave family. This is what I love to do. The chance to get down and dirty with an idea, to plan it out and see it come to life, gets my creativity working on overdrive.

Have a great idea for some family portraits? Want to get creative? Let me know! I'd love to work with you.

*for piece of mind, I just thought I would add that NO, we did not give real guns to those little sweeties. They are airsoft guns with no magazines. I removed the orange tips (that were on during the photoshoot) in post processing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What I wrote because I had NO idea what to write.

How does one decide what to write in a first blog post? It's like standing in front of a classroom on your first day in a new school and being asked to introduce yourself.

"Hi...I'm Nicole. I'm a photographer. Please like me."

I don't know if it's the same for everybody, but I find it hard to introduce myself in any detail without feeling like a narcissistic boob. Therefore, I gave up on the idea of sharing my life story.
With no life story to fall back on, I sat in front of my computer screen completely intimidated by the perversely large size of the white space I had to fill with words...preferable interesting and clever words.
I knew I needed words that would draw my readers in and make them stare at the screen in wonder, capturing their imaginations and making them slaves to my will, thereby creating an army of rabid fans who would help me further my evil machinations to take over the world!

Or, just something that would bring people back to check out my new work, learn a few things, and maybe even help me get a job or two. That would be nice.

In the end, I gave up on the whole "rabid-photography-fan army" thing, and decided to just admit that I had no idea what to write and leave it at that.
I just hope that if you're reading this, you'll come back every now and then to check out what I'm working on, and maybe leave an idea or comment to let me know you're out there.Of course, if you want to join my army, we're always welcoming new converts.

Yes, I just used the royal "we." A girl can hope, right?

Just to start out on the right foot, here's a photo I took. If you want to see the rest of this series, head over here.