Constructing a Portrait

Yesterday I took some outdoor images of my daughter. Since she had just gotten her braces two weeks ago, she was anxious and eager to show off the “hardware”. I was very pleased with the outcome and am sharing it here as well as the technique I used to get this image looking like it does.

First let’s take a look at the finished image.


First of all the particulars. If you’re one of those nerds who gets your jollies from looking at technical specs from a camera, then you’ll like this part. If you’re relatively normal,  just skip over it. (No one will ever know if you read it or not.)

Nikon D300, 180-200 mm VR Nikon lens at 62mm, ISO 200, 1/250 at f/4.8. Shot in nef (raw format) Custom white balance set using a Photovision 24″ digital calibration target, pop up flash fired to fill in shadows.

See that wasn’t so bad was it?

We went out into the country where they are building a new fancy hoity toity sub-division. It’s the kind of place I probably wouldn’t be allowed into if it had been completely built and staffed up. I’m sure what I was wearing would violate some of the CC & Rs.

We picked this bridge in an area where it had already been neatly manicured. After looking around and trying several different spots, we used this one for several. I was attracted to it because it had the bridge slats as a repeating pattern and a tree in the upper right portion of the frame to provide compositional balance. Of course since the focal point of the image would be my daughter I wanted to shoot at a wide aperature to throw everything else out of focus somewhat.

I chose to shoot in nef format (Nikon’s raw format) because it allows for a little more exposure and white balance leeway. Of course I had taken a custom white balance already and my Nikon D300 is so excellent I wasn’t too worried about an improperly exposed image. And all those tons of autofocus points just seem to function flawlessly. Good thing, because my eyesight just ain’t what it used to be. I doubt I could be as accurate if I tried to manual focus.

I downloaded all my images using the Nikon Transfer software and sorted through them with the Nikon View NX software. It will also convert the files to tif or jpeg format and does an excellent job, so I use it for my conversion software as well.

Now I’m a little behind the times. I am still using Photoshop 7. It does everything I need to do and I understand it fairly well. I’m sure CS4 is better with Abode Raw and Bridge, but the money isn’t in the budget for that package unless Obama wants to include my getting all the latest image editing sofware as part of his stimulus package.

The first thing I do is to crop my image to a 4 x 5 ratio, in this case 8 x 10. Next I convert the file to sRGB color profile. Then I adjust my levels. I usually move the black point slider to about 20, the white point slider to 240 (lower if the histogram shows no information in that range) and move the gray point to around 1.28. Of course this is season to taste and my way won’t necessarily work for all situations.

I created a new background layer and then using the channel mixer created a monochrome image. I moved the red, blue, and green sliders around until I had an image that I thought looked good and would stand alone as a standard B/W image.

I really wanted a sepia style image so I went to variations and did a more yellow, more red click to produce my sepia. From there I lowered the opacity until some of the color came through.

I flattened the image and then created another background layer. This time I used the photoshop plug in Topaz Adjust and used the exposure compensation preset. It results in an image that shows more “pop” but you have to be careful because you can go into the realm of the unrealistic pretty quick. I lowered the opacity until I got to the point that I could begin to see some change and then flattened the image again.

Finally I put a border around it that comes from an action I picked up online.

Speaking of the Topaz software you can download a 30 day free trial with complete functionality. Even the asking price isn’t too much. It’s only $49.99. Lucis got a lot of use a few years back and is still used by a lot of people, but a new license for it just ain’t affordable. The Topaz software does much of the same things for a lot less.

I’d love to have a canvas of this one hanging in my office. It is so my daughter. We’ll see if money is in the budget for it.


2 Responses to “Constructing a Portrait”

  1. Thanks for the photo posting. I had fun reading. Would like to see the color version too out of curiosity. I read through the mission trip posting too, and enjoyed that even more. I’ll be back.

  2. I was surprised to read that you crop first. I do all my processing and get the image “finished” and then I crop to the size I want – usually several, lol, depending on what I plan on printing – and I save them all with the size tagged on the end of the image name. Helps a LOT when uploading for ordering – no cropping in the online order process.

    Love your step by step explanation. But I love Cuteness even more! She’s adorable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: