Some time back I wrote an article on this website, on how to make better portrait photos in natural light. That article dealt with a single aspect and that was the actual image making part. However, in this tough and competitive commercial photography scenario there is absolutely very little scope of delivering SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) shots to clients and expect them to be happy with the results. Thus, I had it at the back of my mind to write a follow up article on post-processing portrait photos shot in natural light.
Now, I am not suggesting that you can’t shoot great images, which are actually great SOOC. It is that every image requires a bit of retouching, even if it is just a wee bit. Your clients are paying you a good deal of money for a piece of memory that might be a little farther away from what the reality is/was. Thus, a little bit of post-processing is inevitable in every portrait photography assignment.
Now, there are many different ways in which you can post process a portrait image. There is no one single way that is right or definitive. Simply because the light is not always the same. Also the angle at which you shoot, the color temperature, and a hundred other different things also come into the equation. It depends also on the the taste and preferences of the individual photographer. On my part, I prefer to capture the image as close to what I want the final image to be, in the camera itself. That saves me from having to sit in front of my computer and toil away for hours. It has another benefit. I can shoot more.
Anyways, let’s come back to the question of post processing a portrait photo in Lightroom. As a matter of fact this will involve a child portrait. Thanks to my daughter Sara who was patient enough for her daddy to take some photos. Ok, here are my favorite steps. Please note I haven’t used any presets and if you have the latest version of Lightroom CC you would have all the tools you need to replicate the steps.
Step 1 is to make the mandatory alterations. I enabled Lens Profile Correction to remove any distortions, removed Chromatic Aberrations to avoid any color fringing and enabled Constrain Crop so that I can resize the image in the same ratio in which the image was originally shot.
Step 2 involves dragging the highlights slider all the way to the left (-100). The sky in the background is almost washed out. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was lower in the horizon. I wanted to get a backlit shot so that I could get a rim lighting effect going. You can see it in the image – around the hat, the shoulders and the hair of the child. But in an attempt to get that rim lighting effect going I had to forego the sky. Also, I exposed for the face and not the sky which made matters somewhat worse. This is because even though there was a lot of light around, the face was turned away from the sun. Thus, I had to increase the exposure to be able to get the face properly illuminated. Dragging the highlights slider all the way to the left revealed some details from the monument in the background, as well as the hat.
Next I tinkered with the Orange Luminance Slider. The color temperature has a lot of orange cast in it. The face had that tone too. By increasing the luminance slider towards the right I was able to bring back some exposure to the face. Similarly, a slight bit of luminance adjustment to the red channel was also done. This is, again, not a definitive approach, just that it works for me.
Next, I cropped the image at the same aspect ratio in which the image was shot, to make the image composition a bit off-center. Off-center compositions are always more pleasing to the eye than bang in the middle compositions.
Step 5 involves a little bit of noise reduction. The luminance slider goes halfway to the right. I also used the Iris Adjustment option under Adjustment Brush tool. This adjustment is critical not just for a child portrait but any portrait to bring back some color to the eyes. This adjustment should be done in a subtle way as well, just to add a bit of color. You should never use this tool or for that matter any other tool in Lightroom in a drastic manner. The effects will look over the top and make your images appear unrealistic.
The final step of the this child portrait photography post-processing flow involves a new tool that I love using. It is a new addition to Lightroom CC. It’s called Dehaze. The Dehaze feature is actually designed to cut down on Haze that are a part of landscape images. However, the same feature also works to add Haze and in images where there is no Haze present it can add a bit of saturation to the image too. In this photo I have used the Dehaze slider to add a bit of contrast. I have dragged the slider to the right to achieve it. I put it at +20.
Here is the final image after post-processing:
Hope you liked the steps. Try this out and if you have any better way to handle backlit portraits in natural light, do share it with us. We will love to hear from you.