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Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom — The Blacksmith

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David duChemin walks you through the adjustments he made in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to a photo of a blacksmith in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk.
From the book

I saw this blacksmith in a small shop off a winding lane in the backstreets of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. I sat with him for a while, shooting him while he worked, rested, and had chai. I’m drawn to people like this, people who work with their hands. What was striking about this man was his total lack of facade. He didn’t pose, didn’t grin for the camera. It was like he saw through me, so his face and eyes will be important to me as I develop this image, as will his context. Aesthetically, I was drawn to the way he and his shop seemed so connected (if not by virtue of being covered in the same grit) and there for the same purpose. To his left, on the right side of the frame, was his fire, and it cast a warm glow. Most of the light came from outside, immediately behind me, and from a small LED light I’d placed near the fire, gelled with a full cut of CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel, to add to the light from the coals.

In terms of what all this means for my intentions with the image, I know this: that it is a dark image, and that I want the viewer drawn to the grit and texture as well as to the warm, earthy tones of the blacksmith. I also know I want his face and his eyes to carry the bulk of the visual mass in this image.

As for weaknesses that I’ll correct, I think only two areas will give me problems—the foremost elbow, which will get a little hot when I begin to bring those values up, and the piece of wood in the lower left, which might do the same. Those two adjustments will need to wait until I’m closer to the end, as the problems will only arise with my other adjustments. So I’ll wait until the problems show up, then fix them with the Adjustment Brush; I know I’ll be doing some dodging and burning to selectively draw the eye to certain areas of the image, but I’ll do that after I’ve first made the big adjustments and returned the mood to the image.

Beginning with restoring my blacks and whites, I’m going to push the Exposure slider to +.3 and the Brightness slider to +30, then push my Blacks to 3. Remember this is a dark shop and there are certainly going to be shadows without detail, and likely no whites. Making your blacks black and whites white only applies if there are, in fact, blacks and whites to be had. I use the Brightness slider because I’m trying to push the midtones up a little more than the highlights, but also because playing with the Brightness slider just gives me a result that feels better. I also push the Temp slider to 5780 to warm up the image considerably.

The next step is returning the contrast, and I’ll do that manually in the Tone Curve panel by pulling up the midtones and pulling down the shadows. This steepens the curve between those two points and therefore increases the contrast. Be sure to grab the histogram in the Lights (not the Highlights) and the Darks (not the Shadows). When you move your cursor over the line in the Tone Curve panel, you’ll see the region you’re adjusting, clearly indicated by both a gray bubble and the name of that region. In this case, you can see the contrast has been increased between those two regions. The image of the Tone Curve here shows the cursor in the process of adjusting the Lights.

I’m going to proceed a little out of order here, and go straight down to the Lens Corrections panel to pull in a vignette. Often I leave vignetting to the end, but as it affects what I do next in terms of pulling my blacksmith visually from his background, I need to darken the background first. So I’ll pull my Lens Vignetting slider to –100 (Amount) and 15 (Midpoint) to pull the darkness of the shop back in around the blacksmith. Watch the histogram as you do this; any detail that you lose now can be pulled back later if you need to, but it’s helpful to remember that all these changes are reflected in the histogram.

Most of the remaining work I’ll do with the Adjustment Brush in order to pull the eye to the areas I consider most important. I’m going to kill two birds with one stone by painting in both exposure and brightness, as well as clarity to pop the contrast in the midtones and draw out the textures and grit. So with a medium-sized brush (Size 5.0, Feather 100, Flow 50, Density 50) and my Auto Mask turned off, I’ll dodge the face and hair, the feet, and some of the hands and forearms with a little Exposure (0.50), Brightness (50), and Clarity (100). The screenshot shows the dodging done with the masks visible to show where I’ve painted.

But we’re not done yet. That’s what I call my first-pass dodging. Second pass will be eyes. Zooming in to a 1:1 view, I’ll use the same settings and dodge the eyes on their own because I want them a little lighter relative to the face. The screenshot shows the masks.

Next I’m going to burn the elbows and the bridge of his nose, just to remove the shine. I’ve kept the brush at the same settings but inverted the values. The Exposure becomes –0.50, the Brightness becomes –50, and I’ve set the Clarity back to 0. I’m again showing the masks so you see that I’m not using a very light touch on these.

The only thing left to do is apply a little Noise Reduction—in this case, I bumped both the Luminance and Color to 50—and then sharpen it and print it.

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