The Process of the Photo – Optimism

I know it’s been quite a while since my last post and I apologize for that – school has kept me rather busy lately! Anyway, here’s my second “Process of the Photo” post.

For this post, I chose a photo I titled “Optimism”. Though I don’t consider portraits to be my strong subject, I really like this photo. I’ve never been a fan of staged portraits, but candid ones of people in an environment have always attracted me – unfortunately, I’m rather shy and street photography takes some serious cojones! Perhaps it’s the anthropologist in me that likes these photos. Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think pictures are the best way to tell a story and learn about a different culture. This older gentleman was in a township just outside Mossel Bay, South Africa. During apartheid, the white government forced black and coloured people out of their homes and into designated areas called townships. Since apartheid ended only around 20 years ago, some who grew up there still call it home, though they may be wealthy enough to move. It was a humbling experience walking around the township; we tend to take for granted all the comforts of home, but to see people not just living, but enjoying, life in the township was incredible. I call this photo “Optimism” because the man’s inviting smile belies the conditions he lives in and reminds us to look on the bright side.

Well that was quite a long intro, but I really do love the story behind this photo! The reason I chose this photo was twofold: a great story and one of my more time-consuming edits. As you can see below in the original, there is a shadow cast across the man’s right shoulder (from his wife standing in the doorway). I thought this was extremely distracting and resolved to get it out the best I could. Frankly, I don’t think I did half bad! Sure, it doesn’t match perfectly now that you know it’s there, but it was a very difficult thing to do for a novice Photoshop user like myself. Basically, I created a mask in the exact shape of the shadow then tweaked brightness and color until I found a suitable combination.

After that, I made some global adjustments. I brightened the picture significantly (+1.24 on exposure in Lightroom) to go along with my desired mood. In addition, I increased contrast (+12), pulled down highlights (-14) and bumped up shadows slightly (+10). Next I went to work on the colors and luminances. One of my favorite features in Lightroom is to be able to work on specific colors like this. I decreased yellow and orange saturation for the man’s face and increased blue and green saturation to make those colors stand out in his jacket. I increased red and blue luminance and decreased yellow luminance mostly for the background wall.

The next step involved using the brush tool in Lightroom. I painted over the entire background and made the following adjustments: slightly increased temperature warmth, decreased exposure, clarity, and sharpness significantly, and increased contrast and saturation. I made a mask for the man’s face where I slightly decreased temperature and contrast. Lastly, I made a mask specifically for the man’s eyes where I increased exposure, contrast, and clarity significantly, decreased color temperature, pulled down highlights slightly and upped shadows a little.
The final step in the image was to add a minor vignette effect.

Well that does it for this image. As you can see, I spent a good amount of time editing this picture, but I think in the end, I got it to look how I wanted! Let me know what you think!

Before

Before

After

After

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