Posts By Brad Moore

Expanding to Motion/Video and Registering Your Copyright Online

I'm pleased to be returning to the blog and before I get started, I thought I'd share a few images from the last few weeks that have kept me busy in Washington, D.C.

On assignment covering the President, we left The White House in the motorcade where the President was to play golf. Here's the view from the press position out of the sunroof  of "Press 2" awaiting the President's departure from the White House, cameras at the ready:

Here's the network TV cameraman in "Press 1" riding in front of "Press 2" documenting the motorcade rolling:

When Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released and his parents appeared with the President in the Rose Garden, I made the standard image from the front:

Taking a step back and to the side is a way to take a different look at the situation, and also gives you a feeling for the scene.

However, it's important to be not only thinking a few steps ahead to anticipate what's going to happen, but also put yourself in a position to capture something different. While I knew there would likely be a hug, those can often be awkward, and they don't always happen. Instead, I knew they would recess back to the Oval Office, and I thought that would be a better image.

Apparently, Time Magazine liked my image as well:

Next up was a Congressional hearing into the IRS' targeting of conservative groups, where the Commissioner of the IRS was engaged in heated exchanges with the Members of Congress:

And then there was the comedian Gabriel Iglesias promoting his motion picture release - The Fluffy Movie - at the local legendary Ben's Chili Bowl.

Which brings me to the first half of the important message for this blog post - making motion pictures. So many still photographers today are either experimenting with, or being asked by clients, to produce a project that is motion, and not still photography. Now, we use the term "motion" (or are encouraging you to not use "video") because calling motion "video" is akin to calling your mobile phone a "cellular" phone. So, we use "motion" and encourage you to do so too.  It's not like it's a new characterization - the phrase "motion picture" has been around since Thomas Edison invented "motion picture machines" in the 1890's (or arguably Louis Lumiere in 1895). "Video" came into parlance many decades after that, and refers more to the format of recording onto magnetic tape, and, well, you know that we're not doing that anymore. So, let's return to "motion."

The challenge in producing motion projects is that while the concepts of framing, getting the exposure right, and lighting are similar, there is so much more to learn. Moving the camera, or the subjects moving within the static frame, are far more complicated than you think, and the issue of story-telling in a succinct way becomes paramount. Then, as if that's not enough to worry about, anyone who's ever produced a motion project will tell you, a entire production can be ruined by bad audio.

Vincent Laforet is winding down a lecture series - Directing Motion – that has travelled the country, that really shows you exactly how to deal with storytelling, framing, and motion within the frame. Here's a teaser that is for the lecture series (you should go to one of the few remaining dates if you can) but if you can't, the videos that break down how to understand motion and direct it, using some of the most well known films of all time.

Exposure and lighting are very similar to issues that still photographers face, and what I will say about the importance of good audio - it's like backing up your work. There are two types of people in this world, those that have had a hard drive crash, and those that will. You don't get religion on backing up until you've lost a bunch of your work, and you won't get religion on bad audio until your project has had to suffer through it (or fail altogether because of it).

It's very important to ascertain what the client expects from you for a motion project. We go through, in great detail, the vast majority of things that about 98% of still photographers that are transitioning into motion would ever need to worry about in my book, MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers. Among the many considerations are: Are you just producing the raw content, or do you have to deliver a finished edited package ready for the viewer? Are you developing the storyline or does the client already have one they want you to bring to life? How many locations will you be working in? Do you need actors to be hired?  Do we need music for the project? These are just a few of the many questions you'll want to ask. Just as a client will say to you "I want a portrait of my CEO along the lines of the one you did on your websiteâ¦" it can answer a number of questions if you ask the client if they have any videos they've seen that they want you to emulate.

As you begin to get calls for motion, you may well be able to do the project as a "one man band" operation. Just like the musician, if you're just playing the guitar but were able to start the drum machine first and then sing as well, you've got about three instruments going. You can light it and then frame the visuals, and if you're lucky and have a wireless microphone on your subject(s) capturing audio, but if it gets more complicated than that, you're in trouble - and more complicated means that people are moving in and out of the frame, for example. When was the last time a great musician was able to simultaneously – in real time – play all the instruments? Right, never. At some point, you need to know when to hire in members of a crew that can properly do the different aspects of a production that can then result in a great finished motion project.

The first crew member to bring in is usually an audio technician, and then adding in a stylist, lighting director, or hair and makeup rounds out your crew. After you're done, even though you may be great at using Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, having someone do your graphics and animation in Apple's Motion or Adobe's After Effects will give you much better results.  Once you get beyond one or two additional people, your title is now Director and/or Producer.

The going rate for a two person crew for 8 hours is between about $1,250 and $1,500. This includes a basic motion camera, and a basic two-light setup and two channels of audio. The finished deliverable is the raw footage, without editing.  Crew beyond that is - and we're ball-parking here - about $50/hr for, say, a camera operator, focus-puller, and so on. Will you need all these additional crew members? In the beginning, likely not, but eventually, you may well. Asking lots of questions helps you understand what the client is expecting.

Among the worst problems is if you shoot in the 4:3 aspect ration (which is the standard for most older television sets) when the client wants 16:9, which is more of a current standard. But, beyond that, there's what "flavor" of HD - 1080i or 1080p, 720p, and so on. Is your client US based, and thus, wants NTSC, or based in another country where PAL is the standard? What about where the piece will be played? If it's destined for televisions, there are different framing considerations for "TV safe" areas, but if it's destined for a web video, then what you capture is almost always what you'll see. But then again, not always!  Ask your client lots of smart questions, and as the project grows, don't be afraid to ask for help in the form of more crew that will deliver the project properly, and garner you a reputation for quality work that will earn you repeat business. Keep in mind - where you might be thinking you need to come in at a low price to get the project, in all likelihood this client has hired motion producers before, and if they are used to a $10k budget, and you come in at $4500, it's not that they will hire you because you're cheaper than half the price, but it will be evident that you are not estimating to cover all the things they are expecting, and clearly your low budget figure only evidences that you're not qualified to do the project properly.  One of the most important questions you can ask a prospective client is "what budget are you trying to work within?"

Back in the still photography arena, we've registered well over a hundred different copyright registrations and in my first book, Best Business Practices for Photographers, I detailed exactly how we did that using the printed Form VA along with a DVD of images. While that system still works and is acceptable, In my latest book, MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers, I go into detail as to exactly how to do it using the online registration system, the Electronic Copyright Office, or eCO.  My goal was to demonstrate that you could register many thousands of images in an hour or less, and if you're doing the registrations monthly, that works out to be an hour a month.

You've no doubt had a number of people tell you how important it is to register your work, but you've just been daunted by the process, so I won't go into the "why" here, just the how. The key thing is to not worry right now about the mountain of images you've produced in the distant past, but work on what you've produced recently and start a system moving forward to register methodically. Once you've done a few, it's easy to then go backwards and register past works.

As I prepared the chapter on using the eCO I was fortunate to be able to have one of  the members of the Copyright Office's legal team as well as the Assistant Chief of the Visual Arts Division of the Copyright Office look over the chapter, and the Assistant Chief also reviewed the video.

This is the entire video, and it should probably be behind a paywall somewhere, but it's not.  While the book goes into detail on various uses of the eCO, the video does not require the book at all. The link to the spreadsheet is here that is a part of this process. This is the system to use for works that have been published. That said, once you watch the video, you can see how it could just as well be used to register unpublished works too.

For over two decades, John Harrington, an award-winning photographer and best-selling author has covered the world of politics, traveled the globe, and run a successful business requiring the non creative but essential skills that make a business function.

John grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Washington, DC in the mid-80s for college. A 2007 recipient of the United Nations’ Leadership Award in the field of photography, his work has appeared in Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone. His commercial clients have included Coca-Cola, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Lockheed Martin, and the National Geographic Society.

John has produced three commissioned books for the Smithsonian and the second edition of his book, Best Business Practices for Photographers, remains a bestseller. In 2010, a retrospective of his first 20 years in the profession – Photographs from the Edge of Reality, was released and revisits highlights of his career. In June of 2014, his second book on the photography business, MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers was released.

John currently sits on the national boards of the National Press Photographers Association, American Society of Media Photographers, and White House News Photographers Association where he is also President Emeritus after having served two terms.

You may recall the launch of Jeremy Cowart’s iPhone app, OKDOTHIS last year. Well, he recently re-launched the app with a new website and tons of new features that make the app even better and easier to use! Now you can see a Trending feed, Recent feed, view photos by category, search for images and Dos, and much more. It’s been featured by PetaPixelTUAW, Gizmodo, Fast Company, and even got some love from Katie Couric! It’s free to download, so if you haven’t already, you can grab it right here!

Print, Pack, and Ship Your Images Like A Pro
In this age of primarily showing photos on electronic devices the printing of a photo has taken on greater significance and value. At some point every photographer will be asked to produce a print for someone. Join RC Concepcion as he expertly guides you through every step in the process of bringing a photo from capture to print to boxing it up for maximum impact. RC is assisted by Dan "Dano" Steinhardt, who brings his expertise to discuss the ins and outs of printer capabilities and the nuances of paper types, as he shares many pro-level tips along the way. Together RC and Dano will show you how to extend the craftsmanship of photography into this critical phase of the process that will allow you to create works of art that you will be proud to send out into the world.

Leave a comment for your chance to watch this class for free!

KelbyOne Live
Want to spend a day with Scott Kelby, Joe McNally, or Corey Barker? Check out these seminar tours!

Shoot Like A Pro with Scott Kelby
Aug 26 - St. Louis, MO
Aug 28 - Kansas City, MO

One Flash, Two Flash with Joe McNally
June 27 - Seattle, WA
July 24 - Milwaukee, WI
July 28 - Boston, MA

Photoshop Down & Dirty Master FX with Corey Barker
Aug 1 - Miami, FL
Aug 13 - Austin, TX

You can check out the full schedule for seminars through August, and we'll be updating it with more dates soon! Leave a comment for your chance to win a ticket to one of these events!

Last Week’s Winners
KelbyOne Class Rental
– Matthew

KelbyOne Live Ticket
– Karen

Mastering The Model Shoot by Frank Doorhof
– Kumar Kandiah

If you're one of the lucky winners, we'll be in touch soon. Have a great Thursday!

First off, thanks to Scott and Brad for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with such a great audience. It's much appreciated! I’d like to take a second to introduce myself- My name is Tom Medvedich and I’m a commercial photographer based in New York City.

Eminem for XXL, Los Angeles 2014

For the entire time you're on this planet, people will be telling you what you can't do. I was at a portfolio review a few months ago and I got great feedback from 95% of the reviewers. One of the people I met with was a photo editor from a fashion magazine. She looked through both my still life and portraiture books and seemed to be unimpressed. She put them down, looked me in the eyes and said, "You know⦠It's clear that you have absolutely no connection with people and you should definitely give up this ‘shooting rappers’ thing. It's really time to pick your pony." I smiled and thanked her for the feedback. It wasn’t the first time someone’s told me I can’t shoot still life and portraiture. Thankfully I didn't entertain her comments. Little did we both know that a few months later Eminem's team would choose me out of a group of photographers that I highly respect to shoot Eminem, Jimmy Iovine, and Dr. Dre for the cover of XXL Magazine in LA.

Eminem, Jimmy Iovine, and Dr. Dre for XXL, Los Angeles 2014

When I was a kid, one of the main things that drew me to photography was the freedom of being able to do whatever I wanted (within reason). The thought of being stuck in a routine job wasn’t my idea of how I wanted to live life. Back when I was assisting, I was always bouncing around between different photographers that shot various disciplines. Still life, fashion, celebrity… you name it. I really enjoyed it. I had great relationships with most of these photographers and occasionally during the course of a 10 hour job, the topic of what I wanted to shoot would come up. I would reply with "Still life. And portraiture." Nine times out of ten, I'd get the same type of responses. "There's no way you'll be able to do both," "Clients won't take you seriously if you don't specialize in one category," "You’ll need two different web sites," and on and on. They were trying to tell me to master one discipline and not spread myself thin. They meant well and I understood where they were coming from, but I just couldn’t subscribe to that mentality.

Dewar’s for Leo Burnett, NYC 2011 & Steve Stoute for Complex, NYC 2011

How could people possibly think they could tell me what I was supposed to shoot? What if you were passionate about food and architecture. Who’s to say you couldn’t shoot both? That being said, I would recommend that if you are strong in one area and weak in the other, I’d leave the weak stuff out of your book until you get better at it. But that goes for any body of work in any discipline of photography. Your book should have a strong, clear voice. If you only shoot beverages, make sure all of your images can stand on their own. Conversely, if you shoot beverages, cosmetics, soft goods and urban landscapes, you’ve got to take even more care to make sure each category is buttoned up and polished because people will be weary if you have too many different galleries on your site. So you’d better have knockout work.

Still Life for SLAM, NYC 2011 & Shaq for Reebok, Las Vegas 2013

This stance in photography is one that I enjoy. It’s humbling because it’s an underdog mentality where you constantly feel like you need to prove yourself. People are usually expecting you to suck at one of the two things you do. One thing to note is that if you’re just starting out, your work might suck. I know mine did. But I kept working at it and trying to improve with every shoot. I knew the naysayers had a point when they were trying to tell me to tighten up my work. Now I enjoy seeing the reactions of people when they see both my still life and people books. They often say, “Whoa, I didn’t know you shot still life AND portraiture,” or “Wow, your portraits look just as clean as your still life images.” That kind of recognition is nice after all the years of committing to these various disciplines.

Still Life for Gilt Groupe x Infiniti, Los Angeles 2013

One of my newest clients is The Chia Co., and I just got back from shooting their CEO, John Foss, at one of their farms in Nicaragua. I was excited when they asked me to shoot this portrait because at the time, we were on location shooting a still life ad for them where we had one of their Bircher Muesli Chia Pods in a NYC park setting. They’ve had me shoot three full fledged still life jobs and next thing I know, they’re asking me to shoot portraiture. I genuinely appreciate a client that trusts my abilities and doesn’t get caught up in “he isn’t that type of photographer”.

The Chia Co. CEO John Foss, Nicaragua 2014

I’m so fortunate that photography has taken me to so many amazing places around the world and I’ve met some incredible people along the way (including my wife). I’ve been very lucky to have worked with people that trusted me to get the job done well. It wouldn’t have panned out that way if I had listened to a handful of people who thought I couldn’t do it. At the end of the day, strong work will stand out and people will recognize it. There’s nothing stopping you from landing jobs in various categories of shooting. I’m living proof, and I’m certainly not the only one to do it. If people don’t want to hire you because you shoot more than one category, chances are you wouldn’t want to collaborate or work with them anyway, so it all works out in the end. Believe in your goals, stay true to your voice, and most importantly, keep shooting new and better work!

Still Life for New Jersey Monthly, New Jersey 2013 & Blake Griffin for SLAM, Los Angeles 2012

You can see more of Tom’s work at, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

The Business Side of Tamara Lackey
Mia McCormick catches up with Tamara Lackey on location for an inspiring conversation about Tamara's journey to becoming a successful portrait photographer. Their conversation begins with a look back at how Tamara got started in photography and we quickly gain some insight into how she turned that passion into a sustainable business. Over the course of an hour Tamara shares her thoughts and experiences on everything from the choices she made early on to develop foundational principles that continue to guide her business decisions into the future, to the importance of developing a work-life balance that keeps you excited about getting up and facing the world each day.

Leave a comment for your chance to watch this class for free!

KelbyOne Creative Cloud Learning Center
Adobe announced 14 new versions of Creative Cloud desktop applications, including Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Illustrator CC, Adobe Dreamweaver CC, and Adobe Premiere Pro CC. This release also includes new mobile apps to improve connectivity, as well as a new Creative Cloud Photography plan. To dive in and begin learning all the new features immediately, KelbyOne created the Creative Cloud Learning Center. Anyone can access these comprehensive tutorials at

KelbyOne Live
Want to spend a day with Scott Kelby, Joe McNally, or Corey Barker? Check out these seminar tours!

Shoot Like A Pro with Scott Kelby
Aug 26 - St. Louis, MO
Aug 28 - Kansas City, MO

One Flash, Two Flash with Joe McNally
June 19 - San Jose, CA (Today!)
June 27 - Seattle, WA
July 24 - Milwaukee, WI
July 28 - Boston, MA

Photoshop Down & Dirty Master FX with Corey Barker
June 25 - New Orleans, LA
Aug 1 - Miami, FL
Aug 13 - Austin, TX

You can check out the full schedule for seminars through August, and we'll be updating it with more dates soon! Leave a comment for your chance to win a ticket to one of these events!

In-Depth Workshops with Frank Doorhof
As mentioned a few weeks ago, Frank Doorhof will be hosting a workshop in New York City August 29-31 at a great location that will combine studio work, shooting with natural light, working with models, and post processing. But now the price of the workshop is just $1250 for three days of great instruction and experience!

The group is limited so there is a lot of time for personal attention. This will be a learning frenzy with loads of tips and tricks on lighting, coaching the models, getting the right expression, natural light, strobes, mixing light sources, telling a story, building a brand, retouching and much much more.

If you want more info or to register, click here to book your ticket for the workshop you don't want to miss!

Frank will also be hosting two-day workshop in the Netherlands August 1-2 where he'll cover topics that you struggle with most, portfolio reviews, shooting on location with natural light and strobes, and retouching techniques. For more info on that workshop, click right here!

Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Frank's book, Mastering The Model Shoot!

Last Week’s Winners
KelbyOne Class Rental
– dan

KelbyOne Live Ticket
– Cody Ash

If you're one of the lucky winners, we'll be in touch soon. Have a great Thursday!

When it comes to portrait retouching, there's no shortage of tools, techniques, tutorials and most notably, results. Retouching is both a blessing and a curse as I've seen it turn good photos into a great ones but also decent ones into a complete disasters. During my time teaching retouching I've noticed a common set of mistakes that people make that ultimately keep them from reaching a polished yet natural result. My goal in this article is to give everyone from beginner to intermediate retouchers and photographers a roadmap for creating beautiful images and change your mindset towards various concepts you may already be familiar with.

Your Starting Point is Critical
I'm sure you've heard this many times before but I would like to reiterate the importance of working from a high quality source file. Retouching isn't a contest to see how well you can turn a bad photo into an acceptable one. It's about enhancing the beauty of the original image and minimizing the elements that may be deemed undesirable by the specific target audience or client. My photo below demonstrates just how little change needs to be made, and how even a few subtle enhancements can lead to a much more pleasing result. Given that I shoot the majority of the photos that I retouch, the starting point is entirely within my control. If however you're a retoucher only, you may not always be provided with a great source file. Poor quality raw files are to be expected, but it's important for you to manage expectations for both yourself and your client. There are a myriad of things to look for in a good source file but let's touch on some of the most important ones.

Skin Texture – One of the key ingredients to a great looking portrait is clearly visible and pleasing skin texture. I'm often asked "how do you create the skin texture in your images?", and the simple answer is – I don't. The skin texture that's in my final image is the skin texture that I started with. While I may repair some of the texture that's there, I never create it from scratch. Although skin texture brushes exist, the result is never natural since texture varies across the subject based on a number of factors. The area under the eyes has different texture from what is on the forehead, cheeks and nose (see close-up below). Similarly, texture on one side of the face can differ from the other side due to lighting factors. A soft light source makes texture look more subdued compared to those areas lit with a hard light source. Areas of shadow, midtone and highlight also render texture differently, as does the direction of light and depth of field. With such a wide array of factors, it's nearly impossible to reproduce convincing texture from scratch.

To achieve good texture in camera you'll need three key elements: model, makeup and light. The state of your model’s skin is of course the basis for everything. If the pores are overly large or harsh, or there is a lot of scarring or acne, no amount of makeup or flattering light will produce great out-of-camera texture. Assuming the model has reasonably good skin to begin with, the foundation and other products used by your makeup artist is the second most important factor. Be sure to use an experienced makeup artist and good quality products. As mentioned previously, texture renders differently depending on the light source used. If you're shooting natural light on a cloudy day, the multi-directional and diffused light will leave you with rather muted texture. If on the other hand you shoot with a hard light source such as a beauty dish or gridded reflector at an indirect angle, the texture will be much more aggressive. Remember that texture is simply contrast created by the interaction of light and shadow at a near pixel level.

Dynamic Range – Today's professional cameras can capture a staggering amount of information and detail but even they have their limits. If an image is over or under lit to the point where areas of skin are completely blown out or in absolute darkness, little can be done. Be sure to use reflectors to fill in shadows and use the clipping warning (blinkies) on your camera to spot blown out highlights. We'll talk a bit more about getting the most out of your raw files once we get into our discussion of workflow.

Quality of Light – Altering the interplay of light and shadow across the subject’s face is one of the most difficult tasks for any retoucher and borders more towards digital painting than retouching. Given this challenge, it's much easier to light your photo properly from the start so that the light and shadows need only be enhanced rather than replaced. The difficulty of your retouch increases with the hardness of your light source due to the rather unforgiving nature of hard light. Most retouchers prefer to start with a less contrasty image and add contrast gradually as opposed to the other way around. This isn't to say that you should avoid hard light sources, but simply that you need to factor this into your decision and balance it with your skill as a retoucher.

The Little Details – While things like stray hairs, crossing hairs, or unpressed clothing aren't deal breakers and can be fixed in post processing, they become a huge waste of time so nip them in the bud before they show up in your camera.

Recognize that Retouching is More Art than Science
The majority of people starting out in retouching look for those magic tools or techniques that will help them to create beautiful images in a snap. The belief is that professional retouchers know some closely guarded magic tricks that give them that flawless finish. The reality of the situation is that the more advanced you become in retouching, the more you rely on the basic tools and adjustment layers and less on shortcuts. Don't get me wrong, these techniques and tools aren't a bad thing, nor are they useless. The problem is rarely with the technique itself, but rather the application. This gap exists for two reasons.

The first is that beginners often search for solutions to specific problems as they work through various images and apply the techniques naively without understanding the mechanics behind them. By ignoring the details you're doing yourself a disservice as these solutions can often be extended across multiple use cases. The second and most common problem is simply a lack of vision. Without a clear vision of what makes a good photo or retouch, it's impossible to apply tools appropriately. Although the majority of retouching is localized changes, these localized changes need to ultimately produce a complete image, and it is your vision as an artist that brings it all together.

The lesson to draw from this is two fold. First off, spend some time understanding each tool and technique as opposed to applying them on a problem by problem basis. The second is to move from a local to a global mind-frame. Study the interaction of light with objects, read make-up tutorials about contouring and face shapes, and study colors. Most importantly, find images that you love and figure out what makes them great. Learn to identify the gaps between your work and theirs and gradually reduce them with each new photo. This may seem like a lot of work – and it is – but I assure you that once you're able to visualize the end result, the path to getting there is that much easier.

Find the Right Balance
Regardless of how many plug-ins or action packs you have, trying to reproduce a magazine quality retouch in 10 minutes is simply impossible. That's not to say that every photo demands three hours of retouching to make it acceptable. It's about setting realistic expectations for yourself and developing a workflow that balances time and quality to produce the best image you can for your specific style and target audience. Skin smoothing plug-ins like Imagenomic Portraiture or Portrait Professional are a good example of this. They will never produce the same level of quality as a skilled retoucher but they also cut the time required down dramatically. It's not a sin to incorporate these into your workflow but be aware of the trade-off you're making and come to a happy medium. The below image demonstrates a more beauty oriented retouch and the time various steps took. Notice how interestingly, the color grading step makes the most dramatic impact with relatively little time.

I always tell my students that retouching is a game of diminishing returns. The greatest impact can be made in a relatively short period of time under each technique. For example, with Dodging and Burning – which is the process of lightening and darkening local areas – it's conceivable to spend an hour or more to achieve a flawless result. You can however get to 80% of the result that most viewers will be able to see in the first 10 minutes. Perfection isn't always necessary so focus on targeting the most important areas and budget your time. Also keep in mind the intended use of your image. If you have a 36 megapixel file that you only plan on displaying at web resolution, leave the small issues and focus on the most noticeable ones. The best way to do this is to set a zoom threshold for yourself. Keeping your zoom fairly wide will give you a better idea of what your viewer will see and prevent you from spending unnecessary time on minute details.

In addition to balancing time and quality, you'll also have to balance polish and reality. Contrary to popular belief that retouching is about creating unrealistic standards of beauty and turning humans into porcelain dolls, a proper retouch is as much about what you leave in as what you take out. The subtle contours around the mouth, the nasolabial folds, shadowing under the eye, lines under the eyes, all these elements should remain in a portrait retouch and merely be toned down to a flattering level. Too often these small areas are identified as flaws when in reality they are important parts of the human anatomy. Learn to distinguish the bad from the necessary and exercise restraint.

Learn to Break Apart Your Image
Each image is composed of several elements. At the basic level we have light and color. Light is simply the level of brightness, while color is the combination of hue and saturation. A black and white image is composed of lightness (or luminosity) only. While this may seem like an obvious point, too many people ignore the implications of this concept. When retouching a photo, we're ultimately making changes to one or more of these elements and a good result requires a harmonious balance between them. Below you'll see an image broken down into the respective elements. Note that the hue and saturation blocks are overlayed on top of a red background to make them visible.

The reason this matters is because knowing how to identify and manipulate these three elements allows you to fix the majority of issues using only a curves and or hue/saturation adjustment. While these two tools may not always be the most efficient solution, it demonstrates just how basic the process can be. A practical example of this workflow is using dodging and burning for evening out light and dark transitions across the face and then using selective hue/saturation or curves adjustments to correct any remaining color issues. For more information on HSL corrections, visit this article from my friend Lulie Talmor.

One of the best tools to flush out color based issues is none other than the simple color picker. By opening the color picker and sampling colors across a variety of areas, we're quickly able to visualize any shifts in luminosity, hue or saturation and develop a game plan for fixing them. For example, the below image demonstrates that we have a color shift going from the top to bottom in the dress.

Sampling two areas using the color picker, we can see that the top has much more green than yellow as indicated on the hue bar on the right. Similarly, the square block shows us that the top portion of the dress is less saturated and also lighter. Having this insight, we know now that all we need to do is mask in a hue/saturation adjustment on the bottom portion of the dress and offset the shift by pushing the hue slider towards green and turning up saturation and brightness. While I generally recommend using curves or levels to fix luminosity based issues, I've corrected all three using one HSL adjustment as shown below for ease of demonstration.

Once again, this concept can be extended well beyond clothing and will apply equally to correcting patches in the skin, or mismatched skin tones across the subject. You're also not constrained to the HSL adjustment. Having a strong understanding of colors, you could make the same correction using curves or levels, albeit not as intuitively.

An alternative view is to look at your image from the standpoint of high and low frequencies, or simply tone and texture. The below image demonstrates this idea with all the detail separated onto one layer and the color information on another. Notice that areas that are naturally blurred by the shallow DOF have no information in the texture layer.

While manipulating these two individually typically falls into the realm of advanced concepts and tools like frequency separation (more on this below) and high pass filters, it's still important to understand the implications behind it. If we have an area of discoloration and attempt to fix it with something like the clone-stamp tool, we'll be replacing both the tone and texture in whatever area we paint. From what we learned above, a curves or hue saturation adjustment over that area would correct the discoloration while leaving the texture intact. By understanding whether we're dealing with a tone or texture based issue you'll better be able to select the appropriate tool to tackle it. From a practical standpoint, this is how many skin smoothing tools work. They separate the skin tone areas into high and low frequencies, operate on them separately and then assemble them back together.

These two views may seem both logical and overly theoretical, but they form the basis for all of retouching. If you learn how to visualize and manipulate them, you can tackle just about any issue thrown at you without relying on Google to guide the way.

Your Roadmap to Retouching Greatness

Let's face it, you're not going to produce an amazing looking image in your first attempt. Getting it wrong many times is all part of the process. What we want to avoid is getting it so wrong that we get completely discouraged and not try at all. A lot of people fail by getting in over their head with all the tools and techniques that exist. They jump into advanced concepts and end up with an image that looks nothing like the original. For this reason it's important to start with the basics and leave the advanced tools for later study. Here is a guide to the various techniques and steps you'll want to master in order to become a proficient retoucher.

Build a base – Remember that each step in the retouching processing builds on the last, so each one has to be done carefully and masterfully. Nothing is more important than getting the most out of your raw files since this forms the basis for all the corrections still to come. Although more commonly seen in landscape or architecture images, you can also process multiple raw files to extend the dynamic range of your portraits. You can open up shadows and recover highlights by blending multiple raw conversions together using either simple painting masks or more advanced tools like Luminosity Masks. Your highlights should still be highlights and shadows should still be shadows, but you should have visible detail to work with in the areas that are important. Be sure to balance shadow noise issues during this process and avoid muddying up highlights. Your raw file is also where you'll want to correct any white balance issues so get it to a pleasing point before diving into Photoshop.

Create balance – Use the HSL tools we talked about above to fix any larger discoloration issues. It's not uncommon for a model’s face to have a different tone from her chest, arm or hands, so learn to identify these inconsistencies and correct them. Nothing gives away an inexperienced retouch more than having mismatched skin tones in your image. In addition to the curves and hue/sat adjustments we discussed above, you can also use the Subtracted Average Color Adjustment technique I developed to help take the guesswork out of it.

Heal – The healing brush is one of the best tools for fixing minor blemishes. Use it carefully to remove any smaller scars, acne or stray hairs. Avoid using tools like clone-stamp on skin – unless the healing brush fails – as it can gradually destroy texture. When using the healing brush, sample areas close to your problem area so that the source texture is similar to the destination area. After completing these three steps, you should have a clean image that looks nearly identical to the original but with more polish. When toggling your layers on and off, you shouldn't notice any changes in face shape.

Fall in love adjustment layers and blend modes – Before going any further, you should become comfortable with critical adjustment layers such as Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, Selective Color and Black and White. Experiment with each of these using common blend modes such as Luminosity, Color, Overlay, Soft Light, Lighten, Darken, Screen and Multiply. Here is a video I recorded about blend modes to give you a better understanding of these. These five adjustments and eight blend-modes comprise the most common ones you'll use and put a ton of power into your hands. Once you've become comfortable with them, try to apply blend-if adjustments to your layers. The combination of adjustment layer, blend mode and blend-if will allow you make targeted adjustments to specific colors and luminosities and make color grading and correction a breeze.

Make small corrections with dodging and burning – The majority of blotchiness found in the skin is a result of luminance shifts so Dodging and Burning can be a great way to eliminate them. Knowing what we know about diminishing returns in retouching, focus on just the most glaring problems and lighten or darken them gradually until they blend with their surroundings. This may still leave minor color based issues but that's a problem you'll tackle as you develop your skills.

Build contrast with dodging and burning – Dodging and burning is without a doubt the most important skill that any retoucher can master. It's not something you'll become good at overnight, so take baby steps. What makes a portrait really pop is building depth and dimension through contouring. Contouring is essentially selectively brightening highlights and deepening shadows to create a more three dimensional feel as well as enhancing facial features. To ensure that you don't make the subject look like someone else, start by simply building on the light and shadow that exists in the image already. Don't overdo this process. Build up the effect gradually through soft and low opacity brush settings. Study make-up artist contouring theory to understand what areas of the face should be dodged or burned for specific face shapes. Toggle your adjustments on and off constantly to ensure that the subject’s features are in-tact and that you've enhanced rather than altered. Also note that for B&W portraiture, D&B contouring can be pushed much further than in color images without looking overdone and helps to enhance the sense of drama.

Add refinement – After applying dodging and burning you'll likely be left with some existing discolorations. These are often too minor to be noticed by the majority of viewers but should be fixed nonetheless. Using visualization tools called check layers (as shown in the HSL breakdown above) you'll be able to spot areas of changing hue or inconsistent saturation and correct them using the appropriate adjustment layer and masking. As you become more skilled, dive into complex topics like frequency separation which can help to expedite this process. Frequency separation will allow you to operate on the tones and texture as we discussed above, but also makes it easy to completely destroy an image due to the lack of safeguards. Use this technique sparingly and responsibly. It can be very powerful, and hence tempting to beginner retouchers, but should be avoided until your vision is properly developed. Remember that advanced techniques are advanced for a reason.

As you work through the above list, be sure to constantly flood your eyes with images. Find inspiring photographers and retouchers and learn to identify what makes their work great. Have patience, practice constantly, and seek advice and feedback to measure your progress objectively. Everyone has a different style and goal in mind so find a workflow that balances time and result for your situation. Above all else, when starting out, always apply a degree of conservatism to your work and err on the side of under-retouched to over-retouched.

You can see more of Michael’s work at, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Scott Kelby and RC Concepcion tonight at 7pm ET for a live webcast where they’ll be discussing Scott’s recent trip to Europe. RC will be chatting with Scott about his experiences in various cities along the Danube River, and Scott will also be sharing some of the shooting and post-processing tricks he used along the way. You can register for the webcast right here so you can chime in on the live chat to ask questions and share your own experiences, and we’ll also be giving away some great prizes!

And if you’re a gear head (you know who you are), here’s a list of the gear Scott took with him:
Canon 5D Mark III
Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
BlackRapid RS-7 RapidStrap
Tiffen 82mm 10-Stop ND Filter
Vello Shutterboss Remote
Hoodman Compact Loupe
– Lexar Secure Digital & Compact Flash Cards
Gitzo GT1542T Traveler Tripod
Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head
Really Right Stuff L-Plate for 5D Mark III
Gaffer Tape
LensPen MicroKlear Microfiber Cloth

And it was all packed in a ThinkTank Airport AirStream camera bag. See you tonight!