Posts By Scott Kelby


Before: The original unretouched image of Issac. (Click on it for a larger view)


After: Issac after applying the effect in Camera Raw and Photoshop (no plug-ins). (Click on it for a larger view)

Direct Gritty Technique
Back on Tuesday a posted a review of the Lucis Art plug-in for Photoshop, which gives you a one-click solution for getting that cool gritty look that’s been made so popular by photographers like Dave Hill (see the Tuesday post for more on this).

Anyway, last year, on Photoshop User TV, my co-host Matt Kloskowski showed how to get that kind of gritty effect from right within Lightroom (he showed the effect applied to an old car), and then I started showing it in both my Lightroom Tour and my Photoshop CS3 Power Tour (where I applied it to a shot of one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

The key to making this technique is the lighting of your subject. If you don’t have a shot with that high contrast, hard-edged light creating serious highlights and shadows, it just doesn’t work (so, in short; if you’ve got the right kind of image—it works wonders. If you don’t—you’re hosed). On Tuesday, I showed a shot I took of Photoshop User magazine editor Issac Stolzenbach, posing with his motorcycle, and I applied the Lucis Art plug-in to it to get “The Look.”

The shots you see of Issac above (click on them for a larger view) are processed entirely in Camera Raw and Photoshop, without the use of any plug-ins. But there was something that occurred to me while looking (once again) at Dave Hill’s photos that finally clicked with me, and helped me take it to the next level (that, in a moment). First, the settings you need to get this look (in Camera Raw) and then in Lightroom (just so you know—they’re the same).


You can click on the graphic above for a larger view, but either way; here is the basic formula:

  • Recovery = 100
  • Fill Light = 100
  • Blacks = Drag this slider to the right until photo looks balanced again, because setting the Fill Light at 100 will wash the photo out big time. In our example, I dragged it to 24
  • Contrast = 100
  • Clarity = 100
  • Vibrance = 100
  • Saturation = -81 (basically what I do here is drag the saturation all the way to the left, to -100 (which removes all color, making it a black and white image), and then I slowly drag back to the right until some of the color starts to return to the image.

If after making these settings, the image looks way too bright, you may have to decrease the Exposure just a little bit, by dragging the Exposure slider to the left. If it’s too dark; increase the Exposure (so basically, those are starting points).


After those settings are in place, go to the Lens Correction tab to add a dark edge vignette around the edges of the photo. Drag the Amount slider to -100, and the Midtone slider to around 20 (as shown below) to darken in all the edges.


The thing I learned, that “aha” moment from looking at Dave Hill’s images is that the skin on everybody (including the men) is silky smooth. In fact, it’s the level of skin smoothing we’d normally apply to a photos of woman, but most of the images on Dave’s site are men. Because this technique adds so much midtone sharpening, it makes every little line, crevasse, and wrinkle stand out like crazy.

Above you see the image of Issac before I applied the skin smoothing technique in Photoshop (which I’ll show you in just a moment). You see how sharp and contrasty his skin is once the effect is applied? We need to greatly soften that. So after I apply those settings (in either Camera Raw or Lightroom’s Develop Module), I then open the image in Photoshop. The technique I used to soften the skin was to apply a 20 pixel Gaussian Blur to the entire image, then lower the Opacity of this layer to 50%. Then I add a Layer Mask to this layer (click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette); get the Brush tool, choose a soft-edged brush, and then paint over his skin, while avoiding his eyes, eyebrows, lips, teeth, nostrils, hair—-these are details areas you want to keep crisp.


Look at the image above, and how much softer his skin looks after the softening effect is applied in Photoshop.


Later that same day, I took that same effect and applied it to a photo of our buddy Corey Barker (The Photoshop Lad, and co-host of Layers TV), posed by his car, which is shown above with a before/after side-by-side image (that’s Matt Kloskowski sneaking into my shot–click for a much larger view). Matt and Corey were so small in the image that I didn’t do the skin softening technique.


On Wednesday, after my band (Big Electric Cat) wrapped up a rehearsal for our gig at BB King’s Blues Club & Grill during Photoshop World, I grabbed the band members for a quick promo photo shoot in the same location (click on it for a larger view). Here’s the problem; the effect in Camera Raw looked “OK” but it just wasn’t really looking right, so instead I ran the Lucis Art plug-in on it, and BAM—it was there! (click the image above for a larger view: From L to R that’s Scott Stahley on Drums, Tony Llanes on Lead Guitar, Kalebra on lead vocals, me on keyboards, and Felix Nelson on Bass). Note: The band above photo was taken by RC Concepcion.

Note: Last night I was experimenting with doing the skin softening BEFORE you run the Lucis Art plug-in, and after seeing the results, I think it’s probably better to do it beforehand—(but only if you’re using the plug-in). Give it a try and see what you think.


The original photo: Tony, our guitar player, shot with three Elinchrom RX-600 strobes: One behind him on the left and one behind him on the right (both just outside of the frame). They had no softboxes attached—just metal reflectors, and we put two black flags between them and my camera so I didn’t get lens flare from the flash. The main light was a RX-600 with a 53″ Mini-Octa softbox positioned to the left of my camera. This lighting set up gives us the hard edge rim lights on either side of his face, and the center of his face is lit from the Main light.


Tweaked in Camera Raw using the settings you learned earler; this version looks “OK,” but it really doesn’t have that painterly look that’s characteristic of this look.


Lucis Art: Here I applied the Lucis Art plug-in, and to me this looks much better. I also added a dark edge vignette to darken the edges, however I didn’t add the skin softening to this image yet (but I think it could use it).

Above: That’s me shooting Tony (photo by RC Concepcion) just so you can see how bare bones everything was. You can see the 53″ mini-octa over my shoulder.

So, what did I learn from all this?

  1. Although the Camera Raw (and Lightroom) recipe I gave you above will work with the right kind of image, the Lucis Art plug-in gives you that look much more consistently with a much broader range of images. In short: when the Camera Raw recipe won’t work; Lucis Art usually will.
  2. After the effect is applied (either the Camera Raw/Lightroom version or the Lucis Art version), you need to soften everybody’s skin quite a bit
  3. You often can apply the Lucis Art filter two times in a row, if you apply the filter to a copy of the Background layer, then lower the Opacity to around 20 or 30%.
  4. As always; it’s all about the lighting. When the lighting is right, everything else falls into place. By the way; the lighting here isn’t right, but it’s a start—I’ve got a lot more tweaking to do to get it where I want it.

Before we go, I just want to give a special thanks to my buddy RC Concepcion (co-host of Layers TV). RC usually works with me on all our studio and location shoots, and he not only gets everything up and running, he shoots me shooting, too, so he really has his hands full. I couldn’t do all this without him, and I’m so grateful for his help, input and ideas. If you see RC, or visit his blog, or see him at Photoshop World, make sure you give him a high-five for me.

NAPP MEMBERS: I’m taping a video tutorial for the NAPP member website today on this Photoshop and Lightroom technique. Although I’m filming it today, I can’t swear that the video dept. will be able to get it edited, compressed, and online today, so if it’s not on the member Website by this afternoon, check back there tomorrow. Not here—there. :)


I got a number of emails, and comments, asking if I would do a lighting diagram of how the cereal shot from Monday was done, but once I started working on the diagram, I realized how much I hate lighting diagrams, so I set the shoot back up and took a shot of the set-up (shown above–click for a larger view).

The table the cereal is on, is actually the portable laptop stand I use in my Lightroom Tour, —I just covered it with a white tablecloth. The handheld reflector (to the left of the cereal bowl) is actually a Lastolite pop-up gray card, but since one side is white, it makes a nice little reflector.

The light to the right of the Camera is a Westcott Spiderlight TD3 with daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs (I used the TD3 because I don’t need that much light from the softbox—just a little fill. If I needed stronger light, I’d use a TD5). The softbox is 24″x32″ (it doesn’t need to be that large, because the subject (a cereal bowl) is very small, so for lighting something this small, that softbox is huge (at least, in it’s size relative to the cereal bowl).

The camera is mounted on a Gitzo Traveler Tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead, and as I mentioned on Monday, I’m using a Nikon 70-200mm lens, but with the Canon Close-up lens (for Nikon) screwed onto the end, turning my regular zoom lens into a macro zoom lens. The key here is the natural light pouring in from the window behind the cereal, and overexposing slightly to give it that “morning sunlight” look.

Well, once I had this all set-up, I thought to myself, “I should actually shooting something.” So, I went to the kitchen and found this three-cheese bread (I bought it on Sunday, but for a different shoot idea, but I put it to use below).



You can see it’s the exact same set-up, but if you look at the angle of the camera, you can see I framed the shot so you could see a little bit of the green plants outside the window, and the handle on the tray, to give it more of that “breakfast baked goods” feeling. Well, that’s it folks (sure beats a drawn lighting diagram). You can see the whole set-up is pretty simple, and it ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done.


It’s time for our midweek look at stuff:

  • Since we’ve been talking about shooting food this week, here’s a site that mixes Photoshop with photography. It’s called “Teri Shoots Food” and they’ve got a very clever way to show the Photoshop post production work applied to some high-end food shoots. You basically “scrub” your slider over the image, and it shows you the before/after image as you drag. It’s very slick (and there’s some very nicely done Photoshop work there). Here’s the link.
  • Famous Sport Shooter (and educator) Dave Black just dedicated this month’s installment of his popular “Workshop at the Ranch” to talking about, and actually showing, Joe McNally’s groundbreaking book, “The Moment It Clicks.” Dave did an amazing job of really taking you “inside the book” in a way I haven’t seen before. Here’s the link (plus, while you’re there—make sure you check out Dave’s excellent “Workshop at the Ranch” articles on everything from sports shooting, to painting with light, and location portrait lighting, and well…..loads of cool stuff.
  • If you’re going to Photoshop World by yourself this year, I want to encourage you to take advantage of a very cool way to meet other people at the conference who are there solo; it’s called “Dinner with a Stranger.” Here’s how it works; on the first day of Photoshop World, you sign up (right near the registration desk) for the particular kind of dinner you’d like to have that night (i.e. Italian, a Steakhouse, Chinese, etc.), and then we give you a “I’m a Stranger” button to wear to the restaurant (as seen above). When you get there, you’ll see lots of others folks with those same buttons, and you all get together, sit together, share stories and it’s a great way to make new friends (and have new people to hang out with for the rest of the conference). It’s very popular with our attendees (which is why we keep doing it every year), and for more info, head over to the Photoshop World Website.
  • Ben Willmore was in our studios this week, taping some classes for the Kelby Training online training, so it was fun to see Ben cruising down the halls (sans Bus). If you haven’t had a chance to check out Ben’s Route 66 HDR photography, check it out right here.
  • Don’t forget, Jeff Revell’s PhotoWalk in Washington DC is just a few days away (it’s this Saturday). It’s free and open to everybody—-for more info, click here.
  • Lastly, start your Wednesday right by checking out the wonderful photography of Gregor Halenda. Make sure you look at his “Machine” gallery for some very cool motorcycle photography, and his “Function” gallery for some top notch commercial photography. Here’s the link.

Tomorrow, I have a pretty slick tutorial planned, so I hope you’ll check back then. I’ve gotta run (I’ve got rehearsal today with my band, “Big Electric Cat” for our upcoming gig at BB Kings Blues Club & Grill during the Photoshop World Attendee Party). Have a kick-butt day everybody, and we’ll see you on Thursday!


The original image is shown above—that’s Photoshop User Managing Editor Issac Stolzenbach, on his classic Honda Shadow Sabre (click for a larger view).


The Lucis Art plug-in interface (Click for a larger view).


The grittier, hyper-sharpened, high-contrast image after applying the Lucis Art plug-in (click for a larger view).

Photography, like fashion itself, seems to go though periods of time where there is a certain “look” that everybody wants to have, and right now the hot look for portraits is what you might call the “Dave Hill look” (I blogged about Dave’s photography last month—here’s the link). His trademark look is gritty, sharp, yet at the same time I’ve heard it described as almost “painterly” in nature. Whatever you want to call it; every big celebrity and rock band wants him to shoot them, and even big business magazines are calling on him to shoot their covers. He’s the “it” photographer.

Now, after researching the living daylights out of this topic, I can tell you this: I don’t believe Dave Hill’s look comes from a plug-in, or just a Photoshop technique, or just a (more…)




I mentioned last week that I’ve been trying to get my wife to do a cookbook of her recipes, and along those lines I’ve been shooting a lot of food lately (when I tell people I’ve been shooting food, they usually look at me and say, “Food?” I tell them to think of the type of shots you’d see in a cookbook—as shown above where I mocked up some of my shots with a cookbook layout).

I’ve done a food shoot every single day this past week, and I’ve gained 14.3 lbs. (totally kidding, but I’ve got to tell you, since I’m closely watching my weight, it’s tough shooting food and not totally chowing down on it. The only saving grace is; once you’re done shooting it for an hour or two, you usually wouldn’t want to eat it).

I took the shots above (click on them for a larger version) using pretty much the same lighting set-up; natural window light, along with a Westcott Daylight Fluorescent Spiderlite with a 24″x32″ softbox as a fill light, and a small handheld white reflector to fill in the shadows on the opposite side of the light.

For example, the cereal shot above was taken in front of a open window, with the window light coming in and lighting the cereal from behind. Then, just off to the right of my camera, I positioned the Spiderlite aiming down at a 45° angle. Lastly, on the left side of the bowl, I held a small handheld reflector just outside the frame.

The cereal photo was taken with a Nikon D3, (mounted on a tripod) with a Nikon 70-200mm lens, with the screw-on Canon Closeup lens attached (which I mentioned in Vol. 1 of my digital photography book, which turns any 77mm sized lens into an instant Macro lens).

The Spiderlites are really ideal for shooting food (or any product shots for that matter), because they match the daylight light nicely; they don’t get “hot” (because they’re fluorescent), and because they’re always on (a continuous light source), which makes lighting something as tricky as food much easier. Here’s the link for more info on the Spiders.

TIP: The “milk” in the cereal you see above is actually Elmer’s Glue. Real milk makes the cereal really soggy, really fast, and it’s hard to control, where glue pretty much sticks where you want it (get it, sticks….ah forget it).

I’m doing a food shoot every day for 30 days (in between other shoots, like the two I have scheduled for tomorrow), and I’m learning a lot and having a blast. I’m going to hire a food stylist for some of the final shoots later in the month, so if you know of a kick-butt food stylist based in the Southeast, let me know.


Before we get started, just a quick word of thanks to the wonderful folks at the ISAP (International Society of Aviation Photographers). I spoke at their annual symposium in Dallas, Texas yesterday (on behalf of Nikon), and I just had a wonderful time. They’re a terrific group to present to, and once again I was blown away by the images their members capture. They had a mini-gallery set-up of their attendees work, and it was just absolutely stunning. Thanks to Nikon and ISAP for having me back this year.

  • On a side note: while at ISAP I picked up a wonderful book by aviation photographer Erik Hildebrandt called “Anytime Baby; Hail and Farewell to the Navy F-14 Tomcat.” It’s filled with incredible images, and fascinating stories about one of the most amazing fighter jets ever made (Here’s the link to it on Now, on to the news:
  • THIS IS HUGE: Remember last week when I raved about Nik Software’s new Photoshop plug-in Viveza? Well, I told our chief deal maker here at NAPP, that this plug-in was the next big thing and to see if we could get a special discount on it just for NAPP members. Well, he pulled it off, and for the next two weeks only; NAPP members get $50 off Viveza (That’s 1/2 of your NAPP yearly membership back to you in just one discount. Sweet!). So, for everybody else, it’s $249. For NAPP members, for the next two weeks, it’s only $199 (plus, NAPP members get the plug-in two weeks before the rest of the world, which is totally cool if you ask me). If you’re a NAPP member, drop by the NAPP member homepage for your link to get the exclusive member discount (Note: NAPP does not get any rebate, kicker, commission, etc. from Nik Software. I know you know that, but I thought I’d mention it anyway). Thanks to Ed and everybody at Nik for making this available to our members.
  • Hey, it’s Friday; take two minutes and check out photographer David duChemin’s portfolio from his recent Mongolia trip. Absolutely wonderful images that will totally make you want to go to a workshop there. Here’s the link.
  • If you’re anywhere near the Washington DC area; don’t forget that Jeff Revell over at “” has an “everybody’s invited” photo walk coming up on Saturday, March 8th. The walk is in this very trendy, hip little neighborhood and for two hours the group is going to shoot whatever looks interesting, and then afterward, it’s off to a local haunt to do some serious “chimpin” (looking at your, and your fellow shooters images on your LDC’s) while you have some pie or “photo walk” food, or whatever you eat and drink after a photo walk. Sounds like a great way to spend a spring Saturday to me. Here’s the link with all the details.
  • If you’ve been in this business a while, you’ll probably remember a plug-in that did pro-level auto image enhancements called “ImagePrep Pro.” It was really brilliant; you told it what your final output was (newsprint, offset press, etc.) the line screen, etc. and it would automatically color correct, sharpen, resize, set the resolution, and do pretty much everything for you lickity split (even the AP wire service used it worldwide for years). It was so good, I figured at some point Adobe would buy it and just build it right into Photoshop. Anyway, the color wizard behind Image Prep Pro was Herb Paynter, and he’s just launched a new “Color blog” dedicated to getting color right (here’s the link). It’s great to see Herb back in the saddle again!
  • We proclaimed today, leap-year day, an “un-official day” at Kelby Media Group, and we gave the crew the day off, so I’m staying home to play with the kids; shoot some more food shots, maybe hit a few golf balls, and even go tinker around over at the studio for a bit. Hey, this day off thing could really catch on. ;-)

Have a great weekend everybody, and we’ll see you on Monday.