Color Grading Cinematic Portraits in Alien Skin
I'm going to do a little bit of a color grade. I'm gonna use that alien skin exposure one more time, so I'm gonna stamp visible on a new layer. And like I said, you know, the ones I would usually go to would be some of these more common film grades, things like this, but because we get to be a little bit more creative, I'm gonna pop into some of these older stocks a little bit. I think I've got a... The postcard was really kind of fun. I think it was in these slides? Anyway, let's go to Kodachrome or something like that, this is good. Yeah, something like that I think looks nice. Before, after, yeah. We'll dial that down a little bit, and apply it. Another easy way to seal all your color in is to give the entire image a very slow opacity, very low opacity color. So if you want the image to have a slight warm tone, what you do is you add that warm tone, right? Something like this, on a color blend mode at a really low opacity. And that helps kind of seal all the color in together, helps...
give everything this very nice undertone, right? So maybe you don't want this color, maybe you want something in that version, right? Or here, or blue, the blue is kind of nice. Blue cyan, kind of pretty, cool. That looks good, right? And so I just take this and dial the opacity down a little bit. And it'll help seal that color in really beautifully. And it doesn't really have to be a strong use of the color, like 3, 5% sometimes is all you need. Maybe you want it more, that's fine too. Whatever you are after in your image, these tiny little subtle color grades can help you get there. So something like that, and you know, just different versions of it, whatever you like. So, where we began was, let's see... Here, and it ends here. And it's not hugely different, but it's definitely better, because the eye goes right to the middle, right where it needs to. There's small little elements of polish, like I actually don't, I think when you see the glare off and on, it's there, like you notice it, but I think if you just look at it as is, you don't think anything of it. You just think that was environmental and I think it adds a really cool effect. I also like how the sides darken in a little bit. I feel like it helps you focus your eye inward to the subject a little bit more. And then we've just removed a lot of the other distractions, in terms of like weird background elements that were drawing the attention when they shouldn't be. And so, it's small little tweaks that all add up to a much bigger change. But it's generally like, a lot of the post work that I do is not as much in Photoshop as people think. It's actually a lot more in the development process. That's actually where the images shape for me. How powerful that is, it can completely change the image and you're never gonna have that amount of flexibility once you get it into Photoshop. So I'm always a big believer in trying to get that as close as you can, and then you just bring it into Photoshop for those little finishing touches. Alright, questions?
As you learn more tricks, do you ever go back to your older work and rework it?
I mean, I do sometimes. Every once in a while I like to revisit old work and just kind of browse through it and say, did I miss something? And usually, the answer is yes. Sometimes, you'll learn something that works really well for an image that is how you maybe you used to shoot or you shot something, but it doesn't really work nowadays. That happens all the time. It absolutely happens. Not that often, 'cause there's usually something else I'm working on in the meantime, but I'll be bored, I'll thumb through old work and go, this is cool, and rework something and yeah, it's always a good option. It's also because sometimes, you just... You didn't know you missed the shot, for whatever reason, you missed the better shot or a different shot and because you were looking for something else at the time or you just weren't paying attention when you were editing, that happens all the time.
Going back to the series, like as you're creating a series, are these effects specific to, like are you thinking about your series when you're doing this type of editing?
Am I looking for continuity you mean? Oh, absolutely, yeah. So, I wouldn't want to edit any one of these in a vacuum that didn't tie in to the other ones. So this one in particular, I think is really quite a bit different from the panorama that we were putting together. And I would probably make some changes to the color grading on this to try to get it closer. And that's not to say that it can't be different, but I would want it to feel closer to it. So, I like this as a stand alone, but I think it needs a little bit of help to fit in with the other one. So, yeah, I'm always thinking about it. I'm also thinking about what I know I can easily fix in post or what's going to be very difficult. And if something's gonna be very difficult but I can fix it now, I will. If something's gonna be a lot more difficult to fix now that'll be a very easy fix later, that's where I weigh my time. So listen, we can change it now and it's gonna take 10 minutes, or you can spend 15 seconds fixing it. It's fine, I'll fix it later, not a big deal. Yeah?
For a period piece, like this group of photos is, do you ever go and as you're looking at these old photos, and try to make them look like truly old photos?
I try to bridge it, I try to balance it. So, I don't think this inherently looks like an old photo right now. I think if I were to tweak a few of the values of it, go to something that's a little bit more faded, I think I could get it closer. So, for example, maybe you come in here, you bring this up a little bit, that goes down. Maybe bring that down, flatten it a little bit. I think this is starting to get a little bit closer. 'Cause you're starting to flatten out those dark tonal values, make it look a little bit more faded. Maybe you come in and de-saturate it, or you add one strong color or the other to the shadows. So maybe you come in here and we, let's add a little bit of red maybe. Maybe a little bit of yellow. I think that's probably a lot closer, right? And I'm not necessarily always trying to make it look there. When I did the panorama, which was the second one, I definitely wanted to keep the colors in that vain, but I still tried to make it look like a more modern photograph. So, I'm usually somewhere in-between. I'm not committing fully to the vintage look, but I definitely want it to have a little bit of the feel to it.
Do you go back to the mood board on Pinterest and maybe compare or try to--
Sure, sure. So, years ago, yes. And when I was learning to control curves and color and everything else, I think using source material is a really good idea. Once you do this a lot, you'll have a much better sense of what colors you would need to add to an image to make it look and feel a certain way. But absolutely. If you do not have a feel for it, use source material, it's really good, it's really, really, helpful. Yeah, absolutely.
And another thought, is also, when to stop? Because there are many steps along the way, I said, wow, yes, that's it, and then wow, another level, and I'm sure, I mean, this is amazing, but you probably could step up even more and more, and everything.
I wouldn't end it here, no. There's definitely still stuff that can be done to this image, yeah, absolutely. But there always is. The truth is, is you stop whenever you want. I have a general workflow that I keep to when I do a lot of my images. It's, you know, the same six or seven steps. It's like I'm gonna dodge and burn, and I'm gonna do skin and I'm gonna color grade and tone. That's usually, I have a workflow. But yeah, you can always, always mess with stuff, which is why the other image that I showed you had like a zillion different adjustment layers on it. Because I was like, this isn't right. And I guarantee to you, as I start clicking through, you'll be like, I don't even see a difference. It's because you get so involved in it, and you're just like, the slightest difference means something to you at the time, but you look at it the next day and you're like, I don't know what I was doing here, that happens. That absolutely happens. So, you know, it's always a balance that you have to keep with yourself. When to stop, when is too much. I constantly check the original as I'm going through it and the way that I do it, is, obviously you can go all the way back to the beginning and hit Command Z. The thing that I have run into the issue of a couple of times is you hit Command Z and accidentally you do something else and lose it, and that's super frustrating. But, if you hold down the Alt or the Option key and you click the eyeball next to the background layer, it'll toggle everything but that layer off. And not just the background layer, like you can do it on any layer if you hold Option and click the eyeball, it'll toggle everything else but that off. And so that's kinda how I like to see my before and after, so that I never really lose sight of where I started. And I especially use it when I'm dealing with portraits of people. I'm always trying to gauge, have I gone too far, does it not look like the person, it's always trying to keep that in mind, whether you're doing skin work or other stuff or makeup or whatever the case may be. You always want to make sure you are holding onto what is important from the original photo.
Chris, do you have any final thoughts for us as we're wrapping up?
Well, I hope your brain hurts. I hope you're as exhausted as I am, but as energetic as well. And this was a lot of fun. It was a really great experience. I hope you are inspired to go out and try to shoot at a place you've not done before, try to do something new, try to work in a way that is new to you and really challenge yourself to create images that are beyond the scope of what you may already be doing.