Illustrative Wedding Photography Part 2
Illustrative Wedding Photography Part 2
Illustrative wedding photography goes above and beyond the bounds of everyday photography. This type of imagery steps over the line, which creates stunning visuals and as we covered in part 1, the concept allows for freedom of creativity to flow. This does make the ‘how to’ part of the problem a little allusive to answer, but it can be done!
Professional illustrative photographers know how to translate their creative talents into their wedding images. Whether they focus this talent on their client’s wedding day images or on the portrait session beforehand, it doesn’t matter, because there are so many ways in which this style of imagery can be achieved throughout photography (and not just wedding photography). So, you’ve got to have a specific skill to translate it into these images.
We can’t tell you which way to take your talents, but today’s article is walking in the shadows of wedding photography. So, let’s continue from where we left off in part 1 shall we?
Achieving Illustrative Wedding Photography - Illustrative photography will receive comments like “Wow this is so cool! it almost looks like a painting!” Not that that’s anything to complain about whatsoever; it should be taken as a compliment. If you’re an illustrative wedding photographer, it should be one of your goals when creating a work of art to make something that isn’t quite a photo, but isn’t quite a painting. “Yes, but how do you make it look like that!?” Well, since you’ve asked, we guess that we should explain the process to you!
Obviously, a LOT goes into making images look the way they do in illustrative photography. Fancy studio lighting and a hefty amount of digital painting play large roles, but one technique that really pushes work towards that sort of hyper-real-digital-illustration-y-type-look is the use of the “Shadows/Highlights” adjustment. So, that’s the first TOP TIP from us, this leads us onto the next point...
Essentially what you’re doing with the Shadows/Highlights adjustment is lightening the dark areas and darkening the light areas. It’s kind of heading in the direction of a fake HDR look and can very easily be taken a bit too far (in our opinion), but when used tastefully can give your images a little extra punch of detail. So, obviously because we’re talking about wedding photography, you’ve got to be even more careful that you don’t take the editing side of things too far to the point where your clients wedding photographs look crazy.
It’s obviously not a technique to be used on every photo either. So, perhaps just pick a handful of images to use it on. You can discuss this with your clients beforehand at the wedding consultation. Sometimes you will want very dark dramatic shadows and blown out highlights, quite often it’ll be just the thing that you need to elevate an image past the look of a typical snapshot. Something about having more details in the shadows and highlights of a picture starts to give it that realer-than-life-illustration sort of look.
The best editing software to use is of course Photoshop. The very first time you open it, it will look quite unassuming just a small pop-up window with a couple of sliders. HOWEVER, if you click the box in the bottom left corner that says “Show More Options,” then we can really get down to business. Note that once you check this magical box it will stay checked from then on. It’s the best.
When Shadows/Highlights launches it will default to lightening your shadows up 35%. We're not sure who made this decision, but photographers pretty much never leave it like this! It tends to be a bit too drastic of a push for many people’s tastes (especially wedding photographers). So, the first thing that you’ll need to do is bring them back down a little bit by sliding the first slider to the left.
NOTE - There is no perfect formula of numbers to use. It’s going to be different for every single image and even for every layer within an edit! Oh, also note (you’ll be making lots of notes today) that it’s common amongst creative photographers to duplicate the layer that they’re going to be applying the adjustment to, then then they take the Shadows/Highlights alterations slightly further than they really want it. Oh, not to mention turning the opacity of that layer down. Unfortunately, there is no Shadows/Highlights adjustment layer option, so this way you can turn the effect up or down throughout the rest of the editing process. It’s a slightly more non-destructive editing work-around.
HOW TO: Illustrative Wedding Photography - Let’s break it down, shall we? (Yes, we shall.) The top three sliders adjust your shadows. The first one, “Amount,” is going to affect the intensity of the adjustment, AKA how light the shadows get. The next slider, “Tone,” adjusts the range of tonal values that will be affected by the top slider. Meaning the higher the “Tone” number, the more of the image will be affected by the “Amount” slider. As you raise the “Tone” slider, it will start to consider lighter and lighter parts of the image to be shadows and lighten them as well. If you slide it to the left it’s going to only affect the darker pixels. The third slider, “Radius,” changes the distance of transition between the areas being affected and the areas not being affected. You might notice a little halo of lighter pixels around a darker area if you push the shadows/highlights too far. That’s the transition this slider can feather out or tighten up. You basically just have to mess around with all of these sliders, taking it too far and bringing it back towards the other direction to see what you like best for that particular image.
The last tweak you can make to your images is to the “Mid-tone” slider. After you’ve adjusted your highlights and shadows, you’ll potentially have brought all of the pixels in your image much closer to a mid-tone value. This will flatten out the appearance of the picture, meaning you’ll have lost most of the contrast. This handy slider lets you pump some contrast back into the mid-tones. ALWAYS increase the mid-tone contrast at least a little bit.
(Remember that this is going to take this whole effect a little too far and then turn that duplicated layer’s opacity down a tad.) And at the very bottom, last but not least … no wait, definitely least … are two things that you should never touch. The “Black Clip” and “White Clip” help to minimise the loss of detail in the shadows and highlights, but we don’t fully understand how they work and have never changed them. This seems to be working for many photographers so far so, why fix what isn’t broken?
Illustrative photographers use the Shadows/Highlights adjustment on pretty much 100% of their images, even if only very slightly. They tend to apply it to the subject and the background separately, and then again at the very end of their edit. Duplicate and merge all of the layers and apply it ever so slightly to the entire image. Obviously just slapping these adjustments onto your work won’t magically give it that fully rendered illustrative look, but it will certainly start you in the right direction. The digital painting portion of the editing process is where most of the magic really happens. So, if you’ve never tried the Shadows/Highlights adjustment, well, you know … try it! You won’t be sorry… unless you overdo it and your picture looks crazy … so like, don’t do that!
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