My Photo Editing Process
For anyone who's wondering how I edit my photos. These are editing techniques I use mostly for cosplay or human-subject photos (in other words, something like food or scenery doesn't get edited this much or even goes through these techniques/tools).
So of course, go through and pick out all the photos that are keepers and will move on to the editing phase. I use Photoshop Elements 8.0 to edit my photos.
The photo I'm using in this example is a photo I took of my friend and cosplayer, Courtneykissme, in her Arcade Miss Fortune (from League of Legends) cosplay.
So one of the things I like to do is create super smooth skin to make it look as if the photo is a digital painting or straight from the anime/video game (some great examples--and editing skill goals--are the amazing and professional shot Lightning--from Final Fantasy--cosplays photos you'll see around the internet). This is how I achieve that effect or something similar to it.
Duplicated the original image into a new layer. Right click on the image and select Duplicate Layer. Make sure the new layer is selected.
Then hit Filter -> Blur -> Surface Blur
Once you've selected Surface Blur move the threshold slider all the way to the right, maxing out the numbers. From there adjust the radius glider so that the face appears blurred but still recognizable.
Once you've set the radius glider move the threshold glider to the left until the skin appears smooth but not blurred. It'll usually start looking right around the same number setting as the radius or slightly lower. Hit okay.
Make another duplicate of the original image and move it so that it is the top layer. Make sure that layer is selected. To add some definition and details back into the clothing articles and hair hit Filter -> Other -> High Pass.
From there adjust the glider so that you can see the details in the hair, skin, clothing. For this you're going to have to eyeball it. Try not to put the glider so far to the right the color begins to return (you'll see what I mean if you glide it to the right). Hit okay.
We don't want the photo stay grey. In order to change this go to where it says Normal and has a drop down menu above the layer listings. Click the drop down arrow and select overlay.
Everything will appear to have more detail and definition again, but I still want the skin smooth and almost-digital looking (aka I want the Surface Blur-ed layer to be what the skin looks like). Still working on the same layer (the High Pass-ed layer), select the eraser tool and begin to erase anywhere the skin is. Feel free to erase any other areas you want to appear smooth or have the effect it was given on the Surface Blur-ed layer--I just stick with the skin.
Tip when erasing; work slowly. I avoid just erasing over large connected patches (such as the face and the neck) carelessly. I don't want the line of definition between two areas to fade and soften so I erase ever so slightly around them, avoiding the line itself. Example: I won't just scribble the mouse/tool over the whole face, I avoid the eyes, lips, brows and move around the nostrils and lines defining the nose and jawline.
Once your happy with how everything looks so far, merge the three layers together. Ctrl+Click all three layers --> Right Click --> Merge Layers.
Another thing I do is remove any blemishes, spots of discoloration or dark circles. This can be done at any time, although I do prefer to do this as a first step. For this I use the Healing Brush Tool found in the tool bar. You're able to Alt+Click any spot of skin without blemish/discoloration, then Left+Click any spots you want to cover up. This helps the skin look smooth, clear, even and helps the photo look professionally done.
This isn't a necessary step, it's all up to personal preferences and not everyone "needs" this editing done. I just feel it helps give the photo a professionally done feel. I also stated that I do love when photos look like they're straight from the game/animation, or close to it.
Another thing I will do, especially for photos taken in not the best lighting, is adjust the lighting. Enhance --> Adjust Lighting --> Brightness/Contrast.
Adjust the brightness or contrast by moving the gliders. This is all left up to personal preference and what you feel looks best. Hit okay.
Since I don't wear contacts I'll alter the eye color (the cosplayer in this photo is wearing contacts though). I didn't get a screen shot of this but basically. Create a new layer. Using the basic paint brush tool and the color of your choice, carefully color the iris of your eye (the colored part). Once both eyes are filled in adjust the opacity to make it look more natural. You want details and shadows from the underlying image to show through but not so much that the color of the eye doesn't change. You can also soften the lines using a slight Gaussian Blur.
Another way of changing the eye color is selecting the iris of both eyes. Enhance --> Adjust Color --> Adjust Hue/Saturation. Move the Hue (top) glider until you achieve the color you want. Do this on either a duplicate layer of the base/original image or the original image itself.
Something I'll almost always do as well is use the Dodge Tool on the iris of the eyes. Since my eyes are really dark and remain having a very dull or dark look to them even after changing the eye color I like to brighten it up and/or add highlights using this tool. Make sure the brush size is small and to remain in the iris of the eye only. I'll sometimes overlap brush strokes a couple times to make it brighter/more highlighted in certain areas (pay attention to where the light is hitting naturally).
Note: This is sloppily done because I just did it for screen shot purposes. Please know when actually editing I use and try my best to keep neat clean lines.
Another thing I do is add to and take away from specific colors and areas. In order to avoid taking hues away or adding them to areas you don't want to, use the selection tool and select the area you want to edit.
Once selected, go to Enhance --> Adjust Color --> Adjust Hue/Saturation.
For this specific photo I want to brighten up the pinks in the costume and hair. So in the drop down menu I select Reds and more the Saturation (second) glider more towards the right until I like the coloring. Hit okay.
You can either go to Select --> Deselect or hit Ctrl+D. Select new areas you want to change if there are anymore. I'm selecting the skin and background.
So going to the Hue/Saturation Adjustment menu, I select Yellows in the drop down menu this time. I personally like to remove the yellow tones from lighting and the skin depending on the photo. I feel it makes the photo look more clean and professional. But depending on the style of photo and editing it, yellow light can add to it. It's all preference.
In order to remove the yellow tones move the Saturation (second) glider more towards the left. Once it's where you like it hit okay.
Changing colors of the background or different subjects in the photo. Note this is done sloppily, once again, because I did it quickly for screen shot purposes.
Select the area you want to change the color of and open back up the Hue/Saturation window. To change the color drag the slider along the Hue bar until it's at a color you like. You can alter the darkness/brightness and saturation of the color using the other two sliders.
Another thing I'll often do is slightly enlarge the eyes. I like to make it more "anime-like" and other times eyes may be slightly squinted due to bright lighting or some other reason. Anyways, to enlarge eyes you can use a tool found under the liquidfy option.
Filter --> Distort --> Liquidfy
The 6th picture down or the picture of a square with an arrow on each side facing away from the square will be an enlargement tool. It should say something similar when hovered over. Set your brush to be around the size of the eye and just click once or a few times until the eyes are the size you want.
I'd recommend not to over do it and to keep it as natural as possible. I like to use this as a little trick to help make the eyes pop or be slightly more fitting to the cosplay/character.
Sometime my camera won't focus quite where I want it to or a picture will be slightly blurred. Usually I find that the eyes aren't as in focus as I'd like. Click the second tool picture from the bottom. You'll find the picture is whatever tool you left off on so it can either be a tear drop, a triangle or a pointing hand. Click image and make sure it's set to the triangle/Sharpen Tool.
Adjust the brush size to be around the size of the aspect you're sharpening. For example, when doing eyes I make sure the brush fits just around the entire eyes and simply click once or twice to sharpen it. When doing large object, like an entire person, I make sure the brush is a large size but doesn't fit around the entire person (since people typically aren't a circle--they have limbs and such). Then I'll click and drag the brush around/over the person I'm sharpening. I'll only have to do this once or twice.
Keep in mind that if you continue to sharpen an area over and over again it'll begin to look super pixelated and you probably don't want that, this is why I recommend only going over an area once or twice. I also rarely use the sharpen tool at full strength. You'll see an option to adjust the strength in the top bar, a few slots to the right of the brush option. I usually put it anywhere from 30-75%.
I often blur backgrounds, especially if they're very busy and I feel pull focus away from the main subject (i.o. cosplayer). To do this we'll be going back to that same tool option we just found the sharpen tool under, but instead click the Blur Tool/tear drop.
I recommend duplicating the layer for this and do all the blurring on the top layer. I say this because if you accidentally find you've blurred a part that you didn't want to, you'll be able to simply erase it and the original, unblurred photo will be right there underneath.
You'll be constantly adjusting brush sizes during this in order to get around the different shapes just right. I usually use a large brush size for a majority of the empty space around the edges (referring to this photo^) and then switch to a brush size of 12 or less when going around or near my subject. For sharp corners, sometimes the circle shape of the brush will mean part of your subject gets blurred, this is where the eraser comes in handy (just erase the subject --or at least that part-- from the layer).
I typically set the strength to 100% but depending on the look you're going for you may want to change it. Sometimes I will change the strength several times throughout the photo when I want the blurred parts to fade into an in focus part. In example, if I the subjects just sitting in the grass and I want the grass in the background blurred but not the grass towards the front. I'll change the strength several until it's around 5-10% at the last part to be blurred so everything will blend. You don't need to go down 1% at a time, towards the higher percentages I'll jump down from 10-20% at a time and towards the end 10-5% at a time.
I'll sometimes add a ring of darkness/shadow around the photo or shade different areas of a photo (sometimes I'll shadow the entire background just to make the subject pop). To do this click on the tool picture where it'll either look like a pencil or paint brush. Click on the Brush Tool.
Create a new blank layer (can be found at the bottom left hand corner of the layers tab/window). This is the layer you'll be working on.
The size you adjust your brush to will depend on what you're shadowing and your photo, you may have to change it several times. For the color choose a black. Then color in the area you want shadowed. If you're doing the entire background leave a bit of a gap around the subject or whatever you're not shadowing. If you don't want even the slightest shadow on your subject make an even bigger gap in between the shadow and the subject then.
You'll want that gap because we'll be blurring the layer and depending on how much of a fade you want the shadow may get onto the subject after blurred. The more faded you want it, the bigger the gap in between the coloring and subject you'll need. You can always go back in and erase shadows off the subjects but sometimes they may leave weird harsh lines in the shadow that you may have to re-blur (either using the blur process we're going to do right now or the blur and smudge tool).
So to blur the shadow and create a fade,
Filter --> Blur --> Gaussian Blur
Adjust the slider/percentage until you the fade/blur is to your liking. This honestly depends on preference and the photo.
Now to make the shadow more natural/less harsh or when using it just to darken a background, go over to the layer window/tab.
Hit the arrow near the Opacity option and adjust the slider until it's where you like. Once again, this depends on both preference and the photo.
Sometimes I like to have more fade to a shadow than just the blur tool alone can do with one layer. So either I'll duplicate the layer we made the shadow on (before any of the blurring was done) or simply color in another shadow on a new layer.
For example, if I want the very corners of the photo to stay black I'll create a new shadow layer. I'll repeat the same steps as above but change the amount/percentage I blur it at and the opacity.
I usually have it so that the bottom layer has the least opacity (aka lower percentage) and is the most blurred (higher percentage), each layer above that has higher opacity (higher percentage) and less blur (lower percentage). I usually only have 2 or 3 layers of shadow if I have more than one.
I'll then Ctlr+Click and select all the shadow layers and Right Click--> merge. I'll then apply a Gaussian Blur one last time to blend all the shadow layers together and adjust the opacity if needed.
This is how I typically edit all my cosplay photos. I hope it's both in detailed enough and easy enough to understand. I tried my best!
~Positive outcomes only! ~
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