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When I first started to do some research for this article, I decided to look up the word "Magic" because that’s how I feel about photography and—for that matter—any other art form. These are the words used to describe Magic: Enchanted, Thrilling, Powerful, Mystery, Supernatural, and Exquisite. If someone were to describe my work, these would certainly be the words I would want them to use. So the question remains: How do you create Magic with your work? How can you design a beautiful portrait of a person, landscape, animal, food etc. that warrants this kind of description? Let’s not forget that we are also trying to make money and stand out from the crowd—at least that’s what I’m trying to do.
For me, the magic process begins with the image I’ve created in the camera. Lighting is everything. It’s my primary concern, regardless of what I’m photographing. In my case, though, it’s usually a person. I make my living photographing children and families, and creating maternity portraits.
My first step in creating a meaningful and storytelling image is to pre-visualize how I want to showcase the light in the location I am using. I am a natural-light photographer, and when I photograph small children—who never stay in one place for a very long time—I can only hope that when I first set up my shot, they will be there for at least 2 seconds. Then it’s off to where, ever and again, if I can get them to stop long enough so that I can get a few more shots, I’m feeling pretty lucky. The advantage to photographing this way is that my subjects are free to be who they are, and can go pretty much wherever they want. This style of photography is what I’m known for, and why my clients continue to come back to me time and time again.
My equipment is as simple as my set up. I use Sigma lenses, 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS and an 85mm f/1.4 EX DS HSM. I wear a Think Tank belt that holds my extra lenses (which includes my Lensbaby with an 80mm optic), some extra Delkin media cards and batteries, and Tylenol—extra strength. This enables me to run after my little subjects and not worry about leaving gear all over the place. This is extremely important to me, because it keeps me present; I’m not thinking about anything but capturing the perfect image.
After my session, my workflow starts with backing up my images, then editing them. During this process, I am looking for that image that I can enhance with some amazing design elements. I use a company called Graphic Authority (GA) for textures and graphics. I like the way they have designed their templates, giving me the flexibility I need to customize them and give my imagery a more personalized look. I believe I do that anyway with my lighting style, but I have a need to take it one step further. GA’s templates are designed in layers. Some of their textures and graphics are designed with anywhere from 4 to 25 different layers, each one with a different design element in it. This allows me to use only the layers that I want, and the effects that work extremely well with my style. Since my style is to create a vintage look, I find myself using design elements to meet those criteria. They are also designed as TIFF files, and are extremely large, meaning that I can print up to 5 feet without the file breaking down or becoming pixilated. This is very important to me, because I sell large wall portraits.
As I mentioned earlier, I totally believe that Magic is created in the camera. I also believe you can take it to a completely different level by adding some very creative post-production effects.
Here is an image of Zoe, opened as a smart object after I have processed the image in Adobe Camera Raw.
Step One: Apply NIK software to add a little bit of softness to the image, using the Classical Soft Focus filter, and making minor adjustments to the opacity and color of the effect.
Once I’m happy with the desired effect, I select a layered background from the Graphic Authority library. In this case, it’s from my favorite collection called “The Timeless Collection.” These graphics are not a plug-in to Photoshop, but rather separate TIFF files that open as you would any other image. Below, I’ve shown all the different layers that make up one of these layered backgrounds.
Step Two: After applying NIK software, merge up one layer, command, option shift “E”, and drag the layered background on top of your image so that all the layers of the background are now resting on top of the image of Zoe.
Step Three: Using Free Transform, resize the background to fit perfectly over the image of Zoe.
Step Four: Highlight the layer you want to work in, and create a mask in that layer by selecting the mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel, and with the brush tool at 100% opacity, remove any grunge or texture that you don’t want on the subject.
Step Five: Turn off the two layers above it, and highlight the Overlay layer.
Step Six: Pressing down the “ALT” key, select the mask you created in layer 3, and move it up to the Opacity layer, a bit of a shortcut, since you would be creating the same mask in that layer as well.
At this point, you can change the color of the grunge. This is done by double-clicking in the layer you want to change. A layer Style box will appear.
You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to get the desired effect.
Step Seven: Add some text or vector art from the same collection. These are French poems, and just add to the otherworldly effect I’m going after. The process is the same as the layered background; simply drag the script on top of your image. The script or text is a single layer, and the file type is a PNG, so it’s a transparency. A shortcut is simply to drag the layer or layers from the layers panel over to your image. Once again, you can change the color of the text just as you changed the color of the layer that had the grunge in it.
To finish off my presentation, I will use a Graphic Border. This border is designed to be used exactly the way you see it. The Marker, or the number '1' that you see, is used to let you know where your image should go. Think of it as a blueprint.
Step Eight: Save your file as a PSD with all its layers, and then flatten the image and drag it over to the Graphic Border, placing it under the layer with the number 1 in it, and turn off the layer above.
Once more, you will need to resize the image using Free Transform.
Step Nine: Add some text on the Graphic Border by selecting the “T”, or the text tool in Photoshop, adding 'Zoe June 2012' to the bottom of the border. More hacks like this will be discussed on the tour.
The most important part of this process is to know when to stop. I have spent many years trying to create a style or look to my work, and I have learned to love the after-capture enhancements that I believe are necessary to differentiate myself from my peers. I love to photograph, and I love to put my own special touches on my portraits. Most importantly, my clients love it too.
See more of Judy’s work at her website. She will also be teaching this process this summer at the Creative Design Tour coming to a city near you. BHInsights readers get a discount with customer code BNHCDTS.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo Video Pro Audio