by Joseph Linaschke
This post is finally about what I went through to edit these eight images. This is very similar to what I shared on my current Lynda.com training title "Artist in Action: Joseph Linaschke's Large Scale Black-and-White Photographs", with some small adjustments and the addition of the smoothing steps.
Step 1 — Exposure and Crop in Aperture
These images started life as DNG files from the Leica S2, which were read just fine by Aperture. Certain images from that camera seem to render better in Lightroom, but for these tightly controlled studio photos, the Lightroom and Aperture render of the DNG were virtually identical, so I did all the file management and basic adjustments in Aperture itself.
The nature of the work I had planned for these images though meant that they wouldn't stay as RAW for long, so I did what little work I could to the RAW file before moving on, and in this case that meant basic levels adjustments (just expanding the histogram to where I wanted it, which was a very little change from how it was shot), and cropping the image (if needed). There may have been some files where I did no exposure adjustments and no cropping at all.
Once the base file was set, I opened it in Photoshop as a 16-bit TIF file.
Step 2 — Retouching in Photoshop CS6
I love Aperture and use it for the vast majority of my work, but there's no debating the Photoshop's retouching tools are more flexible than Aperture's own. Because I was doing such extensive work, it made more sense to do this step in Photoshop.
I would always duplicate the layer so I had an original to return to or compare to. I find this helpful in nearly any type of editing; in Aperture of course you can just tap the M key to see your original (master), but once in Photoshop you lose that ability. Being able to toggle a retouched layer off and on to see the original underneath made it easier to monitor my progress along the way, or to revert an area without having to undo 50 steps. Yes I'm familiar with the history brush and use it often, but here I just like having that base layer there at all times to refer/revert to.
This initial retouching pass was quite extensive. I removed not only every blemish and scar, but also every freckle, body hair, bump, and more. Wrinkles or creases (i.e the bend of an elbow) were reduced dramatically. Remember, the idea here was to move towards a texture resembling marble, so only major creases could remain.
I would also add a B&W adjustment layer to the the image while retouching, which I could toggle on and off. This was discarded later, but I found that having a basic B&W conversion to view while retouching helped guide me on what did and didn't need to be touched.
If there were any major elements that needed removing, as there were in a few of these images, I'd do that now as well. These could include hair, the blanket the model used to keep warm that snuck into the image, a poorly positioned background, etc.
Step 3 — Retouching in onOne Perfect Portrait
I tried many different tools for doing the extreme smoothing, including PortraitProfessionalStudio, which makes it "easy" to do skin smoothing, blemish removal, and the like — and definitely makes it easy to take too far. I actually bought then returned PortraitProfessionalStudio because while it did smooth the skin as I wanted, I found it left massive artifacts as well. So I ditched that tool pretty quickly.
onOne Software's Perfect Portrait on the other hand did a much better job. It took a little trickery to get it to work on images without a face (the software is really designed to work with actual portraits), but I finally got that working and combined the all-skin sliders with the brush tool to get the too-smooth look that I wanted. Keep in mind this was being applied to the already manually retouched image from Photoshop.
Step 4 — Combining onOne and Photoshop layers
Next step was to combing the onOne treatment with the Photoshop treatment. In general, I put the over-smoothed onOne layer on top of the Photoshop layer, and blended them at varying degrees of opacity, both overall and by brushing the mask between the two layers to make more or less of one layer show through. At times I'd take the onOne layer back into onOne Perfect Portrait and continue to refine it there, before bringing it back to Photoshop again.
Step 5 — Scaling in onOne Perfect Resize
I chose to do the scaling before doing the B&W conversion, since I knew I'd be adding grain to the B&W image and that would give me an opportunity to cover any scaling artifacts. Also, I didn't want to scale the grain itself. So at this point I'd flatten the file (keep in mind I'd been retaining versions of PSD files all along the way, to ensure that I could go back to any step at any time, which I often did), and send it to onOne Perfect Resize for the scaling. Most images went to 40ʺ at 240dpi on their longest side, so that's 9600 pixels. If the original image wasn't cropped, then the scaling wasn't massive — the original files were 7512 on the long side, so that's only a 28% increase in size. Of course many were cropped, so the scaling was a bit larger. The two that went to 60ʺ wide, including the one above, were scaled to 14,400 pixels, so a 92% or greater increase.
The scaling process is very simple, and I didn't apply any sharpening on the scale. I did however add noise, because as I've commented on these Leica files before, there is some strange blocking in the darker shades, which just got much more noticeable when scaled. However by adding a little noise ("grain"), I was able to knock that out. I'll point out however that the grain option in Perfect Resize is, IMHO, pretty awful. If I were leaving these images in color I'd not have been able to use the built in grain tool, or at least not as heavily as I did. It's basically a high contrast gaussian noise that can add nasty color speckles to the image. This was only acceptable because I would be converting to B&W in the next step.
Step 6 — Converting to B&W in Silver Efex Pro II
It'll come as no surprise that I used Nik's Silver Efex Pro II for my B&W conversion (my discount still works by the way, but I know for a fact it won't last forever). Since I was already in Photoshop at this point, I chose to take advantage of Photoshop's Smart objects so I could re-open the Nik plugin and make more tweaks later if needed. Converting what was often a 100 megapixel file to a smart object then adding a Nik effect to it almost always resulted in a file over 2GB in size, which meant it had to be saved as a PSB, not PSD file. These PSB files can not be read by Aperture, which means this nearly final file couldn't be managed by Aperture. In this case I'd make a note in the comments on the latest file in Aperture, listing the PSB filename and noting it's location (which was always in the same place as the rest of the files).
The final stage of smoothing was actually performed as part of the B&W conversion as well, through the effect of negative structure. Once I came up with a baseline recipe, I started with that preset then adjusted as-needed per image. I would adjust brightness if needed, and add any control points necessary to brighten or darken specific areas of the photo. The most critical process though was watching zones. I performed this final edit by zone numbers, ensuring that virtually nothing fell into zones 0 and 1 or 9 and 10. There were no pure black or pure white regions of these photos, and maintaining detail and texture across the image was critical. It was only by monitoring the zones that I was able to achieve this consistent look across all eight images.
Step 7 — Output sharpening in PixelGenius PhotoKit Sharpener
The absolute final step before printing was to sharpen the image for output. This is a simple step, and PhotoKit Sharpener is dead easy to use. All you have to do is select the surface (glossy, matte) and the type of printing (inkjet, continuous tone) and hit go. I neglected to do this with my last gallery hanging, and it showed. This final sharpening pass can make a big difference.
Step 8 — Order prints from iAcrylic
Time to break out the credit card! Brian over at iAcrylic.net was instrumental in getting this project together and on time. I had my first test image printed at full size and shipped somewhat rushed, so I could make the call on if this was going to work for the rest of the project and have time to get the other seven printed. As I've said before, I absolutely loved the final result, and think the prints that Brian is creating over there are just fabulous. If you're thinking of ordering one, be sure to use the discount code "PhotoJoseph" on checkout to get your 10% discount.
I went with the metallic paper for these B&W images, and mounted behind 1/2ʺ acrylic. These beasts aren't light weight! The bigger ones are 70 or 80 or 90 pounds; we had to come up with a whole new system to hang them in the gallery. But damn they look good!
In the final post, I'll embed a video of the editing process that I captured for one of the images. You'll be able to watch a very accelerated edit of the entire image, start to finish! I'll record a voiceover explaining what is happening for it as well. Should be fun.