Retoucher s guide

  THE BEST way to achieve a perfectly black background when shooting a portrait is to place the subject as far away from a black background as possible so that none of the light used for the subject spills onto it. Often, this is easier said than done, and can require a lot of space. Materials such as black velvet can also help because they reflect little light, but even this needs to be some distance behind the subject, and not all of us have access to, or can afford, huge sheets of black velvet or similar. The  image here was taken during the recent AP series on windowlight portraits. I used a large pop-up cloth background, similar in design to a pop-up reflector, but the black material wasn t very dense. It was also difficult to prevent light from the window falling on the background rather than solely on the subject The result is that the right side of the image is more of a mid to dark grey. While the image isnawful, I really wanted the subject to be framed solely by the surrounding black space.  Retoucher s guideSelecting just the background in the image can be difficult, as it involves the very tricky task of cutting around the subject s hair. On the other hand, simply painting the background black would look unrealistic. A far better solution, therefore, is to use the Burn tool with an adjustment layer, which will make it easy to work around the edges of the subject and ensure that only the background is darkened to black. A similar technique can also be used when working with a subject against an off-white background. By darkening the shadows in steps 4 and 5, and by using the Dodge tool set to Highlights in steps 8 and 9, backgrounds can be made completely white. 1 Open the image and duplicate the background image layer by selecting Layer>Duplicate Layer. 2 Create a new Levels adjustment layer by selecting Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. 3 Double - click the adjustment layer and adjust the Levels to suit the subject, not to make the background black. Here I ve altered the shadows to add more contrast. 4 Create a new Levels adjustment layer, but hold down the Alt key while moving the highlight marker to the left. Holding down the Alt key shows a highlight and shadow preview on screen. 5 The aim is to move the slider so that all but the very darkest parts are brighter than a midtone, which should create an outline of the subject against the black background. 6 Once you release the Alt key. the preview of the image should look like this. 7 Switch layers to Background Copy and select the Burn tool, with a large soft - edge brush, the range set to shadows and the exposure to 5%. 8 As I ve shifted all the midtones so they are now highlights, we can use the Burn tool on the shadows and dark midtones. Go around the background burning it in to black, but donworry about the subjects edges - it no longer has any shadow tones and will not be affected. 9 The finished image should look like this. All you need to do now is to delete the two Levels adjustment layers and make any final tweaks to the contrast of the image. Then flatten the two image layers by selecting Layers Flatten Image.

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