Skin Tones - my workflow and processing {tutorial}

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Posted 5/7/2009 by Molly C in General Photography
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Molly C
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:12:28 PM
There have been a lot of discussions on skin tones lately, and somehow I've ended up as one of the resident experts here. In no way do I think I really know what I'm doing, but I've discovered along the way that photography and post processing is a good fit for me since it is about half technical and half artistic, which is pretty much just the way my head works.

I am still working really hard to get things as right in-camera as possible. I had been in a groove, but now that I've switched cameras I'm sort of back to the drawing board, and my exposures are off again. Plus, there is a huge difference metering indoors where the light is relatively predictable and metering outdoors chasing kids around. So while I am super comfortable shooting indoors now, my outside SOOCs are all over the board.

That said, I promised Jodie that I'd write up a tutorial for her on how I do a skin tone edit, so I am also including my general workflow, since the two are pretty closely married. The reason I haven't done this before is because it is still evolving, and I don't feel as if I have found my own stylistic groove yet, but I do think I do a fairly good clean process, so hopefully some of you will find some good tips here and find this worthwhile.

So here we go. I took the kids to the park yesterday - the first day it's been nice since I got the new camera and snapped this shot off of Annie. Not the greatest expression, but I took it because as she looked up at me I could see the catchlights in her eyes, so I knew it was decent light. Unfortunately it is way underexposed here. Still, it should be salvageable since I only shoot raw. (You might be interested to know that I am writing this tutorial along side processing it, and so far I've only taken a quick pass at it through LR. Don't know what the final result is yet!)

Here is my SOOC:



I start in LR, not ACR. Basically the same thing, but when I started to get into photography I had old PS7 and PSE6 and since I didn't like the PSE Organizer I purchased LR to help with my raw workflow and file organization. I really like LR, but I don't do anything there that can't be done in ACR.

I forgot to take my WB cap with me to the park, so I used the camera's AWB. I have been making a concerted effort lately to do more CWBs as I think it really helps, but alas, here we are with an AWB.

I typically start off playing with the exposure slider if necessary before doing anything else. If the photo is really out of exposure you can't gauge color. I've started playing with the brightness slider more as well, which is basically exposure for the midtones. For this shot I ended up making the following adjustments in LR:

Exposure +0.29
Recovery 0
Fill Light 21 (a good way to reduce deep shadows, so this helped to bring out her eyes)
Blacks 5 (I rarely increase blacks; I would rather do that in curves in PS)
Brightness +84 (the default in LR is +50)

I also upped the clarity and vibrance to +27 and +28 respectively. Clarity is basically a defog process that helps to add contrast in the midtones. I go back and forth as to whether or not I like it, but right now I'm on a pro-clarity kick.

After doing that I decided her skin was a bit too pink, so I changed the WB tint to +3, down 12 from my initial import. I also reduced the red saturation to -6 in the H/S/L section. Annie's hair goes too red/orange very quickly, so sometimes I pull the orange down a bit here to counteract that. Mostly I take care of it in PS, though, because LR makes changes globally, and some times there are areas of red or orange that I don't want desaturated.

I also discovered yesterday that the newer versions of ACR and LR allow them to mimic the Picture Styles as set by the cameras when shooting jpegs. I shoot Canon, so I am not sure if Picture Styles are a Canon only thing or not, but I assume there is something similar for all brands. Picture styles are not applied in camera to raw files, but now Adobe has profiles that can mimic them, and they really change the way the colors are represented. I really like the way the Neutral Style looks, so I have also changed that setting in the Camera Calibration Setting way at the bottom of the right panel. You can change it in ACR under the seventh tab under the histogram. This is only available in newer versions of ACR.

After all that, this is what my photo looks like when I pulled it into PS.



First off I do a very slight curves layer. I don't do curves in LR because I can't ever get them to look right. They are supposed to be easier, but I prefer to add my own points and slide from there. This shot has areas that will blow very quickly in the skin tones, so I don't want to do too much just yet, but I do want a bit more depth in it.

Next I do a hue/sat layer. This shot is pretty flat looking through the skin, and although saturating the skin tones can easily go wonky, this shot needs it a bit. However, her hair is starting to turn orange, so I don't want to saturate it. My trick for this is to use the Mask tab in CS4 that is right behind the Adjustments palette. In earlier versions of PS I believe you can do the same thing by going to Select-->Color Range.

When you pull up the masks tab, you will find a drop down box where you can choose a specific color range (big surprise), or specify shadows, midtones, or highlights. I prefer to use the eyedropper and click on a specific part of the photo. As you click on different areas, your mask will be generated for you automatically, and then you can play with the Fuzziness and Range sliders to target your selection more or less. You can also invert the mask if it's easier to click on the part that you don't want selected. So for this mask I am going to click on her hair with the eyedropper, then choose invert. You will get something that looks like this:




At this point, her shirt looks just about the right color as in real life, but the grass is a bit too yellowy for me, even though it probably really is that yellow. I just would rather it isn't so neon, so I will do a selective color adjustment layer, targeted to the grass.

For this shot I did the following numbers:

Reds 0,0,0,0
Yellows + 18, 0, -20, +21
Greens 0,0, -24, +24
Cyans 0,0,0,0
Blue 0,0,0,0
Magenta 0,0,0,0
White 0,0,0,0
Neutrals 0,0,+4, +4
Blacks, 0,0,0,0

Then I went to the masks tab and clicked on the grass and had a no-fuss mask made for me easy peasy.

So now I've corrected for everything but skin tones. A lot of times I do skin tones first, but this was such a basic shot it was easier for me to do the quick background stuff before the skin, which I think is going to give me some headaches.

Here is where I am right now:



Here is where the subjectivity part comes to play. This is probably what color Annie really is - maybe a bit pinker. But she really doesn't look like she has any life to her (the fact that she had a small cold and hasn't been sleeping well this week adds to that effect). So, artistically I wish for her to look a bit warmer and just more glowy.

Also, being only 3 she tends to always have food crumbs around her mouth no matter how many times I wipe her mouth or how long ago it was that she ate. This is the point that I take care of any noiseware or cloning issues.

I now go to my background layer and duplicate it. My layers palette right now looks like this - I have named my duplicated background layer but haven't done anything to it.




Now I will run noiseware if needed. This image is gloriously noise free from the new camera, but could stand some initial sharpening, as the 5DII is not known for super crisp images without a little help. So I do a very reduced smoothing process and increase the default sharpening slightly.



Then I clone away any crumbs, blemishes, reduce undereye circles, etc.

I am a skin tone by the number kind of girl. That said, I am easing up on being so religiously wed to the numbers. When I was first starting out I did almost whatever it took to get within the "stated guidelines." Now that I've been doing this awhile I go more by feel, and if the subject is strongly backlit, I don't work so hard to get rid of the cyan, because the cyan is inherent to shadows. I also don't often worry about color casts under chins from bright colored shirts, etc., unless it is really blinding. I work to get a nice, even skin tone that is indicative of the general lighting for the subject. This shot was done in full sun so there are areas of her cheeks and forehead that are going to be much brighter than the rest, but in my opinion she should not be this grey looking, so I'm going to warm her up some.

First off I go into curves. Sometimes I do all my skin color work in a color balance and selective color layers, and sometimes I tweak individual color channels through curves. I had a revelation recently on how to read them, so now it's much easier for me to tweak a specific color channel.

Because I feel this shot is too cool, I go to the Blue channel in curves. My histogram shows three peaks. I am not worried about the spike on the left, because that is the shadow side, and most of that is coming from the pavement. First I click on the spike on the right since I know that is primarily where my skin tone range is. Because yellow is the opposite of blue and I know I wan to add yellow, I click on the curve right at that spike and pull it down very slightly (since that reduces the blues and inversely increases the yellows). Next I click right at the middle of the curve and basically anchor that point; the blue is okay through the midtones. Last I click on the middle peak and draw it down very slightly which helps to warm up the shadows.




Next I do a color balance layer to further tweak the color. I also use the Mask tab and click on her face to target my corrections to primarily her face. My settings for the CB layer was Shadows 0,0,0, Midtones +7, +4, -4, Highlights +9, 0, -1.

Since I'm still not satisfied I go back to another curves layer and play with the red channel.

At this point I am getting close with the color on her face, but it's still a bit flat looking, so I do a levels layer to darken it some - I've dealt with a lot of brightening and some of it is just getting too bright. I slide the midtones side to the right a bit to darken them while dragging the right most triangle to the left a bit to prevent the really hot spots to from blowing.


Now, nothing here is technically blown, but for my purposes, there are spots that I find to be overly bright, mostly because she was in direct sunlight, so the parts of her face that poke out the most took the brunt of the harshness. I've marked some of them in black below.




So I sample a less bright area of her skin, from the area marked in red, and use a very low opacity soft brush to paint over the bright spots on a separate layer above my noiseware/clone layer. This just helps to give smoother transitions and generally softens the face somewhat. Then I run a guassian blur on that layer, in this instance I used a radius of about 30px and I also reduced the opacity of the layer to 65%.

Next I am ready to tackle the eyes. There are all sorts of eye pop actions out there. I keep experimenting and coming up with my own actions. If you google you'll also find out various ways to bring out the eyes. I do my best to brighten them an make them sparkle without making them alien-like.

Last I do a sharpen. I used to do just a standard USM on a luminosity layer, but after watching Barbie's tutorial the other night, I've changed it up a bit. She briefly ran Boutwell's Magic Glasses and I really liked the effect. Although I don't have the TRA actions, I did some googling and found some tutorials a similar effect, so I've been playing with that for the past few days.

After a crop and vignette, I'm finally done.

Before:



After:



Here is what my layers palette looked like when I was done (Layer 1 that isn't marked is the layer I painted on her face):



Molly

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jodar
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:24:04 PM
Molly
You are sensational! This is fantastic. I can't wait to have a run through of the steps! Thank you so much for the screen shots and your layers pallette!
THank you !!
jod


Jodie
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paintedmoon
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:24:56 PM
Cool! As I said in reference to Barbie's tutorial, it's always neat to see someone else's process. They're always so different from mine, but then again, I also always say there are 595,246 ways to do any ONE thing in Photoshop, LOL.

Thanks for sharing that!

I'll come back later when I have a bit more time and really, really soak it up.

Anne

barbinga
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:26:09 PM
what a sweetheart you are to write all this down. thank you so much. i need to print a peas tips book with dividers according the subject.

farrahc
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:26:23 PM
You ROCK!!!! Thanks! =)


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Lindsay46
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:33:02 PM
Thank you for posting this! I am adding it to my favorites for future references!


Lindsay

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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:33:08 PM
Wow Molly, what an awesome tutorial! I will have to go over this when I have some uninterrupted time so I can concentrate and learn. Thanks for sharing, I learn so many new PS skills from you!



coopsmommy
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Posted: 5/7/2009 4:58:04 PM
Thanks Molly for sharing your awsome skills with us!


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Posted: 5/7/2009 5:03:53 PM
What an amazing tutorial, Molly. Thanks so much for the detailed explanation and for taking the time to put this together and share it with the Peas!!


Corinna

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Posted: 5/7/2009 6:05:59 PM
I have been waiting for a tutorial from you for a long time!! lol!!

Molly all your hard work has paid off, your persistency to learn is showing because you ROCK those skin tones!!

Thank YOu

beccaburke
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Posted: 5/7/2009 6:19:13 PM
Wow! I think I need to take a class...a semester-long very in-depth class! This is amazing. Will I ever be able to learn all of this? I am only beginning, but I did bookmark this for reference! Thank you!

Becca

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Posted: 5/7/2009 8:16:34 PM
molly - do not have time to digest this tonight, but you better believe i will be coming back to this tomorrow!! thanks so much for the time you put into this. of course, i will most likely have a gazillion questions, too!! thanks again!


jodi

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Posted: 5/7/2009 8:22:20 PM
Holy smack this is awesome! I'm going to have to print this and look at it one number at a time I needed a skin tone tutorial. My DD's skin is really wonky to work with. Looking forward to getting it right. Thanks so much!


Melissa
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Posted: 5/7/2009 8:32:32 PM
Thank you for taking the time to do this.

BrendaW
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Posted: 5/7/2009 10:40:44 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to show us your workflow. I can't wait to sit down and work through one of my pictures with this info. You are awesome for explaining all you did.

craftyluv
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Posted: 5/7/2009 10:54:18 PM
Big mwah!...Just for the select>color range tip(I didn't know it was there!), let alone the rest of it!



(I also adore that you said easy-peasy...I say it all the time!)


Blessings, Rebecca





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Posted: 5/7/2009 10:54:51 PM
Thank you so much! What a great post this is and that was super nice of you to take the time to do for us!


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Posted: 5/7/2009 11:18:23 PM
OMG you must have spent hours doing this for all the peas!! how nice of you!! It's awesome! TFS!


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Posted: 5/8/2009 12:24:22 AM
So awesome. I am going to reread it a few times in the morning, then try it out! Thanks!


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Posted: 5/8/2009 7:11:25 AM
Girl you are awesome!!! Thanks so much for doing this, I am going to bookmark this for reference.


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Posted: 5/8/2009 7:40:38 AM
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Definitely bookmarking this one.



Angela2932
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Posted: 5/8/2009 7:42:35 AM
Thanks for this Molly; you have a GREAT way of explaining things, and what a beautiful result you achieved in the photo !


Angela
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Posted: 5/8/2009 8:43:31 AM
That is a wondeful tutorial! Thanks so much for taking the time to do it!


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IrishScrapper1
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Posted: 5/8/2009 8:52:19 AM
WOW!!! Now this is my kind of tutorial!!! Thank you so much for putting this together!!

YOU ROCK!!!

Melissa


wife 2 Phil, mommy 2 Brogan (adopted April 2008 from Kazakhstan)

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Posted: 5/8/2009 9:10:22 AM
You rock! Molly!
That is the first thing that came to mind..then I scrolled down to post a reply and saw another Melissa said the same thing!!lol
Thanks


Melissa

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ajarstar
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Posted: 5/8/2009 9:24:22 AM
Awesome tutorial! Thank you for taking the time to write that out!


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Posted: 5/8/2009 10:06:38 PM
Thanks!


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Posted: 5/8/2009 10:24:46 PM
Thank you so much! Can't wait to put this into practice.

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Posted: 5/8/2009 10:48:58 PM
Molly, this is AWESOME!!! Thank you for taking the time to put all that out there for us. Great explanation.


I had a revelation recently on how to read them, so now it's much easier for me to tweak a specific color channel.


Can I ask what sparked your recent revelation? I've been trying to play with the selective colors adjustment layer recently, but I feel completely lost when I open it. I never know what colors I should be adjusting. I LOVE how you said that she seemed cool to you, so you adjusted the blue by adding yellow, it's opposite. But, I question... technically, isn't orange the opposite of blue? Then that gets into both yellow and red. Obviously you know what you're doing b/c your final image looks fantastic. I think I need to get better at 'reading' the colors to begin with.



MNshotz
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Posted: 5/8/2009 10:53:12 PM
This is awesome!! thank you!


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peano
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Posted: 5/8/2009 11:16:04 PM
Molly, thank you so much for this tutorial! I am just getting ready to jump into editing some pix of DS and this will really give me a place to start. I've printed it and will study it tomorrow.

I just want to say that you are always SO generous with your time and knowledge and I really appreciate it.


My stuff:
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Canon Rebel XT
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LR4




ckmcdonald
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Posted: 5/8/2009 11:18:10 PM
Thanks so much for all of the info! I am super excited to try it out!

Jill Beamer
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Posted: 5/9/2009 12:09:16 AM
AWESOME!!!! Will have to spend some time to devour all of this!!!

(btw - I think it's cool your dd has two different coloured eyes!)


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Posted: 5/9/2009 6:34:22 AM
thank you so much! You have learned so much - thanks for sharing!


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PeaFixture

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Posted: 5/9/2009 6:37:55 AM
Thank you so much for posting this...for taking the time to lay this all out for us! I need to look at it carefully. I feel so overwhelmed sometimes by all of the steps. I wonder how long, on average, you spend PP-ing each photo?

I cannot wait to learn more from you! It is almost summer, and since I am a teacher, one of my goals is to sit down a lot this summer and learn, learn, learn about skin tones!

Thank you so much!


Susan

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Molly C
PhotograPea Enabler

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Posted: 5/9/2009 7:14:32 AM


Can I ask what sparked your recent revelation? I've been trying to play with the selective colors adjustment layer recently, but I feel completely lost when I open it. I never know what colors I should be adjusting. I LOVE how you said that she seemed cool to you, so you adjusted the blue by adding yellow, it's opposite. But, I question... technically, isn't orange the opposite of blue? Then that gets into both yellow and red. Obviously you know what you're doing b/c your final image looks fantastic. I think I need to get better at 'reading' the colors to begin with.


Julie, I don't know why yellow and blue are opposites, but they are. I think it has to do with monitors being additive color spaces (too much of one color blows the whole hue to white) and traditional painting, etc., being subtractive. I just know that everywhere in PS the opposite of yellow is blue, the opposite of red is cyan, and the opposite of green is magenta.

I use selective color mostly for localized color casts. As you say, it's often too difficult to ascertain what color you are going to end up with. I know Anne typically works in the neutral channel when doing selective color. I do also tweak in the neutrals, but if you look at the photos in my siggie, Thomas has on a very red shirt. If he had red on his chin that was reflecting back from his shirt, then I would use a selective color layer, primarily in the reds and reduce the magneta, then paint over the affected area. If that didn't get it, I might also go into the neutral channel. Within the red and neutral channels I might also increase the amount of cyan (cyan and red being opposites) to mask that out.


Molly

Nikon D700
Nikon lenses & flash, AB400 and softbox

Molly C
PhotograPea Enabler

PeaNut 49,752
September 2002
Posts: 15,942
Layouts: 86
Loc: Virginia, where my heart has always been

Posted: 5/9/2009 7:17:57 AM

I wonder how long, on average, you spend PP-ing each photo?


I am really working on streamlining my workflow, and trying to get more right in camera. I took some shots of the kids yesterday that all had decent white balance and exposure in camera and spent less than 10 minutes on each shot. It's hard to say - with two small kids and a renovation going on I get interrupted a lot! The problem is that I really like to play in PS, so some of the length of time is self-induced just because I keep experimenting and trying to write my own actions, etc. When I do plays here for most people I do them in 5 minutes or less on average, unless it is really out of whack.


Molly

Nikon D700
Nikon lenses & flash, AB400 and softbox

jodar
mama to 3 now!

PeaNut 305,846
March 2007
Posts: 8,539
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Loc: Australia

Posted: 5/9/2009 9:08:42 AM
Molly thanks for this once again. I got to have a good go through and after a few misses I think I have got the selective colouring thing working for me. I now can see the small changes needed to tweak the bigger colour changes made with the colour balance!
Also your

I just know that everywhere in PS the opposite of yellow is blue, the opposite of red is cyan, and the opposite of green is magenta.
comment help to cement it a bit more in knowing which way to slide the slider to get the affect I was after!
thannks again
jod


Jodie
my blog JLB photography FB fan page
In my bag: Canon 50D, Tamron 28-75mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 430exII;
On my computer: CS4, LR3
Feel free to hhcc me anytime!

~JustJulie~
Oh for the love of Peas

PeaNut 19,359
August 2001
Posts: 6,218
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Loc: PA

Posted: 5/9/2009 9:27:00 AM

I just know that everywhere in PS the opposite of yellow is blue, the opposite of red is cyan, and the opposite of green is magenta

Ahhh, see, I'm thinking color wheel, not PS. That makes much more sense. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!



~celeste~
Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 66,910
February 2003
Posts: 9,074
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Loc: washington

Posted: 5/9/2009 10:31:08 AM
molly, thanks for posting all of this. I have a major headache right now so I am going to try it later.





Vitah
PeaNut

PeaNut 403,547
December 2008
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Loc: Illinois

Posted: 5/9/2009 6:47:34 PM
I am very happy you posted this.
thank you


Vita

LOVE MY CANON CAMERA!


Tangles973
PeaAddict

PeaNut 353,825
December 2007
Posts: 1,244
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Loc: Georgia

Posted: 5/9/2009 8:20:29 PM
Molly, I'm coming in on this late, but wanted to add my thanks as well. I've seen so many of your posts on here and your eye for colorcasts and talent for fixing them always amazes me. You are so great at this, and it was so very nice of you to take the time to write out this tutorial. Thanks so much!


***Candy***
My gear: Canon 5DmkII; 85/1.8; Tamron 28-75/2.8; Canon 50mm/1.8; Canon 430EX;

Please "like" me! http://www.facebook.com/crhphoto




pricelessimpressions
PeaNut

PeaNut 126,355
January 2004
Posts: 182
Layouts: 1
Loc: Utah

Posted: 5/9/2009 8:23:44 PM
Thanks for all this info Molly...I will have to bookmark and come back when I can process all this GREAT information. I find it so interesting to see the way other people do things. I can't get over how many different ways you can do one thing....

Just FYI for anyone...I got the magic glasses for free a while ago.

FREE TRIAL

Try this link...I don't know if it is still in the free trial? But, I use the magic glasses all the time. I love it!



justjanice
AncestralPea

PeaNut 268,945
July 2006
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Loc: Texas

Posted: 5/9/2009 9:59:05 PM
Thanks for sharing this!! I need to work on my skin tones and I look forward to trying this tutorial! THANK YOU!


**Janice**


Canon 40D | 24-70 2.8L | 70-200 4L | 70-200 2.8L | 50 1.4 | 85 1.8 | 28-300 18-55 | 580ex II

Tradewinds
PeaAddict

PeaNut 378,146
June 2008
Posts: 1,087
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Loc: Hawaii

Posted: 5/10/2009 1:14:32 PM
Molly, thank you so much! So awesome of you to share with all of us!

lalainaz
PeaNut

PeaNut 400,224
November 2008
Posts: 146
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Loc: Phoenix, Arizona

Posted: 5/30/2009 9:05:40 AM
Thanks, Molly! Jodie just linked me to your tutorial and it is awesome! I really appreciate you taking the time to do it.



Jennifer G
BucketHead

PeaNut 338,317
September 2007
Posts: 791
Layouts: 0
Loc: Canada!

Posted: 5/30/2009 9:38:03 AM
Molly, this was very sweet of you to offer this tutorial, I've bookmarked it, and will be using it in the future!

EH Photography
PeaNut

PeaNut 434,571
August 2009
Posts: 185
Layouts: 8

Posted: 10/9/2009 9:37:32 PM
Thanks so much for posting this Molly.

Now.. this is where you and I {maybe even most of us} differ. I looked at your second shot {after your raw edit and thought it looked great. I would have sharpened it and called it a day. You took it so much further. In the end ... your picture looks natural AND breath taking.


~ Eva
EH Photography
Canon 40D, 50mm f1.4, CS4, Portraiture, Calibrated

nursebeth
Procrastinator Extrordinaire

PeaNut 227,128
October 2005
Posts: 6,294
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Loc: Central Valley, California

Posted: 10/10/2009 12:13:47 AM
This is HUGELY helpful to me! Thanks for taking the time to do this.


Beth

My Blog: Better Than Real Life


My gear:
Canon 7D ~ Speedlite 430EX ~ CS5
Canon 50mm f1.8 ~ Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro ~ Tamron 28-75mm f2.8
Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 ~ Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

x2mom
PeaFixture

PeaNut 131,952
February 2004
Posts: 3,609
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Loc: central Texas

Posted: 10/10/2009 6:38:22 AM
Molly, thank you for the tutorial. I have learned soooo much from your
posts.
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