Welcome to do :: or :: diso, a monthly sports photography ezine. do :: or :: diso will address issues particular to sports photography in a format that is to the point and easy to understand. In the future, do :: or :: diso will be available for guest pieces but for now, let’s just get to Issue no. 1.
You are at a sporting event, no flash. . . just you and the arena lights or whatever light nature gives you that day. You get home and look at the image and there are shadows cast under the athlete’s eyes from the light as it rakes across a helmet, a mask, or a forehead. And, the uniforms are not nearly as bright and vibrant as they appeared at the event. I use a number of fixes and here are three: 50% gray layer; dodge and burn; and the detail extractor filter in Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4. You can see the difference these techniques make in the before and after shots below.
50% Gray Layer:
I use a 50% gray layer technique to remedy or lessen skin shadows, especially around the eyes. In Photoshop CC (same in PS5 and PS6) create a new blank layer (cmd shift N on a Mac; control, shift N on a PC) or simply pull down the layer menu and select. The layer dialogue box appears and under mode, select Soft Light, and immediately below “Soft Light” check the box for (fill with Soft-Light-neutral-color (50% gray)), and then click OK. The dialogue box will look like this:
Select your brush tool (B) and a very soft brush (zero hardness). In the brush mode, pull down and select soft light; 50% for opacity and 5% for flow. Your settings will look like this:
Use your D key to ensure your brush palette is black and white and then the X key to ensure that white is selected and then paint white in short strokes over the parts of the skin where there are shadows. Do not over-paint and watch for color shifts that look unnatural. When finished, select filter, blur, Gaussian blur at 12 pixels. This will have the effect of blending what you painted for a more subtle look. I use this for the skin around the eyes to remove shadows and so the photo can establish better eye contact between the athlete and the viewer. The technique is borrowed from a more complicated beauty retouching technique where the 50% gray layer is used to remedy blemishes and wrinkles by in effect painting away the contrast that is the blemish / wrinkle. The technique, if over-used, can also have the unwanted effect of smoothing (hence the use in beauty retouching) and you will want to avoid over-smoothing or your athletes will begin to look airbrushed or plastic. You can see this effect at work around the point guard’s eyes and cheeks in the before and after picture above and in the tone of the main defender’s face. You can also see it open up the faces and details in the hurdlers in the before and after images below.
Dodge and Burn:
I use old fashioned dodge (lighten) and burn (darken) to add light back to uniforms and shoes, as well as the ball. Create a new layer (cmd, option, shift, E on a Mac, ctrl, alt, shift E on a PC). Select the dodge and burn tool with the O key. For Range, select Midtones, for Exposure select 11% and check Protect Tones. Your selections should look like this:
Select your Brush Tool (“B”), soft brush (0 hardness) and to lighten, paint white on the uniforms, the shoes, and the parts of the ball that are more exposed to the arena lights above. You can then adjust the amount of dodging with the opacity adjustment in your layer panel. If you add too much light, hold the option key on a mac (alt key on a PC) while you paint and the dodge tool automatically becomes a burn tool to darken. Play around with this technique as it can add a subtle illusion that lighting was used on the athlete. You can see this effect on the top of the ball, the shoes, and on the point guard’s uniform in the above image, and in the hurdler uniforms below.
Nik – Detail Extractor:
Create a new layer (cmd, option, shift, E on a Mac; ctrl, alt, shift E on a PC). Pull down the filter menu and select Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Yes, yes, I know. I assume that you have Nik’s suite of plug ins. If you do — superb. If you do not, and you were to invest in one plug in, Color Efex Pro 4 is quick, easy, and well worth it. So, if you have Color Efex Pro 4, read on, and if not, practice the 50% gray and dodge and burn and techniques instead. Once in Color Efex Pro, select “Detail Extractor.” At first, it will apply to the entire image, which I do not want. I want selective application, so select a control point (the circle and the + sign) and create a control point by clicking on the image where you want the point shown below.
The adjustments are made in the circular control point and are feathered to some extent by Nik. The control point can be moved by dragging the top circle, and the circle size can be changed by dragging the slider attached to it. The amount of adjustment is controlled by the bottom slider — fully extended is 100% opacity and full adjustment, and as the slider is dragged and the line shortened, the opacity is reduced as well the amount of adjustment. You can add as many control points as you would like by returning to the control point dialogue on the left of the desktop, and you can replicate a control point by holding down the option key in a Mac (alt key in a PC) while dragging the control point. The effect can be seen in the below image to return light and resulting detail to the uniforms.
Three simple ways to add light (back) to a shot in post processing. Sometimes the effect can be subtle, and sometimes a bit more dramatic. Below is one more before and after example: this one at the Kansas Relays in daylight.