Fashion lighting and Photoshop tutorial

I use Photoshop as little as I can. I much prefer to get an image right in camera so I am not spending hours in post. Most of my images take an average 30 minutes.

The shot bellow was taken at mid-day, in harsh and high sunlight.

To compensate for this I placed my model in the shadows created by the branches of a large palm tree. I set up a large California Sunbounce Gold and Silver Zebra reflector out in the direct sun, reflecting soft warm light onto the front of my model.

With a light reading from my model’s face, I shot at a shutter speed of 1250s, an aperture of f2.8, and at 400 ISO. White balance was set to daylight.

This image was shot on my D2H with a 24mm to 70mm f2.8 Nikon lens, focal length set at 42mm. I stood 1.4 meters away from my model to emphasize her limbs, and also so we had a good connection for creating good energy and directing.

Notice my lens/eye level is in the middle of her torso. This is important when shooting wide angle and close to your subject to avoid distortion. If you shoot to high up, your model’s head will be big and her legs will look as short as a chicken’s and vice versa. So it’s important to get your eye/camera lens level at the right just the height to avoid distortion.

I often shoot from a lower angle, especially if I am trying to emphasize the length of a model’s legs for hosiery images.

To keep the sky as blue as possible I shot with a polarizing filter on my lens, looking to the west of the midday sun. This is how you keep the sea and the sky blue, as well as make the model’s skin/tan look nice and silky by removing some of the specular reflections on her skin.

If I had been facing more to the east, the sky and the sea would have been much more burned out.

When I first started shooting digital I had a lot of problems because I tried to shoot digital the same way that I shot film. Now I always under expose from the meter reading. This is for a couple of reasons, to saturate color, and to make sure I am not losing my highlights. Obviously my images are going to be a little on the dark side, but I can easily correct for this by using a little s curve in Photoshop to start the retouching process.

I always shoot raw files and a small jpg. I will explain why in another article.

I process my raw file as shot in camera raw from Bridge and open them in Photoshop. (Raw files have a great deal more latitude as far as image data, and result in much better quality images).

Step 1: Creating copies of the image to work on

First I made 2 duplicates of the image by selecting image, duplicate. I did this twice. On the first dupe I darkened the sky and sea using curves, selecting image, adjust, then curves. I pulled down the center of the curve a little to increase the density of the sky, which would have been burned out if I had brightened up the image over all to make my model’s skin lighter.

I now had an image with the sky and the sea darker and more how I want it in my finished image.

Step 2: Lightening my model’s skin

On the second dupe I brightened the image by selecting image, adjust, curves, lifting the center of the curve a small amount and pulling the bottom of the curve down just a little, making a soft s curve to increase the contrast. See image below.

This action lightened up my model’s skin just enough, but I lost my sky density, which is why I created a dupe image and adjusted its density so the sky was just right.

My model’s face was still a little dark, and using curves this way has increased the saturation, but I’m not worried about this right now.

Step 3: Lighten up just my model’s face

With the round select tool I selected the area of my model’s face, selecting more than I actually wished to lighten. In the select drop down menu you will find “modify.” In modify, select “feather.” You can alter the amount of feathering in the option box. For this action I typed in 240. If your selected area is smaller than half of the amount of feathering it will not let you continue, so pick a smaller feather amount. In this case, because the image file is 49mb, 240 pixels is OK. This softens the edge of your selected area. In curves, I brightened my model’s face by lifting the center of the curve just a little.

See result on the image to the left.

Step 4: Creating 2 layers to work on

Click on the “move tool,” top right tool in the tool box (usually on left on your PS interface.) Click on the light image and drag it over onto the window of the darker image, this creates a double layered image with the lighter image on top. See image below. The images need to be lined up, registered together exactly.

Step 5: Creating a mask to protect the areas of the images I want to keep as they are

With the magnetic select tool I traced around my model, across the top of the rocks and around the upper edges of the image to select the sky and the sea. See the black line around selected area on the screen grab image above. The sky showing between her arms and head and body also needed to be masked off. I do this in the next step.

Step 6: Adding to the selected areas

The area of sky between my model’s arms and head and shoulder also needed to be selected, this can be done by clicking the caps key as you select these areas without losing the areas already selected. The magnetic select tool can be a little unpredictable and may leave some areas unprotected and vice versa. These can be edited more accurately in the next step. Click select, inverse to change/inverse the selected area to the areas that I want to mask off– the model, rocks and the sandy beach.

When the image was first opened I assessed what was needed to be done to the image apart from the initial exposure and contrast changes, see the basic image 3rd down from the top of this article. This is with an image which is the un-retouched processed raw file. As you can see, the image lacks contrast as well as being not quite as saturated as I would like. Below are the various steps in Photoshop to make the image as I envisaged when I shot it.

Step 7: Cleaning up the edges of the selected areas

To make adjustments to the edges of the masked areas, click the little box with a circle in at the bottom of the tools bar. This changes the selected area into a red mask showing the areas that are protected (as in the screen grab above), that I don’t want to be altered in the next stage.

With the eraser tool I erased the red mask where it overlapped the areas I didn’t want protected. I add more red mask to areas I did want to protect with the paint brush. All the tools can be increased in size, as well as made to give softener or harder edges. Some areas around the edge of the mask needed to be feathered and some didn’t. For the edges that I did want feathered, I changed the softness of either the eraser or the paint brush to soften or harden as required. Practice is the way to become proficient at selecting areas to mask off.

Now happy that I had accurately selected masked off areas, I switched off the red mask so I could begin to erase the areas of the lighter layer. To do this I clicked the little box with the circle inside.

Step 8: Erasing the areas of the lighter layer

Click the erase tool, set the size quite large and the opacity to 100 percent, and click and move the eraser tool over the areas to be deleted. You will see the image layer underneath being revealed as you go. It’s a good idea to enlarge your image before you go too far, so you can check that the edges of the protected areas are not being damaged.

Step 9: Cropping and stretching the image

The industry standard size of a photographer’s portfolio is 11 inches x 14 inches, as are Stylists’ and Hair and Make-Up Artists’ portfolios. I wanted this image for my portfolio but the proportions wouldn’t crop to this size without losing either the top or the bottom of the image, cutting off either the top of her head or her knees. To get over this I stretched the sides of the image.

This is how.

First set the crop tool to 11×14 inches at 300 dpi, then drag the crop tool on the image as in the image above. Don’t crop it yet. Drag the bottom left corner so the cropped area goes outside the original image, so the bottom of the cropped area is in line with the bottom edge of the image. Then re-position the cropped area centrally over the image, click OK and crop the image. It will look like the screen grab image bellow.

Step 10: Stretching the image to fit the print size

We need to stretch the sides of the image out to cover the over cropped image edges. To do this, select the rectangular select tool, select the image from the top left hand corner and drag your selection down to the bottom and across to just before the model’s knee. Do not select over the model’s leg. See screen grab above. Now click apple T (or left click, select free transform on PC). There will be little squares on the corners and center of the selected area. Click on the center square on the left side of your selected area and drag it until the image area has stretched to the edge of the image. Repeat these steps for the right hand side of the image. Now select layers, then merge visible layers, then save as a TIFF file. If you’re on a Mac, check the IBM PC box. If you save for Macintosh, people not using Mac will not be able to open the image. There are more options regarding saving, but these are for a more advanced user than this article covers.

The result is the finished image bellow.

Photographer: Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is a world-class fashion and beauty photographer whose work has appeared around the globe for more than thirty years. He's the author of "Fashion Photography: A Complete Guide to the Tools and Techniques of the Trade" and teaches workshops internationally. His website is

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