This is the Blog of Swiss Photographer Nicolas Henri

Tutorial: The Glacier’s Tear

The German photography blog recently published a tutorial of mine on how my image “The Glacier’s Tear” was made. It sparked quite a response over there, so I decided to share an English Version here. While the shoot for it was fairly straight forward, this is a Photoshop Tutorial for the most part.

The Finished Image:

This is the final image, which most you will know from my portfolio. But the original capture looked like this:

Right at the start of the shoot, model Clarissa mentioned that she had this really cool white fur hat with her and she wanted some pictures with it. At the time I thought ” yeah, well, we might do something with it once I’m done with the images I have in my head.” Once we were done with my program for the day, I agreed to do some “fur-hat-imagery”. When I looked through the viewfinder of my Canon 5D I (finally!!!) saw how cool this could really turn out! Clarissa’s lovely gaze, framed in fine white structures - great! I used my favorite portraiture lens, the EF 100mm Macro. At the bottom, just out of frame, I placed a silver reflector, bouncing some light from the overcast sky into Clarissa’s face. That was all the light we needed. No strobes here. The frame was shot at ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1500.

Not much else to say about the shoot, except that Clarissa even managed to squeeze out a little tear, which led to the title: The Glacier’s Tear.

The Post Production:

Alright, grab yourself a cup of tea and make sure you have a little spare time. If you want to, dig up a similar portrait shot from your archives and play along.
At the beginning of my post processing, I always “zero out” the image. Sounds strange but it describes the process fairly well. The idea behind it is to get a very flat exposure before I start to work on the image. With this technique I lower the highlights and raise up the shadows towards a medium value. With this image, this might not seem necessary, since it was fairly evenly exposed. However this step is necessary for the next steps to work out properly.
In Lightroom (or any other RAW-Converter of your Choice) export a normally exposed version of the image, just as it was taken. Export as 16-Bit TIFF, colorspace Adobe RGB, no sharpening or de-noising.
Now export a second version where the exposure is lowered by 0.5 to 1 stop. And then a third version with exposure raised by 0.5 to 1 stop. Open all three exports in Photoshop and you should have something like this:

Now all three exports are combined into one photoshop file as layers. Place your normal exposure at the bottom, the brighter on over it and the darker one at the top of the layer stack. Hide the draker version at the top by ticking off the eye symbol to the left of the layer. You should now see the layer with the raised exposure. Switch to the Channels tab, where you’ll see the Red, Blue and Green channels of the image. We’ll now perform a highlight based selection. Hold down your Command button and click into the thumbnail of the combined RGB-channels at the top.

Photoshop will generate a selection based on how bright sections of the image are. You should see “roaming ants” around the brighter areas of your image:

Switch back to the layers tab to convert this selection into a layer mask. Click on ther “add layer mask” symbol at the bottom of the layers window:

Continue after the jump…

The highlight based selection has now been turned into black & white mask attached to the layer. This mask defines where a layer is transparent or not. The whiter the mask the less transparent that area of the image is. Where it’s black the layer is completely transparent and the layer below will show through.

Continue after the jump…

So far so good, but the brighter exposure we are working on right now, is intended to brighten up the shadows of the overall image. Right now the mask only reveals the highlights of brighter layer. So we need to invert the mask by hitting Command + I. (Make sure to select your mask not the image itself before doing this!)

There you go: The shadows of the original exposure are brightened up, while the highlights remain the same.

Time to reveal the darker top layer again (click the eye symbol next to it). You might guess what happens next… we’ll do the opposite now and darken down the highlights of the original exposure. To do this, just repeat the steps from before with the only difference that you don’t need to invert your layer mask anymore, since it already reveals the highlights, which we want to influence. At the end you should have a layer stack like this:

The result is an extremely flat exposure - looks terrible… But it’s supposed to!

We have just created the perfect basis for the next processing steps. Details in the highlights and the shadows! The concept behind this is to have total control over the contrast of the image. I sometimes call this “micro-contrast”, which we are now able to work out selectively! But first flatten your image via the menu of the layer window. Next we’ll create an adjustment layer with the channel mixer (call it up from the adjustment layer button at the bottom of your layer window.)

In the settings for the channel mixer, switch to monochrome and shift the RGB-Channels in favor of the green channel. This results in darkened skin tones with added structure. (BTW: Old silver-oxide-based B&W film stock was more sensitive to green light than the rest of the visual spectrum, resulting in more interesting skin tones than modern film or digital captures!) Depending on the image the values in the channel mixer may vary quite a bit. In any case make sure that the shadows in the reds don’t get crushed and that the highlights don’t burn out! We need to maintain detail an all areas of the image! Hit OK, when your done.

Now make a copy of the colored layer underneath the Channel Mixer adjustment layer and place it over the Channel Mixer. Hide your copy for the time being - we’ll need it later on. Flatten your visible layers (bottom layer and channel mixer) and you should get a layer stack like this:

With the bottom layer selected go into the Shadow/Highlights filter (Menu bar: Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlights) to refine the the contrast of the image some more.

Again the values may vary greatly depending on the image you work on. But basically we’ll want to raise the shadows some more, while getting even more detail into the highlights to further define the “micro-contrast”. Take extra care not to burn out any highlights with your settings. Hit OK when your done.
Now turn the color copy at the top of your layer stack back on and change it’s blending mode in the layers window to “color”. The result is gruesome but be patient…

Add an adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation!

Because we reduced the red tones with the channel mixer before, the skin tones look dirty now. With the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, reduce the saturation of the red and yellow sections of the color spectrum to compensate for this. Since I was aiming for a cooler feel in the image, I went a little further than usually necessary. (Possibly you may also need to desaturate the magentas too…)

Are you still there? Still kicking? Because now the fun part starts!

The following step is called “painting with light”. Add two empty layers beneath the color layer, but above the layer with shadow/highlight filter on it. Fill one of them with pure white, the other with pure black:

Switch the blend mode from the drop down menu of the layer window to “Color Burn” for the white layer and to “Color Dodge” for the black layer. Nothing happens. Right, because the colors of the layers and their respective blending modes zero themselves out.

In the black layer we will now trace the brighter details of the image. Use a biggish brush (100px and more), set the color to white and the transparency to 7% or less. Now draw over the bright details in the image to bring them forth and accentuate them. For faces you may want to focus on cheek bones, nose, highlights on lips, or the curvature over the eye-brows or the chin. In this image I also worked out the fine structures in the fur material this way. You can accentuate existing highlights or artificially create specular highlights. It all depends on how the image was originally lit. In any case take care to not over-do it. Highlights blow out real fast with this technique. The result of my tracing and the effect on the image looks something like this:

In the white layer we’ll do the exact opposite. Trace and accentuate the shadow areas. Use a smaller brush tip than before, transparency set to 3% or less. Again. be careful as your shadows get crushed very easily. My result looks like this:

By now you will understand why we went to such great lengths to optimize the contrast: If the image was already very contrasty, we’d have nowhere to go with the painting with light technique!

Depending how (un-)subtle you went to work we will be able to see brush strokes on the final image. Add a gaussian blur to both the black and white layer, with values between 10-25px or as large as needed to make visible strokes disappear. The blur will lessen the effect somewhat, but that’s ok because one tends to overdo it anyway. The effect should be visible but not distracting. Play with the layer transparencies until you find a good mix.

Sit tight… we’re almost done! The rest is decoration…

I had grown some large ice cubes in tupperware boxes in my freezer. I lit them with a flashlight from the side and shot some macros of the icy structure with the EF 100mm Macro. Looked something like this:

All in all I used 3 such macros as textures layered over the image. Choose “Soft Light” or “Overlay” from the blend mode menu. (It really depends on the texture which one is appropriate. Just play around with different blend modes!) Around the face the textures tend to distract. So add a layer mask to your texture layers.

You will get a white layer mask, which means the layers are fully opaque. Use a big, black and soft brush tip and brush over the areas where you want the texture to disappear. (Make sure to select the mask before you start to paint away!) Should look something like this:

And done!

Depending on the tonality you wish to achieve you may want to play around with the overall contrast, color balance or hue/saturation. Simply go to the top of your layer stack and select the according adjustment layer from the adjustment layer button at the bottom of your layer window.

It would be great to see what you create with this technique! Feel free to send in your results to contact(at)nicolashenri(dot)ch

Once I have a few examples I’ll post them here on the blog.
Hit the comments for any questions or suggestions!

Posted by nicolas_henri on September 23rd, 2010 :: Filed under Artist Technique, Lighting, Making Of, On Location, Photography, Web
Tags :: , , , , , , , ,
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5 Responses to “Tutorial: The Glacier’s Tear”

  1. Dorin
    September 24th, 2010

    Amazing tutorial. Please post more like this

  2. Towing Companies Katy
    October 20th, 2010

    Impressive tutorial. I tried it with my picture and it turned out great !

  3. Osox
    November 16th, 2010

    this is what i´ve been looking for, thank you so much for sharing this

  4. Denver Photographer
    December 11th, 2010

    Damn dude… that’s amazing… Great tutorial

  5. Natasha
    January 7th, 2011

    Awesome tutorial, thanks for sharing!

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