A Brother’s Portrait

by | 1 year ago

Though I had made countless portraits of friends and strangers, I hadn’t made many of my brothers and sister. Of the images that I’d created, most were casual snapshots made with less purposefulness. I was happy with the photographs that I’d made and shared with them, but I admit that the experience of photographing them was often different from my other work. 

When I received the new Fujifilm GFX100s, I immediately wanted to make portraits with it. The combination of the high-resolution sensor, the 4:3 aspect ratio, and the optical performance of its lenses made it ideal for portraiture. My brief experience with a pre-production model months before had resulted in a different shooting experience that was slower and more considerate. I made photographs with the careful consideration I had once practiced when I shot film and was limited to only 36 or even 12 exposures. I knew that this would provide me with the ideal photographic experience for making a personal portrait. 

Find the Right Light 

During a family visit, I asked my brother to pose for me. I looked for a spot that would provide good light and background, and as it was the early afternoon, the sun shone brightly in the Southern California sky. The light was hard, harsh with shadows that resulted in contrast that wasn’t favorable for a portrait. The steps of the front porch offered the only workable location, including illumination of dappled light. The illumination and its pattern of light and dark, however, presented an exposure challenge. A straight-out-of-the-camera exposure might result in the highlights being blown out. Such hot spots might be unrecoverable if I wasn’t careful. 

My experience with other cameras (Fujifilm X-T3 and X-Pro3) taught me how to compensate for such situations. With those cameras, I might have underexposed by 2/3 or 1 stop to prevent overexposure of the highlights, but it would have resulted in underexposure of the shadows, which I could bring up later in Lightroom. And though the shadows would exhibit greater noise, it wouldn’t diminish the overall quality of the photograph. 

I hadn’t had much experience with the GFX100s to have the same level of confidence in handling this challenging lighting situation. I knew that the larger sensor promised greater dynamic range than I was accustomed to with my APS-C sized sensors, but I wasn’t sure what that would mean for my portrait; but, despite that lack of experience, I chose to test the capabilities of the camera and adjust the exposure by only –1/3 stop. 

Using the GF 32–64mm zoom lens, I set the aperture to f/4.5, slightly smaller than the widest aperture of f/4. By targeting the eye closest to me for focus, I anticipated that the shallow depth of field and the resulting compression would emphasize my brother’s features and expression while softening the appearance of his body and the background. 

When I viewed the camera’s histogram, I saw that the camera had captured the entire tonal range of the scene. It hadn’t lost any important details, but I could see that I had some work ahead of me in Lightroom, as shown in the following steps. (KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller DNG version of this image for practice purposes only.) 

Step One: With the image opened in Adobe Lightroom Classic and the Profile set to Adobe Color in the Basic panel, the histogram reflected a full and healthy tonal range from highlights to shadow. Though the highlights in the display panel appear overexposed, there exists data that will be brought out during the processing of the image. 

Step Two: Darken the overall image by adjusting the Exposure slider to –0.50, and increase the Contrast by +15. 

Step Three: To recover the highlights and quarter shadow details, adjust the Highlights slider to –85 and the Shadows slider to +85. The washed-out look of the area around the nose and cheek is greatly diminished. 

Step Four: The image needs a slight increase in contrast, so let’s achieve this by adjusting the Whites to +19 and the Blacks to –10. As a result, the skin tone enjoys a little more pop now. 

Step Five: Micro-contrast adjustments to the midtones can not only provide some detail to the skin, but also diminish the appearance of some skin blemishes. The degree to which this is done will vary with the subject’s skin color, age, and sex; but, in this case, an adjustment of +15 for Texture, –11 for Clarity, and –10 for Dehaze results in a good look. 

Step Six: The skin requires some adjustment to appear more natural. This is achieved by a +13 increase in Vibrance and a –5 reduction in Saturation. 

Step Seven: Though the image is steadily improving, it’s still relatively flat, which requires an increase in contrast that can be finely controlled by a Curves adjustment. In the Tone Curve panel, set the Highlights to +6, Lights to +14, Darks to +13, and Shadows to –19. The image now possesses a nice snap with a slight increase in color vibrancy to the skin and knit cap. 

Step Eight: Individual color adjustments will help in improving the overall look of the image. Go to the HSL panel and click All at the top right to reveal all the sliders for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. To reduce the remaining shiny appearance of the skin, adjust Orange Luminance to –28 and Orange Saturation to +8. 

Step Nine: To refine the appearance of the reds and blues of the knit cap, adjust the Red Hue to –10, Red Saturation to +11, Blue Saturation to +15, Red Luminance to –10, and Blue Luminance to –15. 

Step 10: The green T-shirt, especially in the area of highlights, can do with some darkening. To achieve this, adjust the Yellow Luminance to –68 and the Green Luminance to –67. Note that the adjustment of the Yellow slider further reveals more skin detail in the area of highlights. 

Step 11: The high resolution power of the GFX100s delivers incredible detail and sharpness, but it can still be improved by slight sharpening. In the Detail panel, adjust the Sharpening Amount to +60, Radius to 1.3, Detail to 42, and Masking to 64. 

Step 12: A vignette will help draw the viewer’s attention to the center of the frame and my brother’s expression. In the Lens Corrections panel, click on the Manual tab, and drag the Vignetting Amount slider to –32 and Midpoint to 13. 

Step 13: Though the previous global adjustments dramatically improved the look of the image and addressed problem areas, there are still areas of concern. The bright highlights on his T-shirt are a distraction, so let’s use the Adjustment Brush (K) to eliminate the issue. Double-click the word “Effect” near the top left of the tool’s panel to reset all the sliders to zero. Refine the performance of the tool by setting the Exposure slider to –0.78, Highlights to –100, and Whites to –50. Adjust the Brush size to 10.2, Feather to 91, and Flow to 40. Paint the effect on and around the bright areas of the T-shirt to create a natural look. Use the Bracket keys on your keyboard ([ ]) to increase or decrease the brush size as needed. 

Step 14: The face needs a little brightening and to achieve this, grab the Radial Filter (Shift-M) and drag an oval around his face. Click-and-drag inside the oval to reposition it, and use the points on the outer line to resize it. Select Dodge (Lighten) from the Effect drop-down menu near the top left of the tool’s panel, and check on Invert near the bottom of the panel so the effect takes place inside the oval. Refine the adjustments by setting the Highlights to –30, Shadows to 52, Whites to 3, and Blacks to –5. 

Step 15: To eliminate the remaining shine on the tip of his nose, we’ll use the Adjustment Brush again. Click New to create a new Adjustment Brush, and then double-click on the word “Effect” to reset all the controls to their default values. Set Exposure to –1.04 and Highlights to –43, and then paint in the area of the nose highlight. 

Step 16: The eyes are slightly in shadow; so, to bring out more detail, click New again to create a new Adjustment Brush and select Iris Enhance in the Effect drop-down menu. Adjust the performance of the Adjustment Brush by setting the Size to 3.0, Feather to 91, and Flow to 40. Then paint in the area of the eye. 

And that’s it! We’re done with our brotherly portrait. Here are the before and after images.