Many of us who attended Photoshop World and took some portrait photos at FJ Westcott's photo shootout area ended up with similar images of the same model, same wardrobe, etc. So, what do you do to make your images somewhat distinct from other photographers? Once you get past the things you can do during the capture, it's up to your photo finishing techniques in post-processing. Here's how I approached this shot.
Improving the Skin & Complexion
Rebekah has great skin. It amazes me some times that we still feel the need to “improve” on natural beauty. I looked for areas to fix with the Healing Brush. After that, I used the Inverted High Pass skin smoothing technique that Scott Kelby taught during his Portrait Retouching for Photographers session. It's on page 175 of the Photoshop World workbook, or page 96 of his book on Professional Portrait Retouching for Photographers using Photoshop.
Brighten the Eyes
This one is simple, but takes a couple of passes. Duplicate the background layer and change the Blend Mode to Screen. Add a Layer Mask and fill it with black. Zoom in close to see the eyes, select a small brush and paint only the color of the eyes with white. Don't paint the white area yet. Don't paint the pupil or the outer black ring of the iris. Just paint a small circle inside the iris to brighten the color and leave the blacks as they are. I set my flow to 45% so I can slowly build up the brightness, but you don't have to do that. Once you're satisfied that you've painted where you want, zoom out to a normal view of the portrait. Lower the opacity of the layer so the eyes aren't blazing. 35% usually works for me, but I've gone higher on images where the eyes weren't lit well enough.
Next, duplicate that layer. You should see a new layer with the mask you created already in place – no more painting. You're going to increase the contrast of the iris. Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Soft Light. You may see the iris get a bit darker, but you'll also notice increased contrast. Adjust the opacity to taste.
Now you want to brighten the whites of the eyes. You could've done this first, though. It's the same technique we used to brighten the iris, only you don't want the Layer Masks from the previous steps. Either Merge Down the previous layers, or create a new layer above them using Command-Option-Shift-E (Windows users, convert the Command-Option to Control-Alt). Change the Blend Mode to Screen, hide it behind a black Layer Mask and brush in the bright whites. Back off and reduce the opacity to your taste.
Finish it up using some sharpening on the iris.
Bring Out Texture in the Dress
I wanted to feature the dress in this image. It had character and texture that just wasn't coming out in the original image, though. I duplicated the layer and started Topaz Adjust 4. The new layer is because Topaz affects the current layer, and I wanted the ability to make selective changes. Once inside of Topaz Adjust, I tried a number of the filters and wound up on Spicify. If you don't have Topaz, you could also use Nik Color Efex and the Tonal Contrast filter. The idea is to push the tones over the top, so other filters or techniques may create the same effect, but those two are the fastest way to get there.
Spicify did interesting, if horrible things to Rebekah's skin and everything else in the image. I added a Layer Mask filled with black and painted-in the effect only on her dress. Again, I typically lower the opacity when I use this technique because Spicify is generally too strong for my taste. In this case, she got the full treatment.
Deepen the Overall Tone
At this time, I was looking for a way to set “the look” of my photo apart a bit more. Something that adds a bit of presence, but isn't immediately obvious as to what changed. I used Nik Color Efex for the Bleach Bypass filter, reducing the Global Contrast to about 30% and pulling the Local Contrast down to 50%. I also pushed up the Saturation in this image to 100%. I usually don't go that high because of what I want to do next, but I made that decision to keep the overall change subtle.
Once that processed, Nik gave me a new layer with my Bleach Bypass settings. I changed the Blend mode to Soft Light and reduced the Opacity to 50%. not only did that change the look quite a bit, but it also darkened the backdrop quite a bit. You can see hints of it behind her, but made it darker still in an upcoming step.
Brighten the Jewelry
By this time, I had changed the lighting of the image quite a bit. I wanted the jewelry to have some luster, though. I once again used the technique mentioned for brightening the eyes. Duplicate the layer, change the Blend Mode to Screen, hide it behind a black Layer Mask and paint in the brightness. Change the Opacity if it's too bright. There you go, instant luster.
Of course, luster isn't enough. I added some sharpening on the pearls, the chain and that big bauble on her ring.
Control the Light
When you go into these Westcott booths, the light is filling up quite a bit more than I wanted. I suppose you could walk up and move the softboxes, but that may tick off the horde of other photographers trying to get a shot at the same time. Fortunately, there's a simple technique that Scott Kelby showed in his course for Travel Photography that I like, and I feel absolutely incompetent for not thinking of it myself.
Duplicate the layer again and change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Everything gets dark. Add a white Layer Mask. Now get a HUGE, soft brush and select Black. For this one, I move my Flow on the brush to about 75%. Just hover the brushover the model's face and dab it. This is not a place for a scrub brush technique. Just give it a few light clicks and let the brightness of the layer below creep up. You start to see light and fall-off. You may want to click other areas of your image to bring in more light, but this technique is really about directing the viewer's eye where you want it to go. Not suddenly, but gracefully. When they look at the image, they shouldn't see a noticeable edge of the light. When you click this layer on and off, however, you should notice quite a difference in how the light plays on your subject.
Finishing it Up
Once those steps were out of the way, I used some selective sharpening on her eyes, nostrils and lips. Then I Merged the whole image and embedded a Digimarc watermark on it. Not a single step here was difficult. These are techniques that I've learned from NAPP and combined in my own way. There are other things that I could have done, such as adding highlights to her hair. The result of my changes also severely darkened the backdrop to the point that most of it fades to black. That was a choice on my part. You could easily retain the backdrop with selective masking in your layers. I just wanted a hint of it behind her.
I hope this was interesting and possibly helpful. If you have questions or alternate techniques to share, please let me know in the comments.