I always love to hear about how other photographers process their images. I enjoy hearing different ways of doing things - so I thought I'd share my workflow from beginning to end.
**a few notes** I use Photoshop CS4, Adobe Camera Raw, and Adobe Bridge, and I shoot in RAW.
Cull the images. I use Bridge to sort through the whole gallery. Anything I love gets 1 star. I go through it several times to weed out those "just ok" and find the best images from each pose.
I then go through the starred images using Bridge, and color correct in ACR if necessary. The images are then processed using Image Processor in Bridge. It converts the images to JPG and also applies my skin softening action (which uses the Portraiture plug-in). They are then placed in a separate folder within the main gallery folder. I then edit the images in batches of 6 -10. Then I crop them to a 5x7 ratio. I try to edit all the images from one sitting or pose for continuity. With three kids, I rarely have time to edit a whole gallery in one sitting, so once a batch of photos are edited, those photos get 3 stars so I know they're done. Here's how I process 90% of my images:
1. I fix any skin issues such as acne, or under eye circles. The best way I have found to fix under eye circles is to use the patch tool, select the dark circle and drag it to a patch of clear skin. Then go to Edit--> Fade Patch Selection, and slide it to around 50-60%. You do NOT want to completely remove the circle because it will look weird. Just soften it a little.
2. Channel Mixer. I LOVE how channel mixer evens out skin tones and seems to fix minor color issues. Image -->Adjustments-->Channel Mixer. Click on the "monochrome" checkbox and set the blending mode to screen, reduce opacity to about 35%. You can play with the adjustment sliders, but I usually go with somewhere around +35 for red, +70 for green and +5 for blue.
3. Soft light layer. Duplicate the background layer by selecting the background layer and hitting Ctrl J (PC) or Command J (Mac). Set the blending mode to soft light and reduce opacity to around 30%.
4. Solid color fill: This seems weird but I love the subtle effect. The blue set at a low opacity gives the photo a subtle haze that I love. At the bottom of the layers panel is a little circle that's half black/half white. Click on it and choose "solid color" at the very top. Pick a muted dark blue. Just trust me on this :) Change the blending mode to "exclusion" and set the opacity to around 20-25%. Exclusion mode basically lowers the contrast slightly and provides a smoothness to the image.
5. Another solid color fill. This one is for warmth in the image. Choose a warm gold color, set the blending mode to "overlay" and reduce opacity to around 20%.
6. High Pass Sharpen. Duplicate the background layer, and choose Filter-->Other-->High Pass. Set the slider so that you just begin to see the edges of the image. I usually set it around 5 or so. Set the blending mode to Overlay and reduce opacity to around 50%.
7. Optional: Select all of the adjustment layers and go to Layers-- >Group Layers. This gives you the control to reduce the opacity of the whole set of steps at once. Some examples of these techniques in action:
Seem like too many steps to do for each image?? No worries! It's easy to create an action that does everything and all you need to do is adjust the sliders of each step to customize each image. That's what I did! The entire effect of my workflow gives my images creamy, smooth skin tones, almost vintage detail of clothing (check out what it does to jeans!), dreamy, hazy backgrounds and an overall pleasing warmth. If I want a hazier feel, I'll lower the opacity of the Soft Light layer and the High Pass layer. If I want stronger contrast, increase those layers. Give it a try! Leave a comment below if you'd like the action and I'll make it available to download on my blog :). Happy editing!