As a beginner, you get caught up in figuring out what gear to get. People usually say to get the best glass available. That is true. So one common thing I see in forums is beginners getting caught up in which set of lenses to get. They end up getting a couple of primes or a few zooms. That’s a lot of lenses just to get pictures of their kids, cats, and flowers.
What do they really need? Just one lens. Just pick one. I would recommend a something in between a 23mm and 50mm and stick with that for a year or so.
As for the body, it doesn’t matter. Anything that is at least a micro 4/3 or higher will do fine. 90% of the people won’t be able to tell the difference if it’s shot with a m43, APSC, or Full Frame sensor. Seriously, they can’t, unless you’re planning to print huge prints and paste them on your wall.
For camera bodies, it more about how it fits, the usability, and the style points. As long as it’s a modern camera, the IQ won’t matter much. They will all look similar.
Once you shoot in one focal length for about a year, you begin to realize what you need. I shot my X100 and X100s (the same camera basically) for a whole year. I realized I’m more into portraiture. So I wanted a longer lens. So I got the X-E1 and got the 35mm lens. Now I’m 90% content.
When the 56mm f/1.2 lens came out, I pre-ordered it. But I’m wondering if I really needed that lens. I’m so happy with the 35mm, I wonder if I made the mistake getting the 56mm. Sure, it’s probably good for closeup face shots, but I do that anyway with the 35mm since the distortion doesn’t seem bad. I’ll probably get it and see if it’s something I would want to keep. If not, I’ll just sell it.
Now, my X100s is my snapshot, food, travel, and do everything camera. My X-E1 is my portraiture camera. That’s all I shoot these days so I don’t need anything else.
Will I be able to shoot sports or wildlife? No, but it’s nothing something I need to do or interested in. So I have my gear set.
Here are some stuff I did with my year with the X100s:
So as you can see, you can do a lot of stuff with just one body and lens.
I had a recent photo shoot. I decided to use Capture One to process it. When I was testing out various RAW converters for my Fuji cameras, I mentioned I loved Capture One’s skin tones. Funnily, for my first Capture One session, I decided to do the set in black and white.
I love black and white photos but have rarely processed my portraiture in black and white. So for this shoot, I put my camera in black and white mode and decided my set should be in black and white. Of course, the RAW would come out in color, but at least in my camera, I would know what the black and white photos will look like.
The models were Haley J, Kimberly P, and Madison L.
I think they look underexposed. But I wanted to give it a darker feel. If I were to do these again, I would try upping the exposure or brightness setting in Capture One and seeing how it would turn out.
Also, I could’ve used the levels slider in Capture One to make the blacks darker. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. I’m used to Lightroom’s black slider.
How Did I Process These?
If you’re interested in how I processed these, I used a “complicated” method: I just put the saturation slider to 0. Yeah, it’s probably not the best way to do it, but I have seen professionals who I respect use that method.
I guess I have more control if I used the black and white setting such as filtering certain colors. But this is my lazy, quick, and easy method. Also, I can put a slight blue tint to the shadows when I have the saturation at 0. I don’t know if I can do that if I use the black and white setting in Capture One.
If Lightroom does come out with the film simulations for the Fuji cameras, hopefully, I can just use that. I love how Fuji’s black and white film simulation looks.
I have learned several ways to retouch skin. Some are good and some are bad. I’m going to retouch the same image and describe each one.
The Original Image
This is the original image I’m going to use. The hardest part was finding a picture of a model that had skin that can be retouched for this exercise. Most of my models had great skin.
Sorry LaCole for using your un-retouched pic. Fortunately, I don’t think she will even see this blog.
Here is the un-retouched photo. I shot this with my Fuji X100s. I cropped to her face to get a better look at her blemishes. I also fixed the exposure. Other than that, it’s straight RAW out of the camera converted using Lightroom.
Before I begin, I didn’t put too much effort into this. I hate retouching. It feels tedious to me. I rather be shooting than retouching.
Therefore, these might not look good and sloppily done. It’s because they are. Also, I was doing these on my laptop with a dirty screen, using my touchpad. Those are my excuses if these don’t look good. Anyway, let’s get started.
Blur Skin + Healing Brush
This is probably the worst method ever. I learned this method early on from one of Scott Kelby’s youtube videos. I can’t believe he suggests this method. It is one of the worst methods ever.
Having said that, it is the fastest method. This took me less that 5 minutes to do. The only problem is that it destroys skin texture. It gives the porcelain doll look. I do not like it. It makes it look unnatural.
Also, some people abuse this technique so they blur the skin even more. It makes the image look ridiculous.
How do you use this?
Copy to new layer.
Use surface blur in Photoshop. Scott actually says to use Gaussian Blur. I think surface blur makes a “cleaner” blur. So use that instead. You need to mess with the slider to get enough blur to clear away most imperfections while trying to keep things looking natural.
Drop the opacity down in the blurred layer until it looks natural.
Mask away the eyes, lips, and hair. That way, those will look sharp and natural.
Heal away the rest of imperfections.
This is where you create 2 layers. One is the tone layer. The other is the texture layer. You “separate” those frequencies.
That way, when you heal the skin, you don’t have to worry about the skin tone. You just have to make sure the textures match. So you can go to any place in the skin to get the sample for your skin to heal from.
This preserves skin tone and texture much better than blurring skin method or straight healing brush method. This takes a long time to do though. My image took about 15-20 minutes to complete. And I wasn’t even putting much effort into it.
Also, you can get a bad texture and screw it up. Also, when you have skin as bad as hers, it’s hard to find a good texture to start from. So it can look “patterned.” You would need to get into 200% zoom and do it more meticulously.
But if the model has good skin in most places, this is one of the best ways to retouch skin.
How do you do this? It’s too complicated to explain. Search “frequency separation” on Youtube and you can find a ton of videos from there.
Dodge and Burning
Dodging and Burning is what the best retouchers use in the industry. It completely preserves all skin textures. It is the most natural method.
The only problem: it takes freaking too long. Also, there is no way to do this with a mouse or touchpad. I had to bust out my Wacom tablet. If you hate retouching like me, this will test your patience.
However, I do use this method more often these days since it makes people look more natural. I don’t do it at a micro level too much though. I do it on a macro level.
If you want to do this properly, you need to zoom in to 300-400%. This is also the hardest method since you need patience and artistic talent. When you dodge and burn away the skin, you can lose tonality. But you can add tonality as well afterwards. Therefore, it helps if you know how to paint in shadows and light.
If you overdo this and make the skin super smooth, the skin will look blurred. So you have to be careful not to spend 8 hours chugging away with this method and have it look like something you could’ve done in 5 min. However at 100% zoom, you’ll be able to see each texture of the skin.
So how do you do this? This is also complicated to explain. Create a 50% gray, soft light layer (search for this method on the Internets). Then you zoom in 300%, dodge dark spots, and burn light spots in the skin. Repeat until everything looks even.
This can get complicated. Like I mentioned earlier you may lose tonality. So you have to paint those back in. You may also lose skin color as well (like in my pic). So you would also need to paint those back in. It’s just too tedious and painful to do it correctly.
You should, however, do D&B on a macro level for all your images. It can help the image.
100% Zoom Of Each Method
Here are the 100% zoom of each method.
2. Frequency Separation
3. Dodging and Burning
There are other methods I haven’t shown.
Lowering clarity slider in Lightroom. This can look horrible if you’re not careful. But it can lighten up some blemishes if used well.
Going crazy with clone stamp on a new layer and dropping opacity.
Using portraiture and other insta-retouching software.
Many others I’ve forgotten about or not know about.
You wouldn’t use these methods exclusively. You would combine these methods to get the best possible results.
Honestly, I like the Blur method out of all 3 with this particular image. Yeah I know I wrote it’s the worst method. But it looks the best to me. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t look sloppy. I just can’t stand the over-smoothness of the skin though. Oh well. Maybe if I spent more time on the other methods.
Each technique can be used depending on where the image will be shown. If you need to show images to a client quickly at a small resolution, the blur method might be good enough. If you’re going to print big, perhaps the other methods can be good.
Besides using software, having someone with good skin, getting a good makeup artist, having good lighting, and other factors can help as well.
Other sneaky ways you can try is soft-focusing and/or using a high ISO can help make the skin look smoother–whatever you can do to lose the details.
A model once said she liked my pictures because I don’t process them. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or insulted by that. I spend a lot of time thinking about my post-processing and applying them. It could mean she couldn’t tell if I processed my photos. Or it could mean I’m awesome because my photos look natural.
I’ve pondered at my post processing. I noticed it goes through cycles from doing too little to too much to doing too little again. It depends on what new techniques I learn and what other photographers do with their photos.
When I first started getting into photography, I was an in-camera only guy. I thought using photoshop or lightroom was cheating. I had to get it perfect in camera. And I still believe that.
The photo below is one of my earlier shots. I just crushed the shadows and applied some split toning (and boy can you tell). That’s all. I didn’t even retouch her face nor touch any other sliders. Luckily she has good skin. People wondered how I posted my pics so fast. It’s because I just did split toning, synced all photos, and posted it it.
Then I got into post processing heavily. I learned some retouching techniques (both good and bad techniques, but that’s a future post). I loved using Lightroom and Photoshop. I believed post-processing was an essential part of the finished photo. And I still believe that.
I did a lot of stuff to my photos during this phase. Luckily, I never got into the horrible HDR phase.
Here is one of my more processed photos. Man, did it look overprocessed. It did give a distinct flavor to my photo. You know, the flavor of sunburnt skin.
Later on, I hated my post-processing on that photo. So I redid it. It looks smoother and more elegant. I made things subtler. The skin tone looks more natural. I even retouched her skin. Is this one better? To me it is.
Then I went to this. I used the radial filter heavily to get rid of the distracting elements in the background. Heck, I probably even used the brush tool to darken big areas as well. I was going to town on my Lightroom, using everything it has.
It almost looked like I used a softbox on camera left and hair light on a boom on top of her. In fact, this was all ambient light. She was sitting on a pool table with the lamp above her. That’s it. I also cleaned up her face using frequency separation.
I also went through a phase of trying to save bad photos using post. I won’t be trying that again. The image below is heavily cropped and processed. It’s an okay photo. Nothing can save a bad photo.
Here is where I am now. I dodged and burned her skin to lighten up the bags under her eyes and to eliminate a few imperfections. I also messed with the curves, saturation, and contrast a bit. That’s about it.
My Opinions On What Post Processing Should Be
So now I’m back at trying to get everything in camera again. But when I look back at my photos, they haven’t changed much, no matter how much post-processing I used.
One reason is my philosophy of keeping things as subtle as possible. I try not to max out, or even go past 25, on my sliders.
Also, I believe the first thing you notice in photos CANNOT be the post processing. The processing should fit and become seamless with the photo. It has to match the mood, story, and feeling of the photo.
Later on, I’ll go over many different ways to retouch skin.