March 20, 2008
Photoshop + Lightroom = Killer B&W
One of my favorite things about working on the Photoshop team is that we get to build a product people actually want to use when they leave work. That means that lots of the engineers, QE folks, marketroids, and others are avid photographers, and the halls of the floor are lined with their work.
Recently, every time I’ve walked by the office of Kelly Castro from the Lightroom team, I’ve noticed really striking black & white portraits on his monitors. Knowing that my friend & fellow Photoshop PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes had recently co-authored a great book covering B&W in Photoshop and Lightroom, I suggested he touch base with Kelly to learn more about the way he combines the two products. Here’s his report. –J.
[Update: Note that Kelly added some more details via the comments.]
Blue-Collar Black & White
As a Product Manager for the Photoshop team and a Product Evangelist for the Lightroom team, I spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about the relationship between the two applications. My greatest inspiration comes from the time I spend with our users, when I see what they create with their talent, time and the complimentary feature-set of these two amazing products.
Knowing my love for Black & White imagery, Nack pointed me towards some astonishing in-house talent, right here on W10. Yesterday I enjoyed an hour with Kelly Castro who gave me a glimpse into his very unique workflow. I’m not going to tell you everything about how Kelly gets his shots to jump off the screen, but I will showcase a few very cool steps. If you’re like me, the shots will inspire you far more than my words can.
Kelly starts off with controlled lighting and though he has access to a studio, he prefers the ink-black backdrop of night and a common garage. If that wasn’t enough to pique the gear-head side of my brain, Kelly gets the first photons of his unique lighting effect from the neighborhood auto parts store (that’s all I’m saying). Although Kelly takes inspiration from Avedon and Nigel Parry, his approach is all his own; I was reminded often that time upfront is fundamental to Kelly’s work.
As a Quality Engineer on the Lightroom team, Kelly knows how to take full advantage of Lightroom’s power. Lightroom houses his collection, helps him rank and sort his shots, takes his images from Color to Monochrome…and further. A fan of Virtual Copies, Kelly starts there before cropping (like me a fan of the “O” toggle between crop views), then, using his own preset conversion he massages the details; “I tend to overuse the Clarity slider” Kelly betrayed, “but it works for these”. With such strong contrast in his images, I asked Kelly how he keeps an eye on clipping – he toggles the disclosure triangles on the histogram from time to time, but admits that he works more from his own eye. Within just a few seconds, I could see how his portraits took on an entirely new look. Before jumping seamlessly to Photoshop for more granular edits, Kelly used Lightroom’s spot removal tool for sensor dust and small skin flaws.
Kelly has been using Photoshop since version 3.0 and it shows; his activity there is an expert blur of duped layers, blend modes (Kelly favors Overlay and Softlight), opacity shifts and quick paint strokes to dodge and burn facial details between layers. One trick that I had read about but never seen was the addition of a new layer and the application of a radial gradient (white to clear) on the subject’s eyes – after a quick touchup of the gradient on the eyelids, Kelly switched to the Overlay blend mode and the eyes just POPPED!
Kelly’s initial images looked tack sharp to me, but when he added the popular high-pass sharpening method to his stunning monochrome, suddenly the original seemed soft in comparison. As he sped through his workflow, I kept thinking the image couldn’t get much better – but then with each new layer he took it to an entirely new level. I go the feeling that like a lot of artists, Kelly is probably never completely finished.
As we continue to develop Lightroom and Photoshop side-by-side, I take great comfort in seeing how the two applications complement one another. Kelly is the type of user that really pushes the capabilities of both – I’m glad he’s helping us improve the quality, experience and workflow of our professional products.
– Bryan O’Neil Hughes