Forgotten in its old age

by Aditya

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Looking at this: http://www.drawingart.org/clients/sherlockholmes2/

I'm curious as to how they pulled it off, in that obviously the photographs themselves have had both some serious talent + equipment to get it to the point where its ready for some post-photo effects applied. From what I can tell its like they've combined a Dave Hill Effect + High Pass Filter and then somehow added a noise-like filter to bring out the skin more...

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3 Answers 3

Possibly a bleach bypass type effect as well, the skin looks desaturated. A simple way I know of to do this (and I'm sure there are millions of other techniques):

  • add high pass filter to sharpen, merge down

  • add B&W adjustment layer, adjust reds for skin contrast (mask out the eyes to retain color)

  • duplicate original layer, bring to top, set blend mode to overlay or soft light and adjust opacity - this brings back some color to the skin

  • for skin texture create a blank layer, filled with 50% gray. Add monochromatic noise. Set blend mode to overlay and adjust opacity. Suggest a smart object so you can adjust the noise to suit.

  • finish off with some dodging and burning

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First off, don't be afraid of harder lighting. If you want detailed texture, that's where you start. That doesn't necessarily mean using a speedlight naked (although it can), but the easy-way-out umbrellas and softboxes are not the way to go about creating images like these. When you start with the right lighting, you don't need to do a whole lot in post in order to get this depth of detail.

If I had to guess, I'd say the lighting was primarily from Fresnel spots, although a medium-sized gridded reflector (something smaller than a "beauty dish" but bigger than a standard reflector) or even a smallish gridded softbox would provide the same sort of shadows and texture. Any of these will provide very directional light without the razor-edged shadows of a point light source or a lens spot. That's the key to getting the texture detail in the skin, hair, beard and fabrics.

It helps, of course, that the equipment used was probably not a $50 point-and-shoot and a couple of flashlights. Some time was spent setting up the lighting (probably with stand-ins for most of the work), and the camera was quite capable of capturing the detail. But it's the lighting that's the key.

There is no doubt the picture went through a lot of time in Photoshop, but I would say that very little of that time was spent doing what you think was done. The eyes were gone over pretty thoroughly, there was probably significant retouching around Downey's scar makeup, and there were no doubt skin blemishes and imperfections in the fabric drapery to worry about. The detail and texture, though, aren't the result of heroic post-processing special effects -- they start with good lighting.


By the bye, if anybody wants to combine the strobist DIY way of life with this sort of hard-light, high-detail photography, a Fresnel spot for your speedlights is fairly easy to make. If you can't find surplus overhead-projector resin Fresnel condenser lenses at your local Emporium of Interesting Things (every decent-sized town has one of these, and its presence or absence is probably a good definition of "decent-sized"), then the old mail-order (now online) stand-bys like Edmund Optics can sell you a lightweight resin Fresnel lens. The rest is just fabbing a tube-in-a-tube (or box-in-a-box) to allow for variable spread of the light with the Fresnel lens on one end and a cut-out for your flash on the other. The exact design would depend on the focal length of the Fresnel lens, and how tricksy you want to get with the focusing mechanism, but it can be pretty rough and basic and still give impressive results.

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I'm sure it completely obvious to many, but I would add that the direction the light comes from is very important. Here the light comes from the side (with some extra backlight from the other side): the texture is maximized wherever the light hits the skin at grazing incidence. –  Edgar Bonet Dec 23 '11 at 8:57
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The key light appears to be about 30 degrees off axis to the right, perhaps a little less, and at about a 45 degree vertical angle. The kicker is to camera left, to the rear of the model and again at about 30 degrees or less -- it's nearly pointed at the camera, and the low angle of reflection means that the accent highights are brighter for the light power than they would be if the light were from the front. The fill is from just below the camera lens, and may simply be a reflector picking up spill from the kicker. There's no raking light from the key; it's all about contrast. –  user2719 Dec 23 '11 at 9:30
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Those lighting angles are relative to Downey, by the way. The key hits Law almost dead-on, and the kicker is less oblique. Although the two were probably shot separately and the final photo composited, the lighting is consistent enough to look like it was a two-shot. That sort of attention to detail is a big part of what makes a good professional a good professional. –  user2719 Dec 23 '11 at 10:21

no matter what light they used, one could get this level of control with a wacom tablet and about 30 mins of dodging and burning in the hands of a skilled artist. My guess is the original file was taken in medium format at low ISO

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The light matters much more than the input device. A digitizer tablet (Wacom or similar) is pretty much a given in professional-level work - and a Cintiq is much more likely than a simple tablet - but it's not retouching that creates the texture and detail, it's the light. It would take a lot longer than a half-hour to create pores, etc., by dodging and burning in areas where a large softbox had wiped out the shadows. –  user2719 Dec 27 '11 at 19:38

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