Colour grading for dramatic portraiture in Affinity Photo with Ivan Weiss

hi I’m Ivan Weiss, I’m a portrait photographer based in Kings Cross in London. I shoot headshots for everyone from actors and entertainers to executives and entrepreneurs. I’ve been a user of Affinity Photo for a long time now and it’s really an essential part of my post-production workflow. The people at Affinity have asked me to put together a short video as part of their Lockdown 2020 creative sessions, so I thought what I would do is walk you through a typical workflow for Colour Grading a dramatic portrait. So the portrait we’re going to use for this demonstration, I shot this about 10 days ago while in lockdown, so it’s a self portrait. I can’t have anyone in the studio unfortunately. For those of you who want the technical details, it’s shot on a 50 ml lens I think a 5.6 and the light is a 70cm beauty dish with a grid as the key light and a ring light on the camera as the fill. This is quite typical of of my work in terms of the colour palette and the contrast and shadow I’m just going to zoom out there so we can see the full thing Now of course when we’re going into colour grading, and in post-production in general, we can enhance what’s there but we need to capture the essence of it in-camera So I’m going to show you the starting point, this is what I got in-camera and you can see already because of the lighting I’ve got quite strong shadows, quite a lot of contrast and because of the way I set the shot up I’ve also got a very reduced pallet so the the background is grey, the wardrobe is green and then the skin tones and the the desk that I’m leaning on similarly sort of reds and yellows oranges I suppose. So there’s not a lot of other colours going on there and that’s something that I like to do I like to really reduce the colour palette so then you can play with contrast and colour contrast to really make something quite bold without it being overpowering and busy. It makes it feel more sort of harmonious even though we’re gonna go quite extreme with the colour and the contrast before we get to the colour grading. I’ll just give you a quick word on the retouching that I’ve done on this. So on the background layer already I went in and took care of the little things you know stray hairs bits of dust that kind of stuff, that’s already been dealt with with the Inpainting Tool. I then set up Frequency Separation layers using the Frequency Separation Filter. I did that at a two pixel radius, so quite a small radius, and then in between those two layers I’ve done a little bit of work, and I will show you by zooming in, a little bit of work on the face. I don’t like to over retouch skin I want it to feel realistic and so that means there’s going to be some variation in there, some small blemishes. But if things are distracting then I like to minimize them or remove them completely and in this case I know that we’re gonna really bump up the contrast later on, so I want to be careful of where my highlights are and looking here on the nose there’s quite a strong highlight that is lighter than the highlight on the forehead so using the Healing Brush I’ve just taken that down a little bit so that it’s in line with the highlight that’s on the forehead and then again because we’re going to bump up the contrast the small variations in skin colour, skin tone are going to get amplified, so I just want to control those a little bit and I’ve used a Selective Colour Adjustment to just damp down the Reds a little bit and painted that in in some key areas. So as I switch that off and back on again you’ll see that there’s some redness in the side of the nose, on the tip of the nose, in the under eye areas that I’ve just dealt with with Selective Colour and then

finally I’ve used some Dodging and Burning to add more contour to the face and this is just enhancing what’s already there, selectively amplifying some of the shadows and just bringing up some of the highlights a little bit So if I switch those on there you can see what’s going on So let’s get into the Color Grade. The basis of my workflow is, for this type of portrait, always the same. I start with a lookup table, a LUT that I created several years ago that basically shifts all my colours to where I like them. I like green, I like gold I’m, not a big fan of blue so essentially what this LUT does is it crushes the Blues almost completely and it just shifts everything else a bit towards Green. So I’m gonna open up here and you’ll see the name of the LUT that creates it is Wintergreen’s, and that’s just a little nod to one of my favourite photographers Dan Winters, who also in my opinion makes great use of greens in his work. So we’ve applied that LUT You can see… let’s just look at the Histogram there… if I switch it off, the Histogram when we started was everything in the middle, plenty of space at the top, a bit of space at the bottom and a fair amount of variation in the mid-tones there, the lower mid-tones As I apply that LUT the blues get really squashed down, the reds and greens get squashed down a bit and the overall Exposure is taken down but it has increased the relative Contrast, and what we’re gonna do now is just work to pull that back out… and you’ll see that it gives quite a different look because of the way that we’ve dealt with those colours. So I’m just gonna add a Curves layer and we’re gonna go in somewhere quite near the top and bring those highlights back up, something somewhere around there looks good, so we’re bringing those highlights back up to where they were. Because we’ve done this with a Curve of course that’s also brought up the shadows and the mid-tones and that’s not what we want so we’re now gonna go in and just push those mid-tones back down and the shadows back down so there we get something really quite dramatic there We’ve boosted that contrast, the background has gone to a gray green and it’s all starting to feel like it’s coming together already, but we’re not going to stop there. Let me just save that. What we’re gonna do next is again a standard part of my workflow I’m gonna add some colour overlays and the overlays that I use, I will show you, as well as being colour overlays, are also texture overlays…let me just get that centered on there nicely. So this is a photograph that I took of a piece of wood that I found in a skip, that is now doubling as the tabletop that I’m leaning on, and it’s is very badly whitewashed so it’s got lots of brushstrokes on it, lots of uneven texture the brushstrokes are not even going in the same direction so it’s quite sort of messy. I took a close-up photograph of that and then in Affinity Photo I added a bit of a vignette and then played with the tones separately in the different levels of exposure so the darker areas have got this rich kind of reddish orange to them and the lighter areas like here and here much more towards yellow and the reason I like to use these kind of things oh I seem to have added two of them there I’m just gonna delete one of them. The reason I like to use these is that it adds a sense of depth and texture to the the image while also adding colour. I like doing the two things together, just seems to work for me. So I’ve got that file there now I need to apply it as an overlay. Before I do that I’m going to switch it off and just mention something about how I compose my images. If we look at this just purely in terms of luminance, the light areas of the image

are all skin and the dark areas are the background and the desk and the clothes Now because I’m going to be adding some texture I don’t really want to add an unnatural texture to skin, that’s not going to give me a good look, so one way that I can deal with that in most of my work is to simply use the Blend options if I don’t Blend into the Highlights I’m not going to be blending into the skin On one of the Affinity forums I found somebody who had quite kindly uploaded a set of Macros for doing this automatically, ‘Darks 3’ is one that I like, let’s just do that, and you can see it automatically creates this Curve if I switch the layer on you can see now that it’s not affecting the highlights and then it’s getting progressively more effect as the image gets darker, so that’s good. I’m going to then change the Blend Mode to Overlay and you can see without it and with it, so it’s added this richness, this kind of golden tone to it’s predominantly in the shadows and a little bit in the mids and then none in the highlights. We’re gonna do the same thing again this time with a different overlay and this one is let’s just place this on here correctly there we go. This is again a shot of the same table but I’ve done a different colour treatment on it this time, going for these kind-of greyish-greens, I guess you could call it olive or khaki, something like that, and again different tones in the shadows and different tones in the highlights and we’re gonna do the same thing. I’m gonna apply it to the darks only, so it’s revealing the skin. See the hand and the face, but it’s gonna add the texture elsewhere to the image and I’m gonna change that Blend Mode to Overlay. So let’s just take a look at the before and after…and that’s starting to look really nice and rich That’s essentially my starting point for most of the images that are in this style, but then for each image there’s a lot of individual and subtle tweaks that need to be made in order to really get the image to pop, so that’s gonna vary what you do – it depends on you know what wardrobe the person is wearing what their skin tone is like how you’ve lit it, what colour the background is – all of those kind of things are going to have an influence here on those decisions. There’s any number of ways to make subtle adjustments to colour in Affinity Photo. We’re gonna use a few of them here I don’t think there’s any one that’s better than another, it just depends on what’s most appropriate for the image. So I’ll show you a few different techniques here and we’ll combine them to start making the the subtle adjustments to get this image to where I want it to be and one of my favourite ones to use is to use a Curves Layer and to put it into LAB. Now I’m just going to duplicate that twice and I’m gonna call the top one ‘L’ I’m gonna call the middle one ‘A’ and I’m gonna call the first one ‘B’ and what we’re gonna do there is go in and manipulate the curves separately for those three components or ‘opponents’ as they are in LAB color space You can do it all in one Adjustment Layer, that’s perfectly fine, I like to separate them out so that I can then, if necessary, play with the individual opacities to balance them against each other more precisely. So let’s open up this and we’re going to take it to the ‘B’ opponent and what’s great about this way of manipulating colour is because it’s a curve it applies things gradually so it’s always a fairly smooth effect. I’ll just show you – if I put an anchor point in the centre, if I grab a point up here and start to move that up – gradually, gradually you can see that

it’s going to start pushing the lower bit of the curve down, yeah so by using anchor points we can make sure that we’re staying balanced and not getting too extreme with our adjustments. So I’m just gonna pull this one over, something like that, and just pop that one up a little more and then let’s come back to the midpoint and I’m just gonna bump that a few clicks up this way – and you can see the effect that it’s having there, it’s starting to shift the mid-tones to this more golden yellow That’s way too much for what I want and if we were to go the other way it starts to sort of add this blue it feels more matte, a bit more washed out so I don’t need to make a very big adjustment here at all, that actually looks good where it is So we’re going to go with that, let’s just Save. Then for the ‘A’ opponent – let’s open that up and set that to here. You don’t have to do it this way but as I went with an inverse s-curve on the previous layer I’m gonna go with an s-curve on this one so it’s a way of building more contrast into my colour and giving me more pop that’s just bringing back a little bit of extra richness in the skin tones, looks like I’ve got a good suntan there – don’t how I managed that in lockdown but there we go I’m just gonna bump that down a little as-well, yeah that looks nice Okay then for the lightness let’s open this up and put it here. This is like a Luma curve you know it’s a way of adjusting the lightness without affecting the saturation and what I’m gonna do here is just start pulling that across so that we bring up the highlights – and that’s doing a nice job of that but don’t want to take away too much of the shadow so I’m just gonna nudge that in the middle so that the shadows stay relatively dark there – that is pretty good. I’m liking that. So what can we do next? I like it it does feel a little bit too rich maybe at the moment, so I’m gonna go in and use… let’s see… we’ll go for Colour Balance here. Colour Balance is a great one when an image is feeling a bit too warm or a bit too cool, I find this to be a more sophisticated way rather than just using White Balance, partly because you can affect the highlights the mid-tones and the shadows separately, but also because you’ve got all six components of colour to play with, it’s not just temperature and tint. You’ve got cyan, red, magenta, green and yellow and blue – so I’m gonna try and just add a little more blue in the shadows make the shadows feel just a little bit colder and that way I can hopefully make the highlights feel a little bit warmer and create a bit more separation and contrast to really make this image pop. So I’m going to take the blue slider over somewhere – this is in the shadows – somewhere there. I like that but I mm-hmm let’s just add a little bit of red in there as well, a tiny bit, yeah that looks good. Let’s go into our mid-tones and essentially you know you can see from the Histogram up here – what I’m calling my mid-tones are actually really quite a long way down on the on the Histogram, so they’re very close to being shadows. I don’t have a lot of information in the true mid-tones area so I might as well treat these pretty much the same way as the shadows. So I’m just gonna bump that across something similar to what we what we just did there – and then essentially with the highlights we’re just gonna go the other way. So I’m going to take this more towards the cyan and this over towards the yellow – let’s see what that’s

giving me… maybe more? Yeah that looks pretty good Okay I’m liking this now, one thing that I find that’s really important when you’re dealing with Colour Grading, you really need to reset your eyes. Take a break from the screen go and look at something that’s, you know, completely different colours because it’s very easy, your eye gets sort of accustomed very quickly to what you’re looking at and you won’t see if you’ve overdone it on the reds or, you know, made the shadows too muddy or something Another way of just refreshing your eyes and allowing you to see the image anew very quickly is just to flip the image and so I’m just going to do that there and all of a sudden it looks kind of different and what I’m noticing is the reds in the skin on the temple and down the shadow that comes down the cheek, that’s quite a big block of fairly uniform colour there, I’m not so keen on that – that feels like it’s dominating a bit. Let’s go back to the right way around. I’m just going to push the image over to this side make it a little smaller Another thing to do is vary the the background colour that you’re working on So currently we’re working on a mid-grey What happens to the image if we make the backgrounds completely black, then what happens if we make the background completely white mm-hmm – so this is a good way of just resetting your eyes and making sure that what you’re seeing is objective. Let’s see So with grey is good, let’s bring that back in there. So as I said I think I’ve got a bit too much going on with the reds here. One thing that I can do there, I know that this overlay layer that I put on initially is very often responsible for adding a bit too much red to the image, in fact if I just switch it off now you’ll see we go back to this much more sort of greenish-grey overall. So I’m going to switch that back on but maybe just drop the Opacity something like 75 – that feels a bit more like it I want it to be rich, I want it to be very saturated but there’s a point beyond which it just looks a bit too much. Then in a similar vein, because it’s just that red area here that’s bothering me through the skin – I mean it’s there it’s present in the skin and the desk, so I’m just gonna open a HSL Layer and just deal with the reds by themselves and there’s three things that I can do with HSL right – I can shift, I can change the saturation and I can change the luminosity and I like to do a little bit of all three so that the effect is subtle but gets me to where I need to be So I’m just going to shift the reds ever so slightly towards green, minus 2.6 that’s fine. I’m just gonna take down the saturation of the Reds a little bit, yeah -3 that’s good and I’m gonna increase the luminosity. Now when you increase the luminosity of something of course you’re also desaturating it because you’re adding white so there’s less colour – maybe that’s a bit too much let’s just bump it back something around there. That’s looking pretty good – yeah I like that. So we’re nearly done. The next thing that’s on my list when I’m getting ready to finalize a picture is to have a look at that Histogram and bring up a Levels command and there’s a bit of space at the top and a bit of space at the bottom, so let’s deal with the shadows first. I’m going to bring that in to almost touching the white there and it’s gonna go really really dark, don’t worry we’re gonna deal with that in a second, and we’re gonna bring the top slider in so that it’s nearly touching those highlights to get them as crisp as they possibly can be. I just

want to move my midpoint because my shadows are now too heavy, the dark hair is being lost a bit into the background. So I’m going to slide that down a little bit, somewhere around there, so that the hair is in shadow on this side, I don’t need to see the detail but I do want to see that outline before the background starts disappearing into this vignette that we’ve got. Because I brought up the black points to there it’s actually really heavy in these corners, so I’m just gonna lift my overall black point so that although those shadows are crushed they’re not going to go to complete black So, let’s take a look at that Yeah I’m pretty happy with that. One thing that I like to do to finish images is very often just to add a layer of film grain. So I’m gonna pop that on there now – and let’s just get that lined up – there we go. I’m gonna switch that to Overlay mode and I’m gonna Save that We don’t need that ‘Final’ Layer and then – will that allow me to delete… there we go I’m just gonna switch back to what we started with which was that and then switch all the layers back on boom. And there we go! Easy! And because I love you so much we put a link in the description below so you can go and download the lookup table and the two colour overlays that I’ve used in this tutorial