Practically every decade has a signature look when it comes to portraits, not only due to the fashions of the time, but of the lighting and style of the photography. Today we’ll turn an ordinary black & white into a portrait reminiscent of the glamour portraits of the 30’s and 40’s popularized by George Hurrell.
This is the perfect type of photograph to use for this technique. It’s available for you to download but is a part of a private family archive and is to be used for the purposes of this tutorial only! I’d love to see what you do with the technique, but please send it to me privately and don’t post to the internet, unless you use your own image, of course!
Here’s the image after a little basic restoration work. The work was done with the Content Aware Fill feature in Photoshop CS5. Since the work was done before I lessened the texture a bit, other tools just could tend to make a mess, so work in small areas with the patch tool, and with small brush sizes if you use the healing brushes…or you can smooth the texture first to make the whole process easier!
We just want to soften the texture slightly, so go to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur, and keep the Radius down to a relatively low Pixel value. I used a radius of 0.8 pixels on a resolution of 200 pixels per inch.
I wanted to bring a little of the clarity back after the softening, so my next step was to duplicate the image (Image> Duplicate) and flatten it (Right Click over the layer panel, than all the way to the bottom, Flatten Image). Go to the Image menu, Adjustments, then HDR Toning. I went with the Photorealistic preset, but brought the Detail slider up just a bit more.
Click ok. Select the Move Tool from the tool panel and click on the duplicate image, dragging and dropping it into the original image. Holding down the shift key while you’re doing this will place it in the center of the previous image. Change the Layer Blend Mode of the HDR image to Soft Light, and bring the opacity down to around 40%. This step also deepens the contrast a bit.
This old style glamour look is noted for its dramatic lighting contrasts, so we want to play that up. We’ll start by darkening the background a little. Add an New Filter Adjustment Layer and select Curves.
Bring the center of the histogram down towards the bottom right hand corner to darken. Click okay. With black as the foreground color, paint in the foreground (the person). Leave the areas you want to darken white. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and blur the mask edges, slightly to blend. Lower the opacity of the mask layer to 45 or 50%.
Add another Curves adjustment Layer, this time using the white eyedropper to select in a lighter area of the image. The object here is to make the image a little brighter, over all, not particularly lighter. Notice where the histogram is after the adjustment; you can also manually bring the histogram to somewhere around this point, if the eyedropper makes it too light. Bring the opacity of the layer down to around 40%.
Make a new, blank layer and change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light. With the foreground color set to white, adjust the brush tool to fit inside the eye and paint in the iris. Blur the are slightly with either the Blur Tool or by going to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur and selecting a low setting. Lower the opacity to around 75%
Add another new, blank layer, change the blend mode to Soft Light and, with black as the foreground color, and paint in the areas of the eyes you want to darken. Soften with the blur tool or Gaussian Blur, and lower the opacity to around 40%
Continue to add new Soft Light Blend Mode layers to lighten and darken other areas. Lighten the teeth and the whites of the eyes, darken the lips, lighten the highlights in the hair, add highlights to the cheekbones, etc. Follow the natural plays of light and shadow in the image. You can add more of these Soft Light layers anytime.
To give the skin a little more softness, use Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E or Shift + Cmd + Opt + E to combine all the layers into their own layer. Go to Filter > Blur + Gaussian Blur. Blur enough to smooth everything out, but still retain definition of the eyes, etc. You don’t want to over blur.
Add a layer mask to the combined blur layer and invert the mask to black. Make sure the foreground color is white and paint in the skin areas. Lower the opacity to around 40%. You can also soften the hair with a Gaussian Blur, but I prefer to do that on a separate layer so I can add a little more or a little less blur by adjusting the opacity percentage.
By adjusting the contrast and softness you can add the drama and glamour of 1940’s Hollywood to an ordinary black and white portrait!
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