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Thursday, January 22, 2009

••◊ The "guy" look

I was having lunch with my friend Sara a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that I should provide some easy tips to enhance photos. The easiest one I could think of is creating the masculine look. Of course this works for women too, for things like action sports. Just don't use this technique on glamour models or their agents will leave intimidating messages on your voice mail.

So we'll start with a simple male portrait. Nothing really interesting beyond a simple picture. The picture is kind of "blah."


This is a three step process, which will vary by feel from photo to photo. Step one is enhancing the contrast through an S-curve. In this case I'm just using my raw editing software. Photoshop, Gimp, Paint Shop Pro and every other package has a feature called "curves." The way I typically start playing with the curves is at the 1/4 point and drag downward to crush the dark regions. Then I move to the 3/4 point and drag upward to enhance the highlights. The effect is an "S" shape on the curve. The lighting created by this look should be very hard; thus this technique creates a masculine look. The problem with enhancing the S-curve so much is that skin tones tend to go oompa-loompa (i.e. orange) really quick. That's OK. The next step takes care of some of that.

It might be hard to read with these tiny pictures, but I chose to take the saturation down to 80%. The step here is mainly to put the skin tones back in the realm of possibility with a little enhancement. No one wants to look like they were in the bloopers reel of "Sunset Tan - The Spray Booth Incident." Besides masculine themed photos tend to have desaturated colors. It's a guy thing.

The last step is to over-sharpen. This brings out facial stubble, pits, wrinkes, hard edges...and all those other "guy look" characteristics. As you may be able to tell I cranked up the sharpness all the way because that's what this photo called for. I'm using a DSLR which requires me to sharpen every photo by default. Point and shoots typically oversharpen whether you like it or not. So if you're using a P-n-S camera you may have to back off on the oversharpening, especially if you start to see jaggies in your photos.

...and the final result. The photo went from blah to GQ in three easy steps. There Sara. Was that easy enough?

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