February 2021 // The Post-Production Edition


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Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography with Robert Hall


5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers with Vanessa Joy


Shooting for a Signature Shot with Sal Cincotta


Product Spotlight with Evolve Edits


Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It with Kelly Robitaille


Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop with David Byrd


Capture One Pro 21 — Is It Time to Switch? with Michael Anthony

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5 Key Elements of Portrait Post-Production Workflow with Holly Lund

Photoshop vs. Lightroom with Jason Yadlovski

Tips & Tricks to Master Masks In Photoshop with Dave Cross

3 Steps to Sharpen Images from Lightroom to Photoshop with Dustin Lucas

From Image Capture to Final Delivery with Matt Monath

Inspirations from Our Readers

Everything You Need to Know About Shooting Slow Motion Video with Rob Adams

Final Inspiration with Sal Cincotta

















P U B L I S H E R S a l C i n c o t t a

E D I T O R - I N - C H I E F A l i s s a C i n c o t t a D E S I G N E R S E l l i e P l o t k i n A l i c i a S i mp s o n C O P Y E D I T O R A l l i s o n B r u b a k e r

Shutter Magazine ’s focus is on photography education. Our goal is to provide current insightful and in-depth educational content for today’s professional wedding and portrait photographer. Shutter uses the latest technologies to deliver information in a way that is relevant to our audience. Our experienced contributors help us create a sense of community and have established the magazine as one of the leading photography publications in the world.


C O N T R I B U T I N G W R I T E R S D a v e C r o s s D a v i d B y r d D u s t i n L u c a s H o l l y L u n d


J a s o n Ya d l o v s k i K e l l y R o b i t a i l l e M a t t M o n a t h M i c h a e l A n t h o n y

Shutter Magazine: By photographers, for photographers.

R o b Ad a m s R o b e r t H a l l S a l C i n c o t t a Va n e s s a J o y

You can’t polish a turd and call it art. Focus on getting it righ t in camera - Sal Cincotta



TITLE: angels among us

PHOTOGRAPHER: nikki harrison, @nikkiharrisonart CAMERA: hasselblad h4d LENS: 50mm EXPOSURE: 1/125 LIGHTING: one lg octa (4 ft) camera right, feathered WEBSITE: nikkiart.ca MODEL: kelsey wise, @kelsey.zyla

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Whenever I shoot in studio, I always do several images on a plain grey background with a one light set up. This because I can then create whatever I want in post, and many times I have no idea what I might do, I just know that this is the way to offer myself creative freedom when the urge presents itself. I created this in December of 2019, I was studying many different historical buildings, and ceilings in basilica’s etc, and really wanted to do my own take on an angel and the paintings I see in Italy and ceilings created by artists of the past. This is what I came up with.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall

with Robert Hall

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall

I spent roughly a decade photographing over 600 weddings before I pivoted into editorial photography. The purpose of editorial photography is to create images that visually convey the information or story of a published text. In my niche, this most often means creating portraits that define the goals or achievements of people. Weddings are built for telling stories, big and small. There is the obvious story: a couple is getting married at a beautiful cathedral on June 12, 2021. Then there are the more intimate stories: the relationships, emotions and history between people. Just because these stories are abundant on a wedding day, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to capture them well. It takes a skilled photographer to identify a story taking shape and have the responsiveness to capture it, both physically and technically.

When I started in the editorial world, I quickly realized that the absence of the photojournalistic structure in weddings pushed more of the story development onto me and the creative teams I worked with. Reflecting on my first two years working in the field, I can clearly see a pattern of the things I look for when communicating visually.


There are venues and vignettes that clearly define a wedding day. The dance floor, head table, bridal suite and chuppah are all examples of this. The familiarity of these scenes do wonders to create clarity in the wedding day story. When I am given the freedom to choose a location, I opt for the most authentic setting to accompany the story.

Authentic locations may not always be the cleanest, most photogenic locations. But their benefits to storytelling far outweigh their appearance.

I’ve found this has major benefits, even if it means giving up more photogenic locations. First, It’s more likely to accurately reflect the “where” of a story. Additionally, authentic locations are familiar to the subject, unlocking more things I look for in my photos.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall


As a photographer, the power of comfort cannot be understated. We all know when someone doesn’t feel confident in front of the camera. Tension may cause their shoulders to rise. They can frequently adjust their expression as they mentally question their appearance. I’ve seen people sweat profusely due to the nerves of being photographed.

We all find comfort in routine.

Being in a familiar setting helps the subject feel more comfortable, which is guaranteed to show in the photos. This also surrounds the photographer with opportunities to build rapport. Pay attention to your environment and ask the person you are photographing lots of questions about their day-to-day life. This is critical to the subject building more trust in you, gaining you access to more expression and deeper emotions.


Another thing that comes with a quality location is the materials that fill the space. For a musician, this could be amps and guitars. For an engineering student, circuit boards and machinery. For a designer, fabrics and sketches. These materials and tools can add context to the story, whether in the background, foreground, or as a primary focus of the image. This layering of details brings new creative possibilities and allows the photographer to produce a more information-dense image. When done well, a viewer will spend more time moving their eyes throughout the photo.

Filling the foreground, middle, and background of an image with meaningful context gives the viewer a better understanding of the subject and the environment.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall


Having a comfortable subject in a familiar space gives the photographer more opportunity for genuine actions. This goes back to the communication that I mentioned before. Don’t settle for someone telling you what they do; encourage them to show you what they do. This opens the door to natural behaviors that you can capture. This lets the subject relax more, falling into their typical behaviors. This helps you build a deeper understanding and uncover more layers of their experience—all of which leads to a better story.


Detail overload is one negative aspect of entering a space that is not optimized for photography. This occurs when there is so much stuff that it’s difficult for the viewer to see the point being made. You can reduce the space shown by compressing the scene or capturing tighter frames. For me, I chase color simplicity. I scan the environment for vibrant objects that stand out. I gravitate towards the areas of the space that feature a similar palette or geometry. While photography is about what you show in the image, it’s equally important to be thoughtful about what you choose to exclude.


I am constantly working in spaces with terrible light. Mixed color lighting. Hard overhead lighting. Flickering fluorescents. I’m sure you’ve seen them all. Photographers normally counter this with supplemental lighting, whether it be constant or flash. When I first got into flash photography, I was only concerned with how the light impacted my subject. As I worked at it more, I began to pay more attention to how my lighting affected the space I was capturing.

In this image, the lighting on the subject is “motivated” by the desk lamp (a “practical”). The reality is my light source is out of the frame and the desk lamp is barely impacting the photo.

Enter “motivated lighting,” or lighting an image to appear as if the light is naturally occurring. Whenever I include a practical light source (a desk lamp or a candle) in an image, I try to make my supplemental lighting appear motivated by those naturally occuring light sources. This means mimicking the direction, color, quality or brightness. This small change is rarely obvious to the viewer, but that’s the point. If you can improve the lighting by eliminating the negative properties and replacing them with better ones, then you have improved the photo while not drawing attention to your lighting.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall


Immersion occurs when someone is deeply connected to… anything. You can get lost in a movie, book, meal or activity. In photography, you can instigate this feeling when you encourage the viewer to look more deeply at your image. No single aspect of an image creates immersion alone; instead, it’s a combination of lighting, satisfying color palettes, layering and unique compositions.

Try to find perspectives that force the viewer to consider where the subject is. Use framing to draw attention to what is important. Use leading lines that drive the viewer to a specific part of the photo. Highlight the subject as the greatest area of contrast. Paying attention to these fundamentals will help you guide the viewer to the critical points of the story that exist in your photos.


In publications, the text to a story is always told in a literal manner. When photography accompanies a story, you have the freedom to express a concept or theme in a more abstract manner. This type of creative liberty should definitely be discussed in advance when working with a team, which is often the case when working in the editorial photography field. I feel nothing is off the table when it comes to abstract photography, so rather than try to define it, see my visual example.

This image was for a story on a professor who works with data generated by drones. Rather than have him at his computer looking at numbers, I used these geometric ceiling panels to illustrate information flying through the air above him.

This effect was created in a university dorm cafeteria by pointing gelled flashes at the ceiling tiles and using camera settings that reduced ambient light.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall


For a long period of my career, I was hyper-focused on creating strong technical photographs. I spent a lot of energy on image sharpness, dynamic range, etc. As photographers, we learn early about rules such as “use a shutter speed faster than your focal length to freeze subjects.” This is critical information for capturing high-quality images, but it can negatively impact our creative minds. As my photography has become more about the activities people engage in, I have started to feature more motion in my images. Motion can show direction, create a sense of speed, or capture a process rather than a moment. Don’t be afraid to open up that shutter speed if it can add context to a story.


I will forever owe my camera reflexes to the wedding photography industry. Rushed schedules, brief exchanges of affection, and DJs randomly turning on colored lighting have all made me highly adaptable. Bringing this attention to spontaneous moments into the editorial world has led to some of my favorite images. This preparedness only shows up in photographers who regularly practice the craft. However you choose to learn, make sure to prioritize time with your camera in hand to reduce the barriers of capturing the next fleeting moment.

This image was captured at a student’s home as they worked on materials to promote online education availability. The goal was simple: show the benefits of being able to work from home.

Enhancing Story In Editorial Photography | Robert Hall

Not much time passed before the subject’s child was ready for some attention. While it wasn’t the initial plan, this spontaneous moment better captures the emotional benefits of online education.

While I personally find the above most useful for my work as an editorial photographer, these ideas can be applied to any niche of photography to tell more dynamic stories. I encourage readers to explore anything that sounds new. By no means is this a checklist; at times, prioritizing one thing can reduce the possibility of another. Instead, take time to practice these elements individually until they naturally become a part of your approach.

Robert Hall is an editorial and commercial photographer located in Michigan. His history of photography includes weddings, athletics and photojournalism. Robert spends his free time developing content on lighting and photography technique for his YouTube channel and the High ISO podcast. website: robhallphoto.com instagram: @robhallphoto

with Vanessa Joy

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy

The time between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day is huge for wedding photographers because so many people get engaged during this time. I often get asked during engagement season how to effectively market wedding photography services. When photographers ask this question, they are looking for me to give a quick and concise answer that will have clients beating down their doors. Sadly, such an answer doesn't exist. Marketing is hard, and you have to cast a wide net to snag the number of clients that you want.

There are five tried and true methods of marketing a wedding photography business—or really, the business of any professional photographer. In this article, I'd like to answer that frequently asked question, although, by necessity, in much less succinct form than the askers may have hoped.

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


Social media is free, and free marketing is great. Well, let me pause there for a second. Social media is potentially free. Many professionals, myself included, find it advantageous to pay someone to manage social media accounts. We do this because free very often means time-consuming. It certainly does when talking about social media. But social media is a great place to find potential clients, and here's why: The age group that is currently getting engaged and married is all over social media. For wedding photographers, the demographics and content line up perfectly for Instagram and Pinterest. Those are the top two on my list, but there are other options as well. Facebook's audience skews older these days, so its users are likely already married—but their children aren't. It could be a great place to target your marketing specifically to the parents of future brides and grooms. If trying to be on every site feels overwhelming, just pick one and make the most of it. I used to have my social media manager post to my Instagram account every couple of days. Lately, I've been having them post every other day, with the off day being the time I post an Instagram reel. I post stories pretty much every day. Quality has to be there, but quantity helps when trying to get your work out to as many people as possible. When you want to make a strong marketing push, posting more often can go a long way. I've got one more important tip for using social media before we move on: Whenever you work on a project with other professionals, tag them in any relevant posts. This does two things: First, it gets those people you enjoyed working with some well-deserved exposure of their own, and secondly, it increases the likelihood that they will share your posts with their followers. When that happens, both of you are benefiting from following each other and your message gets more views. Be sure to return the favor if they tag you.

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


This is where you need to get creative. A good idea is to go old school in some way. What are underutilized forms of marketing that you can use? I have created a book on branding for wedding professionals. I had it printed into a very nice, high-quality magazine and I'm sending it out to other wedding professionals that I've worked with. Yes, I'm using snail mail in 2021. But it works, because it isn't just an advertisement. It's something they (hopefully) find beneficial. It's like a gift that reminds them I exist and keeps me fresh in their minds. That way, they'll be more likely to recommend me if the opportunity comes up. Not to mention, so many photographers aren’t using direct mail, so you’ll have the chance to easily stand out.

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


Speaking of keeping yourself on people's minds, mailing magazines isn't the only way to do that. There's this wedding hall that I really enjoy working at. I like the people there and I'm comfortable shooting there. It feels like home. This makes for a great work environment because my work improves and the workday flies by. I want to work there as much as possible. So, it only makes sense for me to build relationships with the staff and other wedding professionals that work there. When a happy couple who hasn't found a wedding photographer yet comes in to book the hall, I'll be on the minds of the staff should that couple ask for recommendations. Boom! Not only have I picked up a client, but I get to return to a place that I love working at and be around people I enjoy spending time with. Social media is important, but so are honest to goodness face-to-face interactions. Don't neglect those, nurture them.

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


I like to give gifts to my clients as a way of leaving an impression on them and getting them talking about me. Every client gets multiple gifts throughout their time with me. I use Gifting Made Simple to make it easier to manage and this allows me to remind them of my existence right as business is starting to pick up and their friends might be looking for wedding photographers of their own. You don't have to give gifts. Just find some way to let your clients know you are thinking about them (and get them to start thinking about you too) that matches your own unique personality.

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


Let's keep right on rolling with the theme of reminding people that you exist. As they begin their search for wedding professionals, many people can get overwhelmed quickly. They may have seen your stuff and loved it, but then forgot you existed because they've got so much more on their mind. This is where email marketing works great. Right on my website, I have a popup that asks visitors if they'd like a free eBook on tips for looking great in wedding photos (go see for yourself at www.vanessajoy.com). Who doesn't want that? So they enter their email and get their book. That puts them into an email drip campaign that sends out a few emails over the next few weeks. Those emails keep me fresh in the mind of the visitor and also provide them with some valuable information. Win-win!

5 Marketing Strategies for Wedding Photographers | Vanessa Joy


Everyone wants the pat answer for how to improve their marketing—the quick fix. Such a thing doesn't exist. If it did, whoever discovered it would be sitting on the secret. It would be kept hidden underneath their stacks of cash and not shared with the rest of us plebs, who would use it to even the odds out again. But what does exist is hard work and determination. Sure, it's a cliché, but in marketing, hard work and determination are really the only secrets to success that exist.

LEARN MORE . youtube.com/btsShutterMagazine Click here or check us out at

Vanessa Joy has been a professional wedding photographer in New Jersey since 2002, and an influencer in the photographic community for years. Since starting VanessaJoy.com in 2008, she has taught photographers around the globe at almost every major platform in the industry (LearnPhotoVideo.com). Vanessa has been recognized for her talent and business sense at the renowned industry events CreativeLIVE, Clickin’ Moms, WPPI and ShutterFest. Her peers love her informative, open-book style of teaching. website: vanessajoy.com instagram: @vanessajoy


this drop features beautiful neutral tones and rustic details. its concrete look allows it to easily be used as a floor or backdrop.


b i t . l y / 3q1UBJ5 ENTER NOW!

Featuring | Shooting for a Signature Shot with Sal Cincotta

44 58 72 86 98

| Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It with Kelly Robitaille | Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop with David Byrd | Capture One Pro 21 — Is It Time to Switch? with Michael Anthony | 5 Key Elements of Portrait Post-Production Workflow with Holly Lund | Photoshop vs. Lightroom with Jason Yadlovski | Tips & Tricks to Master Masks In Photoshop with Dave Cross | 3 Steps to Sharpen Images from Lightroom to Photoshop with Dustin Lucas | From Image Capture to Final Delivery with Matt Monath | Inspirations from Our Readers

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Shooting for a Signature Shot: Posing. Lighting. Expression. Composition. | Sal Cincotta

with Sal Cincotta

Shooting for a Signature Shot: Posing. Lighting. Expression. Composition. | Sal Cincotta

Creating great images is so much more than just pointing your camera at a pretty scene and placing your subject in front of it. Any experienced photographer knows this in their bones. The danger for new photographers is to underestimate the details that go into creating a truly epic shot for your clients. In this article, I want to point out and discuss the subtle details that go into creating a better portrait. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting better as a photographer and artist? The next time you are on a shoot, I want you to pay attention to these details. I promise you, it will change the way you work. “Fix it in post” is one of the most ridiculous things you could say or plan for. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that must be done in post, but the bones of the image must be solid or in the end you are just polishing a turd.

So, let’s focus on how we can make the bones of the image solid.


This is so important. I see this over and over again from photographers when I review their portfolios. Posing is often “awkward” and “contrived” to be blunt. This is probably the one area almost every photographer struggles with. I know when I was starting out this would strike fear into me before every shoot. To make matters worse, your clients—real people, not models—don’t know or understand how to pose their bodies to look their best. So, how do you get better? Analysis and practice. Something I would do after every shoot was go through my sequences and look for what could be better. That’s the key: Look for what’s wrong vs. celebrating what’s right.

Hands are the single most problematic issue when it comes to posing. I always ask, “What are they doing?” The hands, that is. If you are posing a couple, hands are so important in showing connection. Too often, I see brides and grooms disconnected with their hands. The same holds true for family portraits as well. If you have multiple people in a shot, how will you show connection? I love to have my bride’s hands on the groom’s chest or holding on to his arm. I like to have my groom with his hands on the bride’s waist. This connects them to one another. Another tip is to show your subjects how to shift their hips away from camera. Because of the nature of optics, items closer to the lens will always look bigger. I’ve never met anyone who wants to look LARGER in a picture. I show them how to shift their hips to the rear and even hide them behind their partner.

Again, these are just some tips that can help your images stand out.

Shooting for a Signature Shot: Posing. Lighting. Expression. Composition. | Sal Cincotta


A lot of photographers will focus on lighting. I like to refer to lighting as a journey, not a destination. I have been focused on improving my lighting since the day I began this journey of photography. That being said, it’s extremely important that we get lighting right. It creates drama, a look, a feel and more. Lighting conveys a message to the viewer. So, it’s not enough to focus on “lighting” in a generic way, but you need to focus on lighting to create a look. It’s so much more than exposure. Color of light, direction of light and quality of light can all have a major impact on the final image.

So, ultimately, here is what it comes down to: dynamic range. The more detail you retain in an image the more options you will have in post-production when it comes to editing the final image. So, if you are looking for a high-key shot, then that’s going to require you to blow out some highlights. If you want a dark and moody shot, then you will more than likely have some blocked up shadows. What I like to do when I am working is leave myself some range on either side of the histogram. Meaning, not blow out the highlights and not block up the shadows. Try and keep your histogram of the shot more in the middle. This will give you enough image detail to lift those highlights and darken those shadows in post-production. Why post-production? Because it gives you significantly more control in the final edit. If that data is lost in the RAW file, it’s near impossible to bring it back.


THIS. This right here is one of the most offensive issues I see with final images. It’s amazing to me because in the end, your clients are BUYING your images from you. If they don’t look natural, if they don’t look good, they are not going to like the images. RBF. Resting Bitch Face. I explain this to every one of my clients. Each one laughs because they have seen images of themselves where they are exhibiting RBF. Remember, your clients have no idea what they look like on camera until it’s too late and they see their final images. For me, I like to teach my client how to look serious without looking like they are pissed about something. It just takes a little bit of effort and communication on your part. That’s right, you have to talk to your clients. You will be fine. Try it. They will appreciate you and your candor all the more. But it doesn’t end there. What’s worse is when you have a family, engaged couple, or wedding portrait and expressions don’t match. Surely you have seen portraits like this. The groom is mean-mugging and the bride is smiling ear to ear. How does that make sense? What is happening that she is smiling and he isn’t? It doesn’t make sense, right? This comes down to communication again. In addition, this is not something easily fixed in post-production. If you have multiple people in a shot, make sure they are all sharing the same expression. I love to do a multitude of expressions to give my clients options, but it’s key they are in sync.

Shooting for a Signature Shot: Posing. Lighting. Expression. Composition. | Sal Cincotta


If you have done your job and focused on all the little details, it’s time to focus on one of the most important items to ensuring great bones to an image: composition. Photographers are notorious for getting too excited when they roll up to a cool scene and just start shooting before they really take a moment to assess the scene. Try this the next time you are out shooting. Keep the camera down and just get a lay of the land. Where is there symmetry? Where are the brightest and darkest parts of the scene? Tip: The viewer’s eye will always move towards the highlights of an image. Where are the leading lines? Where will the natural parts of the image drive the viewer’s attention? These are typically high contrast areas like mountains, buildings, fence lines, etc. These are objects that are typically immovable. So, instead of trying to move the immovable or worse, ignoring it altogether, move your subject and change your perspective to ensure that the leading lines are driving us to the most important part of any image: your subject.

Shooting for a Signature Shot: Posing. Lighting. Expression. Composition. | Sal Cincotta

I hope this helps you see the world a little differently and shows you how to create stronger images.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my little secret: EvolveEdits.com. Over six years ago, I started this company because I knew I needed professional editors to add the final touches to my images. My job is to create great bones and their job is to polish it, creating a one-of-a-kind piece of art for my clients. All these elements combined have allowed me and my studio to rise to the top and earn an amazing living as a professional photographer.

Sal Cincotta is an international award-winning photographer, educator, author, Canon Explorer Of Light and the publisher of Shutter Magazine. Sal’s success is directly tied to the education he received in business school. He graduated from Binghamton University, a Top 20 business school, and has worked for Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble and Microsoft. After spending 10 years in corporate America, Sal left to pursue a career in photography and has never looked back. website: salcincotta.com instagram: @salcincotta

Product Spotlight | Evolve Edits

before after


product spotlight

before after

Why Evolve Edits?

If you want to stand out, you need to polish your final images. Color correction, beauty retouching, special edits and more. Evolve Edits is owned and operated by a working professional photographer, so Evolve understands what you and your business need to be successful. Best of all, they learn your style. What could be better? Well, if you sign up for their Premier Program, you get two months FREE. - Use code SM2FREE

LEARN MORE . youtube.com/btsShutterMagazine Click here or check us out at

For more information, visit evolveedits.com/premier/

Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

with Kelly Robitaille

Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

Growing up, art was always my thing. I was a bit of an introvert and being artistic was a massive part of my identity. Art was an escape. It allowed me to tell stories and form alternate realities using just a piece of paper and a pencil. As I grew into adulthood, forming a career that involved the arts was never in question. I took a graphic design course which in turn introduced me to Photoshop.

Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

I have used Photoshop for many artistic forms, but my favorite is retouching, specifically surreal retouching. If you know me, you likely do because of my surreal “Whimsy Waifs” series. I started out in Photography as most of us do. I had an eye for composition and loved anything artistic. I bought a nice camera and learned all I could. For a while, photos of children and families were enough, but soon I became uninspired by what I was creating.



Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

I reached out to a friend for a conceptual session, but when I got home and began to work on the imagery, I decided to step out of the proverbial box of what was acceptable within the photography community and just simply create something for me. I used my knowledge of Photoshop to manipulate and create artistic imagery based on the fantastical stories in my mind. I have been creating these Whimsy Waifs ever since. I have unapologetically shared them for years. I tell my stories through them. They are what I see in the mirror, in some form. They are my therapy, my way of working through past trauma and honestly, my happy place. One of the best things I have ever done for my mental health has been to create art for ME instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing or what I feel like I SHOULD be doing. As photographers, we constantly feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses. We are continuously comparing ourselves to photographers we admire in the hopes of having a little taste of the success they have, but I have realized throughout my journey that the absolute best thing we can do as creatives, storytellers and photographers is to step outside of that box of expectation and create our own reality. We need to create something that resonates within our souls, to create art that gives us a profound sense of pride and satisfaction. I create stories for me, and whoever chooses to come along on the ride can hop on board.

behind the scenes

The first thing I want to stress is to plan your shoot. Have a story in mind. Develop a concept. These things make post-production a much smoother ride.

Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

Culling is a very easy task for me because when creating art, I have my concept and my storyboard in mind. If I will be compositing, I know what angles, lighting and poses will work best while shooting. I capture my subject, knowing what I intend my final product to look like. I start my post-production within Camera Raw, making sure my exposure, sharpness and black values are where I need them to be. I tend to shoot slightly underexposed because I feel it gives me the creative freedom to paint and dodge and burn and attain the moody emotional reaction I am striving for.

before after

Once I am happy within Camera Raw, I will do a basic cleanup using the patch tool, spot healing brush and clone tool. Then I will run my Frequency Separation action. This action I use at least twice through my retouch of an image. The action I use includes not only High Frequency (HF) and Low Frequency (LF) layers but an empty layer in the middle, which I use for painting.


First, I will utilize an HF layer to even out textures. I often use this for stray hairs, blemishes and even tattoos.

When I am satisfied with the texture of my skin work, I will turn off both the HF layer and the paint layer, and while on the LF layer I will paint over the skin using the mixer brush. This is a great way to even out skin tones and marks and blemishes.

mixer brush

The middle layer, which I use for painting, is an excellent way to add a painterly feel as well as giving you the ability to paint in things like makeup, eyelashes, increase drama by adding white highlights and again, evening out skin tone. This is probably my favorite step. I always use a soft brush at an opacity of no higher than 15%. I go over the entire image as if I am painting on a canvas. Once I am satisfied with the way my image looks, I will copy the group and flatten so I have a fresh flat canvas to continue working on. I then begin to dodge and burn. I dodge and burn on a grey layer using black and white, but any technique you’re comfortable with will have the same effect. I use dodge and burn to bring some life back into my artwork by focusing on shadows and highlights. Dodge and burn is a fantastic way to attain a painterly feeling, which is something I aspire towards in every piece I create.

Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille

When it comes to color grading, I often utilize the Camera Raw function. I love having the ability to view both the current image as well as the preview of what the changes will look like before setting it in stone. Another great way to achieve a painterly feeling in Camera Raw is by pulling up your black slider. This helps showcase more details in the shadows as well as creating a more matte feeling by decreasing the contrast in your artwork.

selective color

I use several other techniques for color grading, but my favorites are selective color, curves and setting a black and white layer to luminosity blending mode and tweaking from there. Another great option is creating a gradient to achieve your desired toning, and in my opinion these are best discovered by experimentation and allowing oneself the grace to try new things with the possibility of failure.


I never follow the exact same workflow piece to piece. I feel that by getting stuck in a box, we create stagnancy and the inability to allow ourselves to figure out what works best for our creations and what they will be.


Once satisfied with what I have created, I follow these steps to completion.

I will utilize curves to further push a fine art narrative. By playing within RGB curves, I can adjust shadows and highlights, furthering the idea of a painterly image.


Surreal Portraiture and the Retouching Behind It | Kelly Robitaille


Nine times out of ten, I also use some form of texture. You can create your own by simply taking photos of walls, cracks, canvases and fabrics. I usually convert those elements to black and white and place overtop of my work. Then, choose which blending mode works best and use curves again to achieve the desired effect.

before after

While there is an array of possibilities when it comes to techniques while retouching, ultimately it comes down to granting yourself permission to simply create and experiment. Allow yourself to be brave and step outside the box—you might be surprised by what you dream into existence! Be brave enough to put your stories out into the world, regardless of what you have been told is acceptable or not. Despite a lack of gear or lack of knowledge, find your voice. Stop and take it all in. Breathe, and just create. The world is ready for your retouching magic and your storytelling.

Kelly Robitaille is a photographer, retoucher and artist who lives and works in Ontario, Canada. Kelly’s distinctive style coined “Surreal Retouching” focuses on creating an out of the box artistic experience utilizing storytelling, post-production andphotography. Kelly is an award-winningphotographerwhose work has been featured at The Gallery At KelbyOne, in Photoshop User magazine, Maria Menounos’s female entrepreneur of the month, Shondaland, and as an instructor at Pro Edu. Her retouching can be seen in People magazine, Billboard , and The Hollywood Reporter, among many others. website: kellyrobitaille.com instagram: @kellyrobitaille

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd

with David Byrd

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd


What are Smart Objects in Photoshop? Well, glad you asked. In the simplest terms, they are an entire file format unto themselves, which may not sound very simple. You’ve heard of RAW files and JPEGs, right? Well, Smart Objects are identified in Photoshop in much the same way. Now let’s move to the bigger question: Why should you use Smart Objects in Photoshop? There are actually multiple answers and we’re going to explore three of them in detail right now. Let’s hit it.


The first major reason to use a Smart Object in Photoshop is to protect the data of your file as you go through the digital editing process. Our images (regardless of file types) are just massive collections of data—little subsets of ones and zeros that when put together make a high school senior, pet, bride, whatever. It’s important to remember that all of that data is finite; the possibilities for art creation with that data is infinite, but there is a finite amount of data to work with as you create. When you alter your image through digital editing, you are changing the data. In most cases, you are reducing the amount of available data and making that finite limit come faster than it needs to. Let’s look at some real-world examples of this finite data issue. First, everyone say hi to my wonderful friend Danielle. She’s a brilliant artist both in front of and behind the camera. This simple image has a composition that is a little bit off, so I’m going to reframe it in Photoshop. To do that, I’m going to unlock the layer, hit Control/Command-T to activate the Free Transform option in Photoshop, and then reframe or resize the image. Now we are cropped/zoomed into the image of Danielle and thus moving the audience’s focus toward her eyes and the story to be found there.

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd

When we transformed the image and hit Enter to accept that transformation, Photoshop did a couple of things that can be devastating to the data. First, to enlarge the image, it had to make up new information based on the existing data. Remember, there is a finite amount of data in the file—a finite number of pixels. So, when we enlarged it, Photoshop had to create new pixels and new data and it did that by averaging the available pixels. It looked at each pixel and those around that pixel and took an average of the color, the light and more—and created new pixels so your image could be bigger. That process is like mad Photoshop scientist level stuff, but it’s not perfect. Secondly, Photoshop then deleted all of the original data in favor of this new Frankenstein set of data you’ve selected. Now let’s say you decide that the resize of the image is too much and you want to reduce it a touch. When you transform the image again, Photoshop will once again create new pixels and new data and delete the information it had in favor of the new set. Go through this process a few times with one image, and you’ve drastically changed the data from what it was originally when you captured it in your camera. This process is called working “destructively” in Photoshop. You are making significant, major alterations to the pixels of the image and in many cases you cannot return to the original state of that data, unless you close the image and begin anew. Smart Objects save you from that destructive art-making and provide you an infinite number of creative possibilities. Smart Objects preserve all of the original data of the image, regardless of what you are trying to do to it. The file format of a Smart Object is one that allows you to alter the object, not the actual image, meaning changes to the image don’t affect those pixels. Think of it as a catalog, like you would see in Adobe Lightroom. You are creating a list of things that you want done to the file, but the Smart Object is receiving the instructions of that catalog, not the pixels of the image itself.

new data

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd

In this next example of the same image of Danielle, I’m going to convert the layer to a Smart Object. The easiest way to do this is to go to the Menu command of Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object. This will take a moment, then the layer will have a new icon on the bottom right that indicates it’s a Smart Object. When we first enlarge the image through the Free Transform process, Photoshop is creating new pixels to make that larger view. However, the original data is still there; none of it has been deleted or overwritten. If we decide to resize the image back down to a smaller frame, all of the original data is there for Photoshop to average and make something new. If you wish to return to the original frame and size of the image, you can do so as all of that data is still there.

smart object window

smart object icon

This enables you to work non-destructively with your images—not to mention saving you a TON of time. Let’s talk about that time-saving stuff next.

resize smart object


The first way I utilize Smart Objects is during the RAW conversion process in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). (To be upfront, I very rarely use Lightroom. I began my training long before Lightroom was a glimmer in Adobe’s eyes and I’ve developed a workflow around Photoshop that solves most of my needs.) When I open a RAW file directly into ACR, I will go through a round of quick adjustments to the image. Then if I hit Open on the bottom right of the ACR interface, Photoshop will then convert the RAW file format to a PSD file and open that into the workspace of the program. That conversion does two major things: It compresses that data down a touch into the new file format and also makes it impossible to go back to the RAW file format. Why is this important? Well, why do we photograph in the RAW format to begin with? So we have access to the original data of the image when we capture it with our cameras. None of that data has been compressed by the camera, as would happen if we were capturing images in the JPEG file format. When we open a RAW file, we can adjust all of the data of the image as if we’re capturing it for the first time. The same is true for Photoshop. The RAW file format being converted to the PSD file format enacts a compression of the data and forces us to start there. But not to worry… Smart Object is there to save the (data) day!

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd

When I open a RAW file from ACR, I will hold the Shift key which changes the Open button to Open Object. Now I’m dealing with a Smart Object and its file format, rather than a PSD file format. By utilizing a Smart Object, I can now go back into ACR at any point and continue to adjust the data of the RAW image as if I was doing it for the first time. This is especially useful in preparing the foundation of an image before you begin the retouch and art creation stages. Let’s look at an example of this below.

This image of Danielle in front of my super cool new wall at my studio is lovely, but it needs a major adjustment to the foundation before I move forward with the retouch. Can anyone guess what the big, bright, glaring issue is with this image? Yes, you in the back, you’re correct—it’s those distracting highlights of the wall on camera left. Now I can reduce those highlights in the RAW/ACR process, but that adjustment is done globally and therefore affects the highlights everywhere in the image. I need to have two copies of this image: one copy with all the highlights intact (including the blown-out ones), and the second copy with the highlights drastically reduced so we can use a Layer Mask and mask in the reduced highlights in that section only. To do that, I’m going to open the RAW file as a Smart Object into Photoshop, and then make a copy of that Smart Object so I can go back into ACR as a RAW file format and reduce the highlights. However, we can’t just make a copy or duplicate the Smart Object; we have to make a “New Smart Object via Copy.” Sounds confusing, right? (I agree. Let’s all tell the powers-that-be from Adobe that they should change the language of this option and alleviate headaches everywhere.) If you make a duplicate or copy of the original Smart Object, then you are making literal copies that are linked to one another. If you make changes to one of them, they both will be affected. If we make a New Smart Object via Copy then we are making an exact duplicate of the original Smart Object, but they are not linked. To do this step we once again have to return to the menu of Layer>Smart Object>New Smart Object via Copy.

new smart object via copy

With that second Smart Object, double-click the thumbnail icon of the Object and it will open ACR with all of the adjustments ready to go, as if you had just opened the RAW file for the first time. We can now reduce the highlights drastically, which globally makes the image look bad, but fixes that hot spot on the wall. Hit Okay to accept the changes and once back in Photoshop, we’ll add a Hide-All Layer Mask (black mask) to the second Object, which makes it all disappear. Paint with white onto the layer mask to begin to reveal the reduced highlights. This non-destructive alteration to this image allows us so many options to continue to refine our image. Also by working non-destructively, we are opening the door for a good working relationship with commercial clients.

Unlock the Power of Smart Objects in Photoshop | David Byrd


On every single commercial job that I have done, there is a creative team of talking heads that has very different opinions about how I should perform as their hired talking Photoshop monkey. Granted, as part of the proofing stage of the work they have commissioned, edits will likely be made. But what they don’t tell you is that they are, at any point in the process, going to ask for slight changes and alterations to what you have done. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on their requests to fall in the realm of the last thing you did in the editing process. They often will want you to make changes to the work you did at the very beginning. If you do not work non-destructively, then you have two viable choices when such a request is made: either save multiple PSD files of your work as you go, or start all over again from scratch.

Smart Objects are the first tool to working non-destructively because not only do they allow simple changes to be made to steps like reducing the highlights of that image, but they also will store many of the adjustments and filters you use on your image as Smart Filters. These Smart Filters do not actually make the change to the image directly; rather, they store those adjustments like a catalog on the Object and you can return to them at any point and make further adjustments. This simple addition to your workflow can save you worlds of time and increase your value to commercial clients. Time is money and when the creative team is on the horn with changes, if you can produce those changes quickly, you save them money—and they will hopefully spend that money hiring you for another job.

smart filters

But…Here is the bad news about Smart Objects: Not everything in Photoshop will work with/on a Smart Object. There are filters and steps that simply cannot be taken with a Smart Object because—to bring us full circle—a Smart Object is a file format that Photoshop has not always been engineered to deal with. As Photoshop has evolved, more and more elements of the program have been brought into alignment with each other. This includes the Smart Object file format, but alas, not all things are that progressive in Photoshop. Saving various stages of your work (as a PSD file) is still recommended, but that file can be filled with Smart Objects that allow you more flexibility and control of your own art.

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