MASTER, TEACH ME EPIC COSPLAY PHOTOS
I get asked these questions a lot – “how do you Photoshop”, “how did you do this effect”, and “teach me master”. Well, I don’t intend to keep those a secret. It’s just that I don’t have a “secret recipe”. I don’t have secret ninja scrolls, and I don’t have a sealed 9 tailed fox.
Every photo is different, and I really can’t teach “one sure way to win in Photoshop”. Moreover, I don’t see myself as a “master” of Photoshop. I am just someone who has used Photoshop for a long time. That said, I may not have one single way to Photoshop, but there is still a way.
Every post-process workflow is the same, and I can share that with you guys. It does require a lot of patience though. But once you master this, it is well worth all the effort for that Photoshop awesomeness. 😉
THE POST PROCESS
Step A) Plan your scene!
Before you even start on anything else, you need to have a master plan. You need to open your Chakra circuits and foresee the future. Do not blindly shoot and do Photoshop, know what you want first. Fire effect? Water bending? Throw in some lightning?
It is ok to not have a solid idea. At least get some inspirations from reference pictures, at least know where you are headed… or you will end up with a WTF photo in the end.
Step B) Shoot in RAW!
JPEG files will work as well, but they tend to lose a lot of details when you process them “too hard”. RAW is still the best file format to work with, and it retains a ton of data. Don’t forget your photography skills as well! The more you get right in your original shot, the less you have to do in Photoshop to fix things.
Spend 5 minutes to correct a pose or lighting, and not 5 hours in Photoshop to fix it. The most important thing here is, plan your shot. If you intend to blend your character against a different background in Photoshop, shoot against a green screen. (Clean white, grey or black walls work too)
Step 1) Photoshop Camera RAW
The very first step in post processing, is to cook your photo in Photoshop Camera Raw. (Assuming you shoot in RAW) The goal here is to get your photo as good looking as possible, without burning it into crisp. A quick note here – I do not to bump the saturation or overly correct the colors at this stage, try to keep them as neutral as possible. We will deal with those at a later stage in post processing.
Step 2) Body Transformation
This is something that draws a lot of debate, and there are always 2 schools of people – for and against making models look like they have that perfect “hourglass” figure in Photoshop. Well, I leave it up to you to decide if this is the “right thing to do”. Should you decide to go ahead with this step, do remember not to overdo this.
Do make people look a little slimmer, taller and less flabbier. Don’t reduce that waistline to an impossible level, don’t enlarge boobs to look like Jackfruits, don’t be a perverted uncle (or auntie).
Step 3) Baby Smooth Skin
It is so very rare to have a someone with perfect skin, and so we need some magic in Photoshop. Again, don’t overdo this and turn your models into plastic dolls. There is an easier way of using Photoshop plugins, which I will recommend Portraiture… but that is not a free plugin.
Step 4) Character Extraction (optional)
When you are happy with how your basic photo looks, it’s time for the heavy lifting Kamehameha. Well, that is if you intend to change the entire background. If you have a clean background, you should be able to extract the character fairly easily… if not, it is time to go back to old school extraction using layer mask and eraser.
Step 5) Background Blending and Light Manipulation (optional)
This is where most newbies fail. They just paste the extracted character onto a new background, and done. No no no, please don’t. We need to do a little more work to make things look realistic. Make sure that the character and background blend together nicely, and make sure that the lighting is accurate as possible.
Step 6) Effects galore
Think we are done with post processing? Hardly. This is the most exciting part – effects. Well, there are 9999 effects out there, and I really can’t put every one of them here. I will just put a few interesting effects I use often here, please feel free to explore more for yourself!
Step 7) More Blending
Now that you have some effects, you might have to re-adjust your lighting and environment again. So this is not exactly a step by itself, but rather, you may have to go through several iterations of adding effects, blending and re-adjustments.
Step 8) Color Grading
The final step, color grading. This really affects the “look-and-feel” of your final masterpiece. Just don’t be lazy, this can really give that extra “kick” when done right.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT – HOW TO MOVE ON
I understand. It’s confusing, it’s overwhelming. I was a level 1 noob before too. Photoshop can take a lot of time to learn, and processing a single photo can take up to days. No joke. So my advice to those who are seriously interested – don’t overwhelm yourself.
When you don’t know what to do, you don’t see any result, it kills all the fun and you will just stop entirely. So don’t attempt to conquer all the steps at one time, and just take one step at a time:
- Start with mastering your camera.
- Know your exposure triangle, poses, and composition.
- Learn how to do corrections in Photoshop Camera Raw.
- Learn how to smooth skin, not make plastic dolls.
- Start playing with the puppet tool and liquify, make people look better.
- Play with Photoshop effects! Master wind, water, fire and earth like the chosen one.
- Learn extraction and change the background.
- Blend like a boss.
Practice makes perfect. If you are curious about where I learn all my Photoshop skills, it’s actually everywhere on the Internet over the years. I will point to Photoshop Lady for a ton of awesome Photoshop Tutorials that you can try out immediately.
AN EXAMPLE ON ONE OF MY WORKS
I guess I should share an example on the processing of the Ruby Rose cover photo. But in this section, I will not go into the micro details of what the settings are… since I don’t think they will apply to your photo.
STEP 1) COOK THE RAW
This photo was taken during an event. In the Nikon raw file format (NEF), of course. I wanted an entirely “clean” background, but could not get hold of one… so, oh well. Anyway, the very first step I took was, Photoshop Camera Raw.
General tip : The goal is to get the exposures right (Watch the above camera raw tutorial on YouTube), and not to think of this as the final product. In particular, I did not bother with the background being blown out at this step, since that will be replaced anyway. Keep the colors and white balance as neutral as possible.
STEP 2) MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD BETTER BEST
Liquification and puppet fun. As in the YouTube tutorial, make the subject a little slimmer, a little taller.
General tip : I like to liquify the cheekbones a little – make the face appear a little sharper, also a little slimmer. But the same old reminder again, don’t overdo.
STEP 3) SMOOTH IT
Smooth the skin, clean out a few small blemishes, and extract the character… I did this semi-manually as the background is a little too busy.
STEP 4) BACKGROUND STORY
Add in the background. Looks pretty good, but notice the stark difference in the color tone of Ruby and the background?
STEP 5) LET THERE BE COLORS
Color correction and blending. This looks more convincing now, but it is still not perfect.
General tip : Do not be afraid to create adjustment layers – color balance, curves and hue/saturation. Duplicate the base layer if you have to dodge/burn the image… just in case of screw ups.
STEP 6) THE FINER DETAILS
Added in a few small details – the moon, petals, and the shadow which was sorely missing…
STEP 7) TONING
Subtle color corrections and toning – Done!
Hope this article has given you some insight and inspiration on post processing. Cheers, and have fun creating those epic cosplay photos!