The secret to my before & afters

Have you ever looked at someone's photograph and wondered, "Did it really look like that out of the camera, or was it in post-processing?" Well, today I'm opening my work station to you guys to share my not-so-secret before & afters and how I did them!

(For mobile users, tap once for before/after rollover!)

This image was taken around 2:30pm on a cloudy day. The first thing I did was open the RAW file in Lightroom. I applied the Kodak Portra 400+ preset on it from VSCO Pack 01 - what I use 99% of the time. I love the dreamy look of film and the way Portra handles greens and skin tones. I adjusted the exposure, contrast, color luminance sliders, clarity, and applied a bit of lens correction.

Then, I opened it in Photoshop. I removed the dock going straight through Julia's head - it’s a huge distraction. I carefully brought back some of the wispy hairs on her left side, because after they were gone, I realized that they really gave the photo character. I applied my own contrast + exposure action to the photo. I like bright + airy images.

I added a light leak/distortion to the photo to break up the symmetry. I do this once out of ~2,000 photos, but it was one of those creative photos I knew I wanted to make a little more visually interesting. Lastly, I did one more batch of color adjusting, straightening the horizon, and sharpening.

 

Canon 5D Mark III + 50mm 1.2
ISO: 400
Exposure: 1/6400 sec
Aperture: 2.0

 

I'm all about clean + simple edits, so 99% of my work is edited within a few minutes per photo. When I'm done with a really great photo, though, I ask myself, "How can I make this better?" And then maybe I'll clone out leaves on the ground, remove distracting background elements, give eyes a pop, or adjust the color balance one last time.

Secret:

The most important thing I learned while working in the darkroom studying under Nick Nixon was to preserve detail in the highlights and shadows. No black holes, no blowouts. 

Lena Mirisola

Boston, MA 01886, USA

Photographer. Bubble tea addict. Girlboss.