Having finished a great day photographing Manu Tuilagi for OPRO we knew we had some fantastic images in the bag. However the we were still only half of the way there. We were going to have to spend many hours carefully processing them up in Photoshop to achieve the look we wanted.
To give you a bit of an insight into how we did it, and so you can see that great images don't always just come straight out of the camera, I've put together this blog.
How to create a grungy stylised sports portrait
1. You can see the original image looked pretty good. You have to nail the lighting in the first place to make this look convincing as essentially you're just enhancing what is already there. I processed the picture up in Phocus (Hasselblad's own software, but this would work in any RAW converter) using a bit of clarity and I increased the exposure slightly. The rest is all done in Photoshop.
Once you get the image into Photoshop create a duplicate of the original and turn it to black and white. Using the curves lighten the shadow areas a little and then set it to 'soft light' blending mode. You'll see this adds extra contrast and gives our image a great look in just a few seconds.
2. This can create a bit too much shadow in some areas so I created a mask and masked out any areas that had gone too dark. I tend to put all my retouching layers in a separate folder so I can turn them all off at any point to view the original.
3. Next I went in a removed any blemishes on the skin, arms and background. By zooming right in and using the healing brush and the clone tool you can remove any distracting marks. As this was a really gritty portrait anyway I wanted to leave all Manu's scars in there to make him look at little more scary! If this was a beauty portrait this stage could take several hours, fortunately in this case it was only 20 minutes or so.
I also removed the large chalk 13.6 and the label on the weight as these were distracting and not relevant to the final image.
4.To whiten the eyes slightly I created a selection using a soft brush and the quick mask tool to pick out the whites of the eyes. These were then copied onto a new layer and desaturated and lightened slightly using a hue and saturation adjustment. You could do this with an adjustment layer if you like. You'll probably want to knock back the opacity so that it doesn't look too overdone.
5. Then I moved onto dodging and burning. You could do this on a flattened layer over everything using the dodge and burn tools. However, the way I like to do this is by creating a new layer and filling it with 50% grey (you'll need to be working in RGB for this work by the way).
Set the layer to the 'soft light' blending mode and using a soft brush paint white onto the areas you want to lighten and black to darken. I tend to just enhance what is already there. By setting the blending mode back to 'normal' you can easily see what you've done. To enhance the effect I ended up duplicating my dodge and burn layer so I had double the impact.
6. Now it's time to create those really cool desaturated skin tones. The exact settings for these will vary from image to image, but at this gives you the basic idea. I created three adjustment layers:
Firstly a curves adjustment to add contrast
Secondly a selective colour adjustment that takes some magenta and yellow out of the skin tones.
Lastly a hue/saturation adjustment to desaturate the whole image by -26.
You might need to mask off parts of these if the effect is too strong in certain areas.
7. Next I'm going to add some really gritty sharpening to the image using a high pass layer. Start by merging the whole file onto a new layer (on a Mac hold the Alt key while clicking 'Merge visible' in the layer palette). Then go to 'filter' and then 'other' and select 'high pass'.
You can play with the settings, I find a value around 10-20 works best. Click OK and you should see something like the picture here. Now for the cool part, set your high pass layer to the 'hard light' blending mode and watch all those details really pop. It can be a bit too extreme sometimes so I usually knock it back to 50% opacity or so.
8. Almost there now, just a couple of final tweaks to make it extra special. This image has a strong light source coming from the top right so I want to emphasise that. Create a new layer and fill it with black. Then go to 'filter', 'render' and select 'lens flare'. Choose 105mm prime and adjust the brightness to suit. Make sure you position the flare in the correct place using the preview.
Hit OK and set your layer to the 'screen' blending mode. The black will go transparent and you're left with a glow in the direction of the light source. Knock back the opacity of the layer a bit so it's nice and subtle and doesn't look too fake.
9. Finally, to add a final bit of contrast the image I merged the whole file onto a new layer again and converted this layer to black and white. Set the blending mode to 'hard light' and reduce the opacity to around 20% to give it one last contrast boost and you have yourself a gritty, stylised sports portrait.
Check out the before and after below. You can see more off the finished images from the shoot on our post here.