The Beauty of a North Light Studio
For centuries artists have understood the benefits of painting with north light—it creates cool, constant lighting throughout the day. While ideal to paint by, it doesn’t leave much for a photographer to work with when the subject of the photograph has her back to the windows, throwing her face completely into shadow.
I have photographed artist Melody Phaneuf innumerable times in her studio at Fenway Studios (Boston, MA). When the photo session is planned, there is the flexibility to position the artist to take advantage of the beautiful soft-box type lighting the huge north light windows creates. In this instance however, the photography was spontaneous.
I immediately saw a wonderful composition when I entered the studio from the second floor balcony, the vantage point from which this image was captured. The artist stood isolated against the expansive wood floor, enveloped by her easel and the drawing table overflowing with pastel chalks and pencils. Not wanting to disturb the moment, I grabbed a camera and captured the image before she realized I was there.
Post-Production: Re-Balancing the Light
As captured, this image had every reason to end up in the outtake pile. The main subject was far too dark, parts of the drawing table over-exposed, and the hardwood floor, glaring from the reflection of the windows, was far too dominant. (The light cast on the left-side of the drawing table was perfect for still life images of the pastel chalks. That was left for another photo session on another day.)
What was needed was a complete re-balancing of the light. My approach, when an image has lighting issues, is to envision what would have been the ideal lighting set-up, then work to create it in Photoshop.
Foremost was to light the main subject—the artist at her easel. Had this been a planned photo shoot, I would have used studio lighting to supplement the natural light flooding the studio. During post-production I created the necessary fill-light in Photoshop.
Next, I addressed the over-exposed elements in the photo—the glaring floor and right-side of the drawing table. Through a series of curve adjustments with selective masking, density was added to darken those areas of the image.
Once the tonal values were corrected, I turned my attention to the color. Just one element needed to be color-corrected. Now retrieved from shadow, the artist’s face appeared too red. A color adjustment made just to the skin tones resulted in a more natural and pleasing color.
Finally, to complete the image, I removed the hinges on the cabinets, imperfections in the floor, and blurred the background slightly to bring further emphasis to the artist at her easel.
Getting to the “After”
The take-away is to know that lighting can be re-worked and improved post-capture. Don’t discard an otherwise favorable photograph because the initial shot has lighting issues. Much can be done to rescue the image with Photoshop in the hands of a skilled Digital Imaging Specialist.
More Before & After Examples
Be sure to visit our Portfolio Gallery page for links to our portfolios of Magazine Retouching, Improving Stock, Art Reproductions, Portrait Retouching, Product + Catalog, Trends + Techniques, and more Improving Color + Light Before & After examples.
Picture Within a Picture ~Pastel Still Lifes
The light cascading across the pastel chalks was beautiful. Visit the CQ Photo Collection, Pastel Photographs link to see the series of photographed I made of the chalks pictured here on the drawing table.
© Martha DiMeo 2014 / Photography by Martha DiMeo
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