"Elephant Profile" Deconstructed

The past couple of months I have really spent a lot of time on Google+. I have certainly engaged more there than on any other "social platform". One reason for that is the audience. Obviously, you have the tech crowd. But, surprisingly, photographers seem to have really taken to the site in a big way.

I mention Google+ because not only do you get to see great photos, but many photographers are also sharing how they create their works. One of my favorite ways that they do this is a "Before and After" shot. I thought I would follow their example.

So above you will see one of my recent photographs, "Elephant Profile". The "before" shot is a little dull, in my opinion. Dull and flat. Although you do see quite a bit of texture. That texture is what I really wanted to emphasize.

Well, I didn't intend to get too detailed in what I did, but I guess I got a little carried away when I started capturing screenshot. What follows is the progression:

ImageAdjustment Notes
RAW adjustments made in Lightroom 3. Mainly increased the Recovery value to bring some detail back into the blown out tusk.
Cleaned up some noise using Topaz DeNoise 5.

Lightened up the wall in the background.
Copied merged and pasted into a new layer.

Set the blend mode for that layer to Overlay at 60% Opacity.

Masked out areas that I felt were made too dark or too light.
Used Photoshop CS5's Sharpen Tool to pull a little more detail out of the trunk, forehead, the edge of his ear and his flank.
Added a Curves Adjustment Layer to tweak the white balance a bit.

(Color-blind people like me making white balance adjustments is almost slapstick humor at its best.)
I really liked the contrast that I was seeing in the Blue Channel, so I added a Black & White Adjustment Layer with the Blue Filter selected and set the blend mode to Luminosity.

The tusk started clipping the highlights so I masked it and the eye out.
Up to this point I've been making adjustments to what is actually there. Now I start taking some artistic license.

Because I thought things were still looking a little flat, I decided to add some dimensionality by adding highlights to a layer with a blend mode of Soft Light.

Added highlights to the trunk, the area above the trunk and some of the ear wrinkles.
I then added some shadows to a layer with a blend mode of Multiply.

Shadows were applied to the side of the trunk (a nose job), under the cheek bone and on his chest and leg right under his ear.
Using the clone stamp tool, I got rid of the texture in the background wall.
I probably over-use vignettes, but I tried to keep things fairly restrained this time and masked out areas that I did not want too dark or dark at all.
Once again, I copied merged and pasted that into a new layer. I then applied a Gaussian Blur with a radius of ~15 pixels.

The blend mode of the layer was changed to Overlay at a 22% Opacity.
A Curves Adjustment Layer was added to bump up the highlights.

The tusk was, once again, masked out to protect it from clipping.
And finally a Vibrance Adjustment Layer where the Vibrance was set to +46 and the Saturation was set to -23.

And there you go. Many of these changes were pretty subtle. Particularly when seen in a step-by-step progression like this. But at least you get a general feeling for what I did and why I did it whether or not you like the final version or not.

Hopefully this was somewhat educational, entertaining or at least marginally interesting. If you would like to comment on what you've seen, maybe point out something that you might have done differently or maybe you just want to say "hi", hit me up on Twitter (@tomgehrke) or come find me on Google+ (https://profiles.google.com/tomgehrke).