Plugins & presets: stylizing a photo

A colleague of mine recently showed me a photo, she took of her son during a holiday. It immediately struck a chord with me – it had some resemblance to the style of ads for a certain fragrance. The key to that very style is Black&White with a certain polished look. So I set myself the task to go and try to “rebuild” that style.

First, I loaded the original picture into Lightroom and worked on exposure and color correction. I knew, that editing it towards “strong” colors and contrast and trying to preserve dark areas would help me in the black-and-white-conversion. In some areas, though, I was pretty limited: I could not recover the crushed whites from the original JPG: you can easily note that in the T-Shirt.  In the next step, I wanted to use several plugins from Google’sNIK collection. I decided to export the picture into Photoshop, since there, the NIK plugins do provide additional options compared to their Lightroom versions. And: each used plugin creates its own layer, so you can fine-tune each one separately or even work with layer masks.

Comparing two versions: editing in Lightroom, Photoshop and NIK pluginsComparing two versions: editing in Lightroom, Photoshop and NIK plugins

Since the original photo was taken with an iPhone, I wanted to get rid of sensor noise, first of all. Using NIK’s Dfine, I did not rely on its automatic noise reduction, though: I would have lost small detail in non-noisy parts, something you would not want with the already limited resolution of the original picture. Instead, I used Dfine’s control point feature and applied just one control point to the sky. That way, I got rid of the noise in the blue parts of the picture without sacrificing sharpness elsewhere.

I then proceeded with Dfine’s “skin” option. With a small brush, I treated the face, arms and legs of the model to smooth out the too grainy look of the iPhone picture. To end with, I used NIK’s Presharpener plugin and only very softly applied it, using the transparency slider of its layer: just enough to recover some of the detail and not introduce artifacts and noise, again. I also got rid of the small halfmoon in the background: I felt, it just distracted from the picture.

Exporting that picture back into Lightroom, I had a nice version for final editing. Some more small adjustments (for example, lighter parts of the skin were too yellow, so I needed to desaturate them a bit), and I was ready for B&W-conversion using NIK Silver Efex Pro 2. There’s quite many presets in that plugin to choose from. I selected one, that came close to the desired style of these fragrance ads and fine-tuned it to my liking. Especially working with the gamma curve, exposure, contrast and the color filter options (they emulate the old colored lens filters we all used in analog B&W-photography to enhance clouds or the sky, for example) did the trick.

Whilst browsing through the various presets in Silver Efex Pro 2, I also found some presets, that looked cool with that photo, too. So I ended up making various B&W-versions.

Having done that, I could not resist to experiment with various color looks as well: I made virtual copies of the “optimized” color picture and applied various presets. For a while now, I do work with the amazingVSCO Film presets. They emulate analog film stock with push, pull, and cross processed looks – it’s like a journey back into the old days.

In the end, I also did a version with a full moon, that I inserted – my colleague just had loved the small moon in the background of the original picture so much, that I could not resist…

So: below’s a little gallery with the various results – as always, I look forward to your comments!

Comparing the stylized photos: color and Black&White conversion using NIK plugins in Photoshop and LightroomComparing the stylized photos: color and Black&White conversion using NIK plugins in Photoshop and Lightroom