Developing your portrait photos with DxO Photo Suite (part 1)
In collaboration with Gilles Théophile
Learn how you can enhance your portraits by using the tools available in DxO OpticsPro and DxO FilmPack. The first part of this advanced tutorial focuses on basic corrections, mostly using DxO OpticsPro.
The second part of this tutorial focuses on a more creative approach to portraiture, notably by integrating DxO FilmPack into your DxO OpticsPro workflow, to obtain the ideal rendering for your portraits.
We will not be discussing the correction tools found in DxO ViewPoint in this tutorial, but you can find many useful tips in the tutorial Correcting volume deformation with DxO ViewPoint.
To follow this tutorial, you will need:
- DxO OpticsPro, Essential or Elite Edition
- An image in RAW format
1- Some shooting advice
Shooting portraits requires planning and preparation, which will give you the advantage of reducing the time you spend in post-processing. Here are some tips:
- Think about preparing your subject (i.e., makeup, hairstyle, powder, clothing).
- Shoot in the shade rather than in full sunlight.
- Use a reflector to reduce both shadows and contrast.
- Measure the light on the face.
- Fine-tune the focus by aiming at the eyes.
- If your subject is at 3/4 profile, focus on the eye closest to the camera.
- Use a short telephoto lens (ideally from around 85 to 135 mm).
- Avoid short focal lengths (distortion and too large depth of field) as well as long focal lengths (too little depth of field).
- Opt for large apertures to create a blurred background.
- Pay attention to your speed and to camera shake when shooting in the shade.
- Avoid too-high ISO sensitivities, which may generate too much noise in the shadows and in flesh tones.
- Work in RAW format to give yourself more latitude in post-processing.
- Set the white balance on Auto, or customize your white balance (think about always including a shot of your subject holding a gray chart).
2- Basic corrections
Opening the image
As soon as you open your image in DxO OpticsPro, the DxO Standard default preset is automatically applied to the photo. This preset is a collection of basic corrections that deal with exposure, contrast, color, noise, and sharpness.
In the second part of this tutorial, we will return to the subject of presets and optimal renderings for portraits.
If your camera/lens combination is supported by a DxO Optics Module, it will also correct such optical flaws as vignetting, distortion, and chromatic aberration. Sharpness will also be automatically optimized, but for a portrait, you will certainly need to adjust it a bit.
The basic corrections are applied in this order:
- White balance
- Tone (exposure and contrast)
- Color (vibrancy)
Don’t hesitate to make virtual copies in order to create different working versions of your portraits. Consult our dedicated tutorial to learn how to create, manage, and benefit from virtual copies in your DxO OpticsPro workflow.
By default, DxO OpticsPro uses the white balance of the camera you used. If you work in RAW, you can easily modify the white balance by using a gray chart that you place in the scene you’re shooting, regardless of the camera shooting mode (including custom white balance).
If you took your photos in a shady spot, it’s likely that they will be affected by a blue cast that you will want to correct as follows:
- In the upper toolbar in the Customize tab, click on the Eyedropper in the White balance sub-palette.
- Using the eyedropper, click on a neutral element — either on the gray chart if you have used one, or on a neutral element in the image (gray or white, so long as the latter isn’t too bright, as you should always avoid specular highlights).
- The possible blue cast is neutralized, so the colors become warmer.
- You can fine-tune and make adjustments using the Temperature and Tint sliders in the White balance sub-palette.
- If you are happy with the result, click on Close on the right under your image.
Image before/after adjusting white balance
Here, white balance was performed by clicking the eyedropper in a neutral zone — that is, the gray component in the background. This neutralized the blue dominant and warmed up the entire image, including the skin tones.
To use the eyedropper tool more precisely, you can zoom in to 1:1 and change the radius of the sampling zone with the slider located under the photo. You can also compare the before/after results by temporarily deactivating the White Balance sub-palette.
Correcting tone involves both exposure and contrast, that is, the difference between the darkest and lightest tones in the image.
By default, DxO OpticsPro applies DxO Smart Lighting in “Slight” mode. Of course, you can change the intensity of the correction in the DxO Smart Lighting sub-palette either by changing the mode (Medium, Strong), or manually by using the Intensity slider.
Another possibility is using the sliders in the Selective tone sub-palette, which will let you adjust each part of the tonal range separately, from highlights to blacks.
Of course, how you use these settings will largely depend on the style of your image and the effects you are looking for. In all cases, be sure to look at the histogram to help you avoid clipping both highlights and blacks.
Below, you can see that the DxO Smart Lighting tool has worked very well to recover the details in the dark areas of the face and in the background, all while preserving the details in the light tones:
Automatic tone correction, DxO Smart Lighting (Slight mode)
Although technically impeccable, this tone correction does not quite capture the light and dark ambiance of the original image. Manual recovery using the Intensity slider results in a good compromise:
To display clipping alerts, go into the Histogram palette and click on Toggle shadow zone visibility and Toggle highlight zone visibility .
DxO OpticsPro and DxO FilmPack offer you many tools for modifying the rendering of your portraits. Various creative approaches will be covered in the second part of this tutorial.
As for correcting basic colors, you can use the Saturation and Vibrancy sliders available in the Color accentuation palette.
The Saturation slider lets you reinforce colors in a linear way and because of this, at some level it may adversely affect skin tones. To avoid this, you should use the Vibrancy slider, whose algorithms protect skin tones better. If you opt for a less-saturated rendering, you can reduce the intensity of the colors by setting the colors to negative values (this topic is covered in more detail in the second part of this tutorial).
Below, from left to right, respectively, the image when opened in DxO OpticsPro, the image corrected using the Saturation slider, and then the image corrected using the Vibrancy slider.
Note that the Vibrancy slider, when used in moderation, does not create other problems in the central part of the image (such as making the skin and hair excessively orange).
3- Correcting skin flaws
Some kinds of skin have small flaws that you can fix by using DxO OpticsPro’s Dust tool. Here’s how:
- Click on the Dust tool icon in the upper part of the toolbar .
- Select 1:1 (100%) display mode .
- You can adjust the diameter of the paintbrush in the toolbar underneath the image. .
- To better see your corrections, click on Show masks button underneath the image. Cyan mask: active correction; pink mask(s): previous correction(s).
- In the image, place the brush on what you want to erase (pimple, mole, hair, etc.), click on it, and then move on to the next flaw.
- If the flaw isn’t round (e.g., a wrinkle or scar, etc.), you can use the tool like a paintbrush.
- You may want to occasionally deactivate the masks to see the results.
- To remove a correction, activate the mask by clicking on it, and then use your keyboard’s delete key.
- After you have finished, click on Close to the right under the image.
Correcting small skin flaws using the Dust tool.
Image before/after correcting various imperfections.
To get rid of unsightly small details, you can also set the Microcontrast slider (in the Contrast sub-palette) to negative values, which will make the details in the image more diffuse (see the second part of this tutorial for more information).
The Dust tool was designed to remove spots on your camera’s sensor. It is not really meant to be a tool for retouching photos, so if your photo requires significant retouching and not just a little troubleshooting, we advise you to use software designed for that purpose, such as Adobe Photoshop.
Optimizing the sharpness of your lens
If there’s a DxO Optics Module that supports your equipment, this will optimize the sharpness of your image and make it crisper, which is not necessarily ideal for portraits, especially if you need to cover up small skin flaws. However, this can be the best way to portray faces with lots of character.
In both cases, you can diminish or strengthen the sharpness using the sliders in the DxO Lens Softness sub-palette:
- Global: Acts on the overall sharpness of the image.
- Details: Strengthens or diminishes the fine details in the image.
- Bokeh: Diminishes the sharpness of objects in blurred backgrounds.
To strengthen the sharpness, zoom in to 1:1 to better see the effects of strengthening. You can also display a before/after view of the image by using the side-by-side button , or by using the Compare button.
Sharpness accentuation (overall and details)
As the effects of the Bokeh slider are very subtle (and nearly impossible to reproduce in a screenshot published on the Web, as here), do not hesitate to zoom in a lot to explore the entire image and see its effects. To get an idea of how it works, see our tutorial here about optimizing sharpness.
If your equipment is not supported by a DxO Optics Module, you can use the manual tools in the Unsharp Mask sub-palette. The same rule applies in this case, too: when sharpening a portrait, use a light hand!
Crop before or after?
Should you crop before or after your corrections? It doesn’t matter! In fact, the function of the crop tool, just like that of all DxO OpticsPro’s tools, is completely reversible. If you prefer to work on an image that represents the final result, and you don’t want to be distracted by certain elements that you are going to get rid of anyway, you should crop first. If you prefer to make your corrections first and then decide how you want to crop your image, then crop afterwards.
Having said the above, if you are thinking of trying out the tools presented in the second part of this tutorial, notably decentered Vignetting or Blur vignetting, you may want to wait to crop until after you’ve performed these kinds of corrections.
Do I need to respect the rules of composition?
Even if it is arguably essential to understand the basic rules established for painting and subsequently for photography and cinemaphotography, the digital era gives you the freedom to try anything you’d like. It’s up to you to figure out if you are satisfied with the results!
For or against respecting the “rule of thirds”?
To crop your portrait, follow these steps:
- Display your image in Fit to screen mode by clicking on the corresponding button in the upper toolbar.
- Still in the upper toolbar, click on the Crop button.
- A rule-of-thirds grid is superimposed on the image (if this does not occur, check the Show grid box in the toolbar underneath the image).
- By default, DxO OpticsPro retains the Original height:width ratio of the image.
- Adjust the grid by grabbing the corners.
- Place the grid where you want in the image to fine-tune the composition.
- If you do not want to keep the same original ratio, select Unconstrained in the Image ratio menu in the toolbar underneath the image.
- Adjust each side or corner independently of the others and place the grid where you want on the image.
- When you have finished cropping, click on Close.
A crop in 5:4 format.
In this first part of our tutorial dedicated to portraiture, we have talked about the basic corrections that will let you optimize your photos before doing more creative kinds of post-processing.
In the second part, you will discover how to go even further with the tools in DxO OpticsPro and DxO FilmPack (using the latter in plugin mode).
Topics covered in the second part of this tutorial:
- The Portrait presets
- The DxO Portrait preset
- Negative microcontrast vs. Softfocus
- Creative vignetting and blur vignetting
- Black & white portraits
- Developing a high-contrast portrait
Photo credit: Julien Cinquin