I photographed Cody Wise at the end of 2014 for Serge DeNimes clothing. You may recognise Cody as the guy who sang ‘Its My Birthday’ with Will I Am. Click here to read some general details about the shoot in an earlier blog post. This time I’m going to talk about the technical stuff!

I’m choosing to do a breakdown of this shot as it required the most retouching out of the whole set. The other shots are a little more simple and self explanatory.


I’d been shooting fashion shots of Cody all morning against backdrops and wanted to shoot some more portrait style photos of him in the last hour. After all, I’d found a pretty great location to shoot in so it would have been a shame to only shoot what looked like studio shots. I liked the colour tone of the room and light spilling in from the big sash windows. Unlike some places I shoot, I wasn’t surrounded by different furniture or props to use so my decision in how to shoot him was pretty quick and simple. I wanted a shot of Cody sitting by the window with a loft-apartment feel to it. I didn’t want him to perform at all and I didn’t want him to pose too much in ways that I’d needed for previous shots. Just a simple no-frills portrait. 


Having worked towards a certain style of photography for years I’ve grown increasingly aware of what I want to get out of my camera and what I’m likely to do in the retouching process. I knew due to certain factors that the shot I was about to get from my camera was going to look pretty different to the end result. For a start I wasn’t going to get the contrasty feel I wanted straight out of camera. The weather in London that day was grey and wet which meant there wasn’t a huge difference between the light outside and that of the room we were in. Secondly the general colour of the room was a muted version of what I wanted from my finished image and there was a LOT of mess to clean up from the back wall. With this in mind I was simply out to get a well lit and nicely composed shot and the rest would follow in post production. 

I aimed to use an aperture that would blur out the details in the background but not give what I’d call a ‘shallow depth of field’. I shot the image at F/4 but the wide focal length used ( Canon 24-70 @ 32mm) meant that the background blur was only subtle. My ISO was 500. No major intent behind this. I could have gone lower but the location was pretty dark and I wanted a shutterspeed that allowed me to shoot hand-held. 

I decided to give the light from the window an extra kick by adding a bit of lighting. I had a 600w Einstein into a 46” Photek Softlighter boomed by an assistant above me to camera right. This gave a slightly smoother light spill onto Cody and a little more fill-light onto the front of his face. it was important to make sure this light was still very much in keeping with the ambient feel of the shot so just the tiniest pop was needed. 


Unlike my previous BTS post about Scroobius Pip this one didn’t require an adrenaline inducing time limit of 3 minutes. I spent about 10 minutes shooting Cody in a few variations of this set up and wanted him to spend most of the time chatting with the guys behind me with only brief glances at the camera when he felt like it. We had his father, his manager and the guys from Serge De Nimes on set so there was plenty to distract him. 



As you can see, the end result if a far cry from the original shot. So lets get down to the nitty gritty……

I began by using the Clone Stamp/Healing Brush to clean up all the marks on the back wall. I then used the same tools to clean up the minor blemishes on Cody’s face. (Lets blame adolescence and London’s pollution). Now I was ready to work on tweaking the shadows, highlights and colour tone. 

Using Curves adjustments I warmed up the highlights with a bit of yellow. This enhanced the yellow of the back wall and made the light from the window less white. Next I pushed up the Orange saturation and painted this effect only into Cody’s hat using an inverted layer mask. This gave the hat a little extra pop. I then used Colour Balance to push a bit of blue/cyan into the shadows which effected the floor and darker parts of the room.

After all that I worked on the shadows and highlights by opening a new Soft-light layer and gently painting white to increase highlights and black to darken shadow areas. This allowed me to tweak shadows/highlights in just the areas I wanted such as clothes and skin. 

In the last few stages I did my ‘Smart Vignette’ technique to darken the surroundings and make Cody stand out a bit more (Pull down exposure using RGB curves - Make loose selection around subject - Invert layer mask - heavy Gaussian blur to selection) and then a little sharpening trickery to various parts of the shot such as Cody’s eyes, the hat and the coat stand. Lastly I added a little bit of lens flare from the window and a layer of grain to reduce that intensely 'digital’ feel from my Canon 5dmkIII. 


Thanks for reading!