Many photographers like to keep tips and tricks to themselves, and that’s of course understandable.  But it must be my background of teaching that means I simply can’t help myself in helping to show others how I’ve achieved certain effects and looks.

The art of good photography is getting it right first time in camera – but as some of these before-after demonstrations will show you, there are workarounds to solve seemingly impossible tasks.

Here are just a few photography and post-production (Lightroom and Photoshop) procedures below, and if you have any specific asks, please do leave a comment or email!

– Realistic Plane Inclusion –

To give the icing on the cake to a series of vintage-styled scenes for Natasha Chick, I decided to add some old planes into the photos.   It’s fairly straightforward to cut around and paste in a plane image, but the difficult lies in making it flawlessly realistic.

By adding spinning propellors, correct scene-colour-matching, lighting effects and shadow constrasts, I was able to integrate the plane and then colour-grade the whole scene as a final step.

Vintage Photo Shoot Before and After Photoshop

Here’s how I worked on the plane …
1) Cut out the plane in preparation for adding into the scene.
2) Place the plane into the scene, transforming (scaling + rotating) in order to best fit the perspective (hint: use the model and fields to guesstimate).
3) Using Photoshop’s ‘mixer brush tool’, lightly drawing up and down from each blade in turn, I added some initial spin movemement.
4) I copy/pasted the three blades on to a new layer, anchored directly above the propellor.  Then I used the ‘motion-blur’>spin filter in Photoshop to add in some extra circular movement.
5) I matched the highlights (on top of the plane) and the shadows (underneath the plane) to that of the general photo, and then for added realism I lightly painted in some sun flare over the right-hand-side of the entire scene.Plane Photoshop Realism

– Fixing Shirt Collars for Clothing Photography –

Photographing clothes can be pretty tricky … especially when you’re faced with the task of making them look mannequin-free … but not when you know this little secret.

Firstly, photograph the shirt on, yes, you guessed it – a mannequin.  Then turn it inside out to expose the inside collar, and photograph again.


quantock shirt front and back

Then cut around the entire shirt on the front-facing photo … and also just the collar on the second photo.
Finally, as 2 separate Photoshop layers, move the reversed collar behind the main shirt, until they line up.

fixing shirt collar for clothes photography

Et oila!  The mannequin-free shirt:clothing photography final photo

– Removing Unwanted Light Sources –

There are many occasions when you might use off-camera-flash, and require the light source near the subject.  However, you might not want to see this light source in the photo!  Some people would simply zoom in, or crop in, and be restricted to a portrait shot … but this technique allows you to choose any composition, even wide landscape.

The secret is to take the photo twice; one with the light source (e.g. a person holding a light on a light stand), and one without the light source.  Then align these photos one on top of the other (either manually by hand, or with Photoshop’s ‘auto-align’ feature), and simply erase the light source to reveal the layer below!

removing light stand from a photo 2removing light stand from a photoremoving unwanted light in a photo shoot

– Know Your Sun Position in Advance –

Ok, so you plan to take a photo with a very specific backdrop to your subject.  You get to your location, but … damn … the sun just isn’t really where you hoped it would be.

There are many apps for smart devices to show the daily route of the sun (or moon), ‘Sun Surveyor‘ being a personal favourite.

But what about when you want to plan all this in advance; as in, know the position of the sun in a location you haven’t been before? (e.g. if you want the setting sun to be aligned with the epic tower as in the shot below)

Valentines Shoot

There’s a really simple solution – use ‘SunCalc‘, type in your destination, change to ‘satellite’ view, move the pointer where your subject will stand (e.g. next to that specific tower, with that specific backdrop), then drag the timer at the top of the screen to your desired shooting time.

Here you will see the difference of the orange line (the direction of the sun) at 1) 8am and 2) 8pm.

suncalc calculate sun direction for photography

– How To Get That Perfectly Clean HDR Image –

I was recently given the task to shoot some Oxford College interiors, and being the perfectionist I am, wanted super clean (ISO 100) images.  In the below example, there was such a contrasting mix of dark shadows (the wooden library), and bright highlights (from the windows), and although I could push the shadows and highlights in Lightroom, I wanted to do it a ‘better’ way.

The trick is to take the same photo twice (or more), each with different exposures.

This simple example shows I took two RAW photos (on a tripod to eliminate the need for re-allignment in post production) and then imported them into Lightroom CC 2015.

The photo on the left has a bright exposure which brings out the details in the library, whilst the photo on the right has a lower exposure to concentrate on showing detail in the windows:

Oxford Photography Queens College HDR pic1

You then CTRL-click on the two photos to select them both, then RIGHT-CLICK and choose ‘Photo Merge’>HDR:

Oxford Photography Queens College HDR pic2Lightroom then works its magic to calculate an average/HDR photo, choosing the most amount of detail from the two original photos.

Any differences (e.g. the person on the far left moved a few inches between each photo being taken) are recognised by Lightroom and highlighted in red, as below.  By the time you press ‘Merge’, Lightroom can sort this little difference out by making it a seemless overlay.

Oxford Photography Queens College HDR pic3

Here’s the final result – a super-clean image with detail in all areas of the photo: Oxford Photography Queens College HDR Final

– Improvising –

During my model photo shoot with Sara, we very quickly realised there was a lot of improvisation to be had, as many of the shots I had planned suddenly couldn’t take place (due to the venue changing it’s mind….).

I think it’s always sensible to think quickly, and to be spontaneous and expect the unexpected.  It provides a challenge and keeps you on your toes.  I quite possibly picked this trait up from capturing live-events and weddings!

Whilst Sara was having her make-up applied, I happened to spot a coloured bed drape on her hotel bed.  Hung (very) carefully over the bedroom’s wall-mounted TV, and with a bit of strategic light-placement (one side purple, to match the backdrop), I managed to gain some stunning portraits of Sara:

sara hafez hotel room model photo shoot

This time with a little Photoshop sparkle added in after:

sara hafez before after photoshop


Thanks for sticking to the end with this write-up, and do let me know if it’s been useful (or not!).


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