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Create a Storybook Image

As I was browsing a few of my favorite Facebook groups, I came across images from Australian photographer Kira Likhterova. Her images and post-processing skills amazed me. I love how she is able to take a simple photo and turn it into a work of art. I quickly reached out to her and asked her to share a few of her secrets. Here’s her tutorial on how to turn a simple photo into a scene from a storybook:  

First of all – here is a behind-the-scenes image taken by one of the Mums. It shows where I was shooting, and at what angle. That was just a dirt road next to the studio. I was after a spot for the girls where the light would be soft and even. Also it was in the morning – so, again: soft light.

Then you can see the RAW image from the camera.

After a few pimples and red spots were deleted here and there and a bit of cloning an odd branch, I did just a bit of softening of their skin with one of my actions  – “Satin Skin Light” from “Photo Rejuvenation Basic Retouch Workflow Actions.” You can do it yourself in Photoshop with cloning on low opacity in circular motions, but it will take a bit of time – not much, though, as kid’s normally have a good skin already.

Liquefy tool to elongate the necks just a bit, if needed, to lift the edges of the lips if there is a grumpy expression, increase the hair volume, if needed. With large, soft brush. You can also open the eyes a bit, if needed. You can tuck in the waist and make wrists more elegant if needed.

Then I started a bit of my painting process on their faces and bodies, thinking about creating a bit of 3D effect with the Light – sometimes I do it with my actions when I am in a rush (check “Light and Shadow” from “Photo Rejuvenation Basic Retouch Workflow Actions”), sometimes I just grab white or black brush and paint on a separate layer, filled with 50% gray on overlay mode. Basically the goal is the same as what makeup artists try to create – sculpture with the Light, bringing some features forward by painting with white and having some shadows for receding by painting with black.

Then I start to play with layers – curves and levels. Lighting the areas I want to light – in this case, more around the girls to create the illusion they are surrounded by light and haze. Then darkening the image where I want to have a bit of vignette.

I play with selective colors, replace colors, colorize (via hue and saturation) and color balance to add tones and hues that I want. It is different every time, depending on the feel of the image for me. For example – in this image, for me, greens were too strong, so I desaturated greens with a “replace color”. I added blue tones by using Hue/Saturation/colorize. Of course, every time you are working with mask to use the effects sparingly, with a low opacity of the soft brush.

I added some blue tones on the areas that are going backwards and added a bit of warmth to the areas that are supposed to come forward – girls and areas around them, couple of leaves here and there. I always think from a painting perspective – if you want something to come forward, brighter and warmer colors; if you want something to recede, pick cooler colors.

Same goes with sharpening and contrast. I play with curves and sharpening for the eyes (you can use “Add Drama to Your Eyes” and “Boost and Brighten Eye Drops” from Photo Rejuvenation Basic Retouch Workflow Actions  if you want to speed up the process or just do it manually with Curves, Shadows/Highlights or painting with a  White or Black brush on a separate layer filled with 50% gray and then you can also use a Sharpen Filter – I use Unsharp Mask for this)

I wanted some features and details on the girls to come forward with more contrast, warmer colors and sharper details and also wanted to put more haze and less contrast on the areas I don’t want to focus on.

Sometimes I use my actions for pop or 3D effects to speed up the process. Check “Radiance and Vitality” action and “Deep Details Extraction” action from “Specialized Treatments Photoshop Actions”

That is also why I prefer to shoot on F2.8 even when I have four girls, as in this case. Shallow depth of field gives me that beautiful bokeh around them that I absolutely adore. I just need to make sure all four are on the same focal plane. And, just in case one will be less in focus than another, I sometimes take a few more shots, focusing on each of the girls so, if needed, I can even swap heads.

That is how much I adore shooting on F2.0 or F2. :<) I am always after a magical feel and that is what those apertures give me.

I see the light in F2 or F2.8. I understand that some people will be shocked as this is going against the rule when shooting a few people; but that is how I prefer to shoot. When I don’t have time (like on a wedding day or when you shoot a family photography and have only one hour for all the variations of the family group – then I will change the [F stop to 4-5.6]

But I digressed. In my next steps for this image, I painted the areas I wanted with a bit of a cream color on separate layers – with a low opacity. A few times, every time on a separate later: sometimes on a normal blending mode, sometimes on a overlay or soft-light mode, including the girls’ skin and around them to create more creamy and hazy effect.

The I used my favourite action for a bit of a glow and adding more blue tones in some areas – “Secret Ingredient/Magic Glow” from “Specialised Treatments Photoshop Actions”.

I played with adding magical lights. On a separate layer, use the polygon tool, fill it with white light, dropping opacity and blurring.

And, at the end, I used “Magic light Overlays” for some sparkles.

You can see where I started and what it looked like when I finished

You can find out more about Kira online at www.artphotobykira.com.au

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