Later this year, I’m exhibiting some portraits of nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In preparing for this, I played around with a few different styles, ultimately coming up with something that I think really lends itself to the time at hand.

While the photoshoot itself is rather simple, a lot of time goes into post-processing. Here’s how I was able to get the look in-camera, and then amplify it using tools in Capture One and Luminar 4.

The setup

Like I said above, the camera setup was pretty easy. But before that, I had to find a location that worked. I didn’t want my friend Sam to squint — after all, the point of the shoot was to bring out the emotion in the subject’s eye. So I found some shade and then went to work.

Then I used a single Godox AD200 light with my MagMod MagBox 24″ softbox, and put it roughly six feet from my subject (remember, physical distancing!). I put it slightly above his head and pointed it on a 45-degree angle, and set the power to be at about 1/32.

This provided me enough light to light Sam’s face, without overpowering and adding a lot of shine issues.

Then I used my Olympus OM-D E-M1X and 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens to take the shot. It’s important that you can have a wide-open aperture here, in order to get the effect of the subject “popping” off the background. I also recommend shooting in RAW, so you have more control over the end result.

Baseline edits in Capture One

Because I shot in RAW, the very first thing I did was convert the photograph to black and white. I played with the color sensititivy sliders in the Black & White tool, ultimately increasing the reds and taking down the other color sliders. What you do here will depend on your image.

From there my edits were pretty simple. I took down the exposure slightly as well as cut the highlights in half. I boosted the shadows some, and then added a decent amount of clarity (in this case, 25) to the image on the Natural setting.

I added a bit of a vignette, too, and then cropped my image in a bit tighter.

Making it pop in Luminar

Once I was pleased with my image in Capture One, I brought the image into Photoshop (Edit With > Adobe Photoshop). Then I opened up Luminar 4 as a filter.

Once here, I used the Smart Contrast slider (in the Light tool) to add a little bit of contrast to the image. Then, I used the AI Structure tool to lessen the detail in my image. Not wanting to take detail away from his face, I clicked on Advanced Settings in the AI Structure tool, and then drew a radial mask around the subject’s face. Then I adjusted the structure slightly.

Because I had Sam smile behind his mask, his eyes squinted somewhat (which is natural). To undo the squint a bit, I used the Enlarge Eyes slider in the AI Portrait Enhancer tool to open them up a bit. I also used Enhance Eyes to make them more prominent.

The finished product

Once I brought the image back into Photoshop and then Capture One, I did some minor spot removal with the Healing Brush. And I was done — a black and white portrait where my subject completely popped out of the background!

While I used this technique on the photographs for my upcoming project, it’s great for any single-person portrait!

Want to learn more about my “On the Front Lines” ArtPrize piece? Click here.