MAKING OF: Winter look

I took this shot during a winter afternoon in a Montreal park. Since I’m completelly addicted to backlit portrait, I couldn’t resist to take a shot once I’ve noticed the rim light on the hood’s fur.

Gear, Setup, Shoot.

I used a 135mm on a Canon 5D MkII at f/2.0, ISO 50, Exposure 1/640.

To get the ‘perfect’ lighting I just asked the model to look at me while I was moving around her. I took the shot when the sun (quite low at that time) was behind her.

This is what came out of the camera.

Because most of the light came from the back of the subject, I really had to overexpose a lot to get the right exposure on her face.


First I converted the image into a Smart Object (Right click on the Background layer  then Convert to Smart Object) and I applied the Shadows/Highlights image adjustment. That allows to tweak the value of the shadow and the highlight independently, and to add some  midtone contrast.

I just played with the adjustment sliders to get as many details as possible on the face and the fur. But that process brings also a lot of undesired details on the skin. That’s when the Smart Object becomes handy. The adjustment is not done directly on the layer, but on a Smart Filter. Which allows you to use the filter mask to control where you want to apply the adjustment.

In that case, I just excluded the face from the adjustment by painting this area of the mask in black.

That allowed me to get the best of both world: high contrast/details on the fur and preserving a natural skin texture.

Then I wanted to get rid of that red thing in the background.

I simply selected the area with the lasso tool and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. That automatically created a mask for the selected area. I selected the Reds channel in the Adjustments panel, tweak  the color range (sliders at the bottom of the window) and desaturate.

 Then I selected the background with the pen tool, feathered the edges and apply a Curves adjustment.

I started with the Blue channel. I increased it in the dark area and lowered it in the light area (which adds some yellow).  After that, I tweaked the other channels to get the tone I was looking for.

Then I added a second Curves adjustment layer. I duplicated and applied the mask from the first curve layer, and inverted it to have the adjustment only on the face (check the Alps post for the shortcuts). I mainly added some contrast by doing a ‘S’ curve on the RGB channel, and warmed it up by lowering the blues and slightly increasing the reds.

To increase the sharpness of the in focus area I used the High Pass technique:

The idea is to duplicate the main layer and apply a High Pass filter on it (Filter->Other->High Pass). You adjust the Radius attribute depending on the ‘scale’ of the details you want to increase and the size of your image (I used 4.9 for this picture).

After that, place your layer on top of everything and change the Blending mode to Overlay. Change the blending mode to get different type of results.

I duplicate the mask from the ‘face curves’ layer and painted some areas in black to limit the effect to the eyes and the fur.

Then I duplicated the same layer 3 times, played a bit with the blending mode and the masks until I got the ‘right’ sharpness on key elements, at the targeted final resolution (1024px wide in this case).

I warmed up the face by adding a new Curves layer, boosting the reds and increased the contrast a bit.

Then I applied a Black & White adjustment layer on the face and the fur to desaturate that area only on selected colors (next time I’ll go in the Black and White filter in detail).

I added a Curves adjustment only the eyes to highlight and increase their details by boosting the middle of the RGB channel, and doing a ‘S’ curve from there.

I added a new Black and White adjustment on the whole picture with a Lighter Color blending mode (to get a kind of  bleach bypass effect).

Then, to emphasize the back lighting, I added an orange radial gradient with a Color Dodge blending mode


I really like the orange to blue tone gradation that brings on the right part of the image.

Finally, I croped the image to a 1.85:1 ratio, et voilà!

Bonus: The high resolution final image (5616 x 3744).

I hope that post was useful, Like it if you liked it, post comments, thanks for reading!

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