Specialist Fitness, Bodybuilding & Physique Photographer

Retouching Technique

“Chocolate Skin”

Welcome to my first ever ‘Insights’ video tutorial.
This ‘Insight’ will show you how to create those lovely dark tanned “Chocolate” skin on any model.

In this ‘Insight’ I use an old image of Yolandi to show you my 3 step process in creating beautifully tanned skin on any model.
Now I know Yolandi is quite tanned as it is, but this technique works no matter the current shade of your model’s skin.
It involves using a blue filter B&W adjustment layer, but you will just have to view the video to see the full TUT:)

Obviously, watch it on YouTube for best quality and clarity as it is a HD video.

Hope you enjoy this first of many to come!

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(send me your thoughts below or leave a comment on my channel)

Exposure Technique

“The Zone System”

Understanding how to get the correct exposure of any scene quickly and with the first shot is an important skill of any good photographer, as sometimes, we only get one shot…
so it better be right!



…and this my friends is where the zone system comes in!

Our good friend Mr. Ansel Adams made this system famous all those many moons ago and used it to create those fantastic black & white images we still revere to this day!

AAAAAHHHHHH…. I hear you exclaim with glee as a faint candle dimly starts to flicker in those caverns of the mind once obscured in the perpetual crepescule of exposure problems!

But look again my careless friend!
The zone system has crippled and perplexed many a over-zealous photographer in search of that elusive Adams homage – simply because it was not understood, or how to correctly apply it in camera.
It is NO GOOD knowing the zones and what they represent if you do not know how it applies in the metering of a scene with your camera! With that being said – let’s take a closer look at these zones on the image below and we will get through some more in-depth explanations as we go.
The zones will appear as coloured lines on the image as you click through the various zones at the top.

This is the original colour image.
It was shot at f8 – 1/6 sec @ ISO100. I did use the Zone System with Aperture Priority mode to capture this image.
Naturally the camera was mounted on a tripod due to long exposure.

The Zone system is based on the tonality of a Black & White image – hence this B&W version of the shot.
The following images will show you the various zones on the image.

Zone 0 is black with no texture – pure black!
You can see the areas in the rocks that fall within Zone 0. This is where the shadow is so dark that the camera sensor could not pick up any texture. Not to be confused with the Zone 2 areas that lie next to them where texture is perceivable.
Because there is no texture information captured in Zone 0 you cannot bring back the texture in Zone 0 with brightening the image in post-processing!
Yes you can brighten the black and it will become grey, but the details of the image will NOT magically appear out of the darkness as they were NOT recorded.

Zone 1 is very close to Zone 0 and without black to compare it to can easily be mistaken for Zone 0, but there is a clear distinction between Zone 0 and Zone 1. Try and capture your darkest scenes in this zone as some very slight detail is recorded and can be ‘opened up’ in post-processing.

Zone 2 is where the real magic starts and is a good start for shadows – dark but slight detail and texture become visible. This would be equivalent in colour to 80-85% black and can be brightened or darkened in post. Any information in the image (if shooting in RAW) captured in Zone 2 and above can be brightened in post-processing using the exposure sliders in LR or exposure adjustment layers in PS. The level of detail present in this zone will depend largely on your camera and the capabilities of it’s sensor (this folks is why the D800 is slightly more expensive than the D5000 for example) …amongst others reasons of course!
The level of detail retained by these top-end professional cameras in these bottom zones is actually staggering! Even a well-and-truly completely under-exposed image (with 90% of the image between Zone 1-2) which is pretty much black to the eye, can easily with one click of a button in post be correctly exposed.
It is the normally seen as the ‘darkest’ shadow parts of an image.

Zone 3 is the start of the detail ‘grey’ sections of the image and is the ‘sweet spot’ for the darker parts of an image (IMHO) as it the darkest part of an image where we can clearly see sharp detail.
Zone 3 is also the first effective Zone we can meter for using our Digital camera’s metering system by under-exposing your camenra metering by 2 stops.

Zone 4 is brighter and have more clear detail than Zone 3 and is a good Zone to meter for.

Zone 5 is equivalent to 18% Grey in terms of colour and tonality.
This is ‘THE MOST IMPORTANT ZONE’ to your digital camera!!
Let me say that again – to your CAMERA, not necessarily to the photographer.
We’ll come back to this in more detail a bit later.
This is the easiest zone to meter for.

Zone 6 is full of sharp detail and is also the start of the switch over from Mid-tones to the Highlights of an image. It is a perfect zone to meter for by over-exposing your camera metering by 1 stop.

Zone 7 is the last zone in the sharp detail zones.
This means it is the last zone where sharp detail is visible before starting to ‘Blow-out’ or become too bright.
It is to the highlight zones what zone 3 is to the shadow zones.
It is another good zone to meter for and can effectively be metered for by over-exposing your camera metering by 2 stops.

In Zone 8 we are well on our way to White.
There is much less sharp detail available than zone 7, but is still an active area of the image and can be metered for by over-exposing your camera metering by 3 stops although seldomly used.

Near white.
This is to white what Zone 1 is to black.
No sharp detail perceivable, only tonality difference between Zone 9 & 10, however there is slight ‘recovery’ of details possible in post-processing.

This is pure white and the brightest part of an image if this value was even recorded. This specific image has no Zone 10 areas.
Any part of the image recorded as Zone 10 cannot be ‘recovered’ in post-processing as there is no detail captured.
When you try to darken Zone 10 it only goes grey and will NOT reveal any detail..

You will remember in Zone 5 it was said that this zone is the most important Zone for your digital camera.
OK, so what do I mean here?
When you are metering an area using your camera’s exposure metering system and your meter is on 0 (or in in the middle) you are telling your camera that it is now looking at something with an 18% grey tonality, in other words; it is looking at and measuring Zone 5 of that specific scene!
READ IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN until it makes sense to you.
It is really that simple people
When you are metering an area using your camera’s exposure metering system and your meter is on 0 (or in in the middle) you are telling your camera that it is now looking at something with an 18% grey tonality, in other words; it is looking at and measuring Zone 5 of that specific scene!


In other words; anytime you are shooting in AUTO, PROGRAM, SHUTTER or APERTURE priority mode (where you are not deciding on the exposure of the shot because the camera is deciding that for you based on your shutter or aperture choices) it will expose for 18% grey or Zone 5 regardless of what zone you are actually metering on.

So what the hell does that mean???

Well… if you were busy focusing and metering on some beautifully dark & wet rocks after the sun has set and hoping to capture that great magenta sky hue reflecting ever so slightly on the rocks as well as truly showing those dark textures on the rocks you are going to be very disappointed because chances are your image will be over-exposed by 2 or more stops and way too bright.

Because the rocks probably had tonality more in the region of Zone 3 or even 2 and you were exposing them as Zone 5 (by default) because you did not tell the camera what zone it was exposing for…

But all is not stuck on Zone 5 as mentioned in the zones that you could expose for various zones using your camera’s metering system and effectively you could expose 3 stops up or down with it. When shooting in manual this is easy to see.
As you turn either of the dials you will see the meter moving left or right towards the plus or the minus. So if Zone 5 is at 0 (in the middle) then +1 is equivalent to Zone 6(1 zone lighter than Zone 5) and +2 equivalent to Zone 7 and so forth.
Conversely then -1 is equivalent to Zone 4 (1 zone darker than Zone 5) and -2 is equivalent to Zone 3.
When shooting in modes other than Manual you have to change the exposure compensation up and down by +1 or +2 or -1 or -2 depending on what zone you want it to measure.
This means that if you have set your exposure compensation to -1 you are telling your camera that it is now looking at and measuring for Zone 4 of that scene and no longer Zone 5 as per default (0 exposure compensation)

Even your mobile phone’s camera will expose in this manner and you can use the Zone system to your advantage and create some spectacular images with your Cellphone’s camera.

The real skill then comes in from the Photographer. Through experience and practice the ability to see in Black & White becomes better and better and your guestimates of the zones in any scene closer and closer to being spot-on.

Always use Spot-Metering for best and most consistent results.
Get to know your camera and how it measures by going shooting in Black & White and then seeing the zones in a software programme like NIK Silver Efex Pro that will show you the zones in your image.
During sunset shots I like to meter the sky just above the horizon (the blue part – not the clouds as clouds are much lighter) as Zone 5 and effectively under-exposing the sunset by 1 or 2 stops as they should really be exposed as Zone 6 or even 7 sometimes. This will bring out the colours during sunset and give nice drama to the shot.
That’s about all for this Insight folks, until the next one…

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Technique – Start to Finish

This Insight is going to take you through the entire process of how I created this fitness image. I have broken it into 3 segments:
Lighting – Dodging & Burning – Final Edit & Colouring

“Cross Lighting”

Use the slider on the image to show or hide the lighting diagram or simply click on either edge of the images to hide or reveal quickly:


Probably the most important part of creating any great image is the chosen lighting.
For this image I chose a basic ‘Cross Lighting’ technique which involved only 2 lights.
The first light was in a 3′ x 4′ soft box on camera left a little behind Mandi and aimed back at her at about a 30° angle. Which means that the light was effectively lighting her front, but wrapping around the side to give a nice rim light and definition to her left side.
The second light was in a medium sized (30cm) beauty dish (no diffuser/sock) on camera right slightly in front of Mandi and aimed towards her at also about a 30° angle, which means the 2 lights were effectively ‘crossing’ past each other by being aimed at each other with Mandi slap bang in the middle.
This technique works great for fitness or any sport/gritty type of image as it gives great starting definition to work with and later enhance using Dodge & Burn in Photoshop.

“Dodge & Burn”

Use the slider on the image to show or hide the editing or simply click on either edge of the images to hide or reveal quickly:


The first part of the editing process for this image (after being opened in ‘Camera Raw’ and the necessary lens profile adjustments and initial raw sharpening of edges only applied) was to enhance the muscle tone using Dodge & Burn.
There are a number of different ways to dodge and burn an image but this the one I use:
Create a new layer on top of your original layer and rename it D&B (always a good idea to rename your layers with the purpose they are going to serve), fill with 50% grey and change the layer blending mode to ‘soft light’ (50% grey is the neutral colour for soft light blending mode)
Now with your brush tool (at a very low opacity of 5 – 10%) you can Dodge(lighten) with white & Burn(darken) with black specific areas of the image by repeatedly painting ‘lines’ onto the areas you want to enhance the definition.
An important thing to remember to make D&B look natural is how light interacts with contours and this will take lots of practice to perfect. Light and dark always goes together – ie: the area of the muscle closest to the light source will get Dodged (lightened) to make it stand out and directly behind it further from the light source you will burn (darken) to make it ‘sink’ in and create deeper shadows.

If your image was lit correctly to start with there will be natural definition ‘clues’ present that will guide you as to where to Dodge and where to Burn.
Study the before and after images above and the difference between them and you will be able to see exactly where I did which to highlight the muscle tone and the ‘clues’ I wrote about above.
Personally I like to ‘overdo’ the D&B to the point where it looks almost unrealistic and then scale back the opacity of the layer to where I think it looks good and natural, but I have the option to push it slightly higher if I know I am still going to soften the overall image later on with a skin smoothing action or to create a softer editorial feel.

“Final Edit & Colouring”

Use the slider on the image to show or hide the editing or simply click on either edge of the images to hide or reveal quickly:


The final piece of the puzzle for this image was to bring everything together and make it believable.
I always do that using colour and Tonal Contrast on the entire flattened image.
As mentioned in previous insights I only use Nik Colour Efex Pro for my final colour rendering and editing of the image and specifically I have custom recipes I have created for my unique style.
For this specific image I have an adaptation of the standard Black & Gold Recipe that comes with the software. If you have not descovered recipes in CFX yet, man… get out of your cave and explore the world a bit:) it saves a hell of a lot of time!
It is built up by a number of of different filters namely:
– Tonal Contrast (negative values of -50 all sliders on balanced contrast type)
– Detail Extractor (12% Detail; 50 Contrast; 0 saturation change; Normal effect radius)
– Reflector effects (Soft Gold – play around with sliders to find best fit for each image)
– Colorize (method 6; Yellow/Gold colour used)
– Glamour Glow (30%ish; -10 saturation; 0 warmth used)
Then click OK to render these setting into a new layer on top of your current layer in PS.

Once the layer is rendered I always copy that layer so now there are 2 identical CFX layers. Set the top CFX layer blend mode to ‘Colour’ and the CFX layer underneath that one’s blend mode to ‘Luminosity’ – this way you can separately control and scale back either the colour or the contrast effect of the setting you applied in CFX by playing with the opacity of each of the 2 CFX layers.
Of course any of the filters applied via CFX can also be done with just Photoshop itself with adjustment layers and playing with blending modes or even by presets in Lightroom, I just prefer the power and simplicity of CFX and have setup my workflow in that way because it interfaces so seamlessly with PS.

The final part of all my images is always flattening all the layers into 1 and then running it through NIK Sharpener Pro (there is no better sharpener IMHO)
Good D&B takes patience and time as the strokes build up gradually, but it is the only way to make it look natural
Practice your D&B technique as much as possible to perfect how to create realistic contours that fits with the lighting used
Remember that D&B will vary from light source to light source in your image as long as you stick to the rule of Dodge closer to the light and burn behind that
Always use the softest brush with D&B (0% Hardness) so that you do not create unwanted lines
Generally you will use a small brush for D&B, vary the size for different size highlights
Always remember to save as you go especially after each major change to the image (use unique names if need be for each), CS6 will autosave for you:)
Play around with the settings and sliders in CFX to find your own style and what you like for your image

Note the composition in this shot has been changed in order to create the necessary space to add the light diagram. The actual final image can be seen in my Fitness Gallery

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Lighting Technique

“Fitness Lighting”

Use the slider on the image to show or hide the lighting diagram or simply click on either edge of the images to hide or reveal quickly:


The goal with ‘Fitness Lighting’ is to show off physique (DUH)…
but, it is staggering how many people get it wrong and hence I am loading this insight.
Now bearing mind that you need to highlight physique, you also have to light the model’s face if shown in the image and possibly the background and foreground as well. These are the creative decisions you as the Photographer will have to make before creating your image.
In this image I decided to keep the background dark in order not to compete for the viewers attention and hence only used 2 lights for this shot.
The 1st light was on camera left inside a 3′ x 4′ soft box on the ground aimed at Mandi’s face and tummy (see diagram).
The 2nd light was on camera right hanging above Mandi from a boom stand and aimed at her obliques and back (see diagram).
Both lights were positioned in such a way that the light would ‘wrap’ about 50% around the body parts hit and as close as possible to being perpendicular to the angle of the body parts they were lighting.
I also wanted ‘soft’ light, but not ‘feather soft’ and hence the chosen modifiers were soft boxes without the outside ‘socks’ or diffusers. I kept only the diffusion panel on the inside of each. This gave me a great quality light with just enough punch and falloff.

As with any photograph the rules about composition, angle, exposure, etc. will still apply to any fitness image and should not be forgotten about when focusing on lighting!
A well lit, crap photograph will still be a crap photograph…
Begin by framing your shot and choosing your composition. Use a tripod (not essential, but does help) if you like and if possible. Only once your image has been composed and the camera angle decided can you start working on lighting.
Introduce each light individually so that you can clearly see the difference each light makes to the image.

Note the composition in this shot has been changed in order to create the necessary space to add the light diagram. The actual final image can be seen in my Fitness Gallery

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Retouching Technique


Use the slider on each image to show or hide the retouching or simply click on either edge of the images to hide or reveal quickly:


With this composite I started off by shooting Nikki on the seamless white backdrop.

(yes, yes, I know going chroma would be easier:)
Then I “cut her out” by using layer masking in Photoshop. The masking process involves a variety of selections tools and refine edge for the hair and then again some more selection tools and fine tuning the mask with the brush.
Then it was merely a matter of dropping in the road scene underneath her layer and aligning as required.


The second part of the composite was to make the scene believable.
This is done by adding various colour layers to match Nikki to her background and then running the flattened image through NIK Colour Efex Pro to create my desired look and feel for the composite.
(I only use CFX for my final colour editing, contrast & effects)
The next steps were to add the sunburst coming through the clouds. It is illuminating ‘the scene’ as well as lending credibility to the lighting technique used when I shot Nikki initially in studio. Naturally the colour of the composite needed to be adjusted to fit with the new ‘light source’ with another colour layer and brushing. (I decided to go warmer with this image for various reasons)
I also had to do some dodging and burning as required.
The final step was adding in the text on the road with a soft light layer, adding the details to her outfit and after flattening the image again running it through NIK Sharpener Pro.

With composites it is very important to match the perspective of your subject with the background when shooting them seperately. Do this by using a tripod and keeping the setting the same in studio and on location.
Also plan, plan, plan! Failing to plan is planning to fail as they say…
Scout the location well and plan for the correct light. Shoot at the best time that is going to provide you with the desired look & feel to the background for the composite you had in mind.

Always start shooting with the end in mind!

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