Retouching a Wedding Portrait

I’ve spent the past 36 hours doing one of the more complicated retouching jobs I’ve ever done in an attempt to create a portrait of a newlywed couple from a larger group image. I did it for a dear friend who, due to unfortunate circumstances, was not able to capture any images of her own of just the couple – her stepson and his bride – at their wedding day. Somebody had taken a photograph with her camera of my friend, her husband and the newlyweds, that had poor focus, poor exposure and poor framing, yet the bride looked absolutely glowing and beautiful and it was definitely worth a shot trying to create a different kind of image – an image that portrays just the bride and groom – from what was there.

Here’s the original photograph straight out of the camera:

Wedding Shot I

The photo was taken with wide open aperture at f/2.8 and the camera was probably set to auto focus. If you look closely, what happens to be in focus is the lower part of the bride’s dress. Faces are all somewhat blurry – which the slow shutter speed of 1/30 sec is probably to be blamed for in addition to the incorrect focus in a very shallow depth-of-field image.

Here is what I had to work with before the serious retouching began. This is the image with slight exposure adjustment in Lightroom and crop and clone-stamp in Photoshop:

Wedding Shot II

It’s definitely still under-exposed and very noisy. Oddly enough, there are some catchlights visible in the bride’s eyes but non in the groom’s. And his eyes look like they are surrounded by big dark circles, you know the kinds that you get when you haven’t slept for weeks. I did not have the honor to see this beautiful couple on their wedding day, but I doubt that that’s what he looked like. It’s just an unfortunate cast of shadows on an under-exposed photograph. I’m guessing that the camera’s built-in light meter was exposing the photo based on a meter reading from all that empty space and bright lights above and behind the people’s heads.

I wish I remembered exactly the steps I took to create the final image, but I can’t. I went back and forth trying to get the skin tones look right so I must have changed it over and over. In fact, at some point, I decided to add a subtle bokeh overlay to the background which actually helped make the skin more natural-looking. And then there were all the smaller areas of skin, especially in the groom’s face that looked blotchy after more detailed exposure adjustments in parts of the image. Honestly, I’m not sure that the final image is as good as it could be, but I tried my best to create something nice for my friend, and, unless she is lying, she was pretty happy with the result. She is thinking of giving a copy to the bride and groom and I hope that they like it too. It was ridiculously tedious, but such a fun project and I’m glad my friend trusted me with this.

Wedding Shot III

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