We’ve teamed up with Adorama to bring you a series of photography tutorials called “Master Your Craft” to be featured on their Youtube Channel. Subscribe to see more of our videos on their channel that covers all things photography-related, from lighting and posing to editing, to help you hone your skills and master your craft. Don’t forget to check out our playlist to watch the entire series! In this video, I’ll be walking through the complete process of taking this urban portrait with a mural and external camera flash.
Video: Dramatic Portraits With a Mural Using External Camera Flash
Murals can make for great backgrounds and framing elements. They add a unique urban atmosphere to the scene that can enhance any basic portrait. With this mural, I’ll use an external camera flash to create a dramatic portrait of my friend Brandon. Then, I’ll walk through my editing process in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to get to our final image.
Before we begin, be sure to download the exercise file here and follow along as I edit.
- Canon EOS R5
- RF 15-35mm f/2.8L USM
- Profoto A10 External Camera Flash
- Profoto Clic Grid & Gel Kit
- Manfrotto Nanostand
To get to our final image, I’ll be following the C.A.M.P. framework.
Related Reading: What to check before taking a photograph | The C.A.M.P. Framework
Composing the Shot
I placed Brandon in the eye of this mural and let the surrounding artwork frame him. Getting the exact composition is key here as I’ll be merging two images in post-production, but more on that later.
Dialing in the Ambient Light
My intention is to create a dramatic image using flash. I underexposed the image to get that dark look (see the image above on the right). Compare it to the shot on the left, in which I exposed for the skin tone. Notice that exposing for the skin causes the entire image and the mural to look washed out.
Adding/Modifying External Camera Flash
To get the look I’m after, I’ll need to add direct light to Brandon’s face. I added a grid to my Profoto A10 to prevent light spill and placed it right next to Brandon. However, High-Speed Sync severely limits the available power output. To make sure I can get the light bright enough, I have to keep the flash close to Brandon and in-frame.
Getting the Final Shots
Once I got the final look, this is where the fixed composition comes in play. I would advise you use a tripod for this process, but if you’re extremely careful, you can hand-hold your camera like I did here. Once you capture the shot, remove the flash from the frame and take another exposure with the same frame. Here are our two final images that we’ll be sending into post for editing.
The Preset Settings
The first step is to colorize the image and get as close to the final look as we can. I began with Visual Flow’s Crush Pack > Hard Light preset. This preset adds a vibrance to the entire image, particularly the blues. The tone curve adds the contrast we have in the image.
The HSL panel is set to pull the skin tones to a more natural range. The “dehaze” effect tends to create too much punch on the skin tones. The settings in HSL is designed to fix that. In the Color Grading panel, we have a touch of blue in the shadows and a bit of warmth in the highlights. The preset also adds a touch of sharpening and noise reduction, as well as color calibration to set the colors where we want them.
Next, I added a radial burn from the Retouching Toolkit to the overall image. I shrunk the radial mask to just around Brandon. The resulting effect is a realistic look as though it was caused by the flash.
Then, I selected the Temperature Cool brush. With a large brush, I painted over the entire image. I then used a luminance mask to limit the blue hue to just the shadows and not the highlights.
You can see the huge difference here. Before we jump into Photoshop, be sure to copy over the settings to the second image by clicking “Previous” on the next image. Because the frame is nearly identical, the settings should carry over exactly as is. Then, “Open As Layers” in Photoshop.
Merging the Images in Photoshop
First, I’ll show you how you can manually align them. Place the image with the flash on top. Then, lower the opacity of that layer. Now, you should be able to see through the layer to the original shot. Carefully adjust the image until they’re perfectly aligned.
Then, bring the opacity back up and create a mask on the top layer. Use a black brush to paint out the flash, revealing the clean layer underneath. You’ll notice if there are parts that are slightly out of alignment. Use a small brush to blend in those areas until there’s no ghosting.
Before we finish, I want to show you the easy way to align images is to stack them and select Edit > Auto-Align Layers. If the original images aren’t already in near perfect alignment, this will cause the edges to be cropped.
Follow the same instructions as before to mask out the flash. For the remaining bit on the bottom, merge all the layers using Alt/Opt. + Ctrl + Shift + E. Use the marquee tool to select the area you want to remove. Then, press Shift + Backspace/Del to fill and choose “Content Aware.” Lastly, I used the healing brush to polish up the image.
I added the final crop in Lightroom. Check out the before and after.
As you can see, the technique to getting this kind of image is quite simple and powerful. The result is an image that will be much different than what we’d see using only available light. Next time you see a mural, try out this technique with external camera flash and see what amazing results you end up with! For a full course on lighting, check out our Complete Lighting Course from our Premium Channel. In addition, check out Visual Flow for the Crush presets that we used in this tutorial as well as the Retouching Toolkit.