Project Description

Commercial fashion photographer Robert Coppa demonstrates his efficient photo editing workflow in Exposure. He takes RAW photos from start to finish by developing a distinct look for an editorial shoot on a single image. Then he applies the look he creates to the whole batch of images all at once.

Photos: Robert Coppa


Here’s one of the images from an editorial that I shot. I want to run through it and prep the image for the rest of the other images that I’ll be doing. When I look at this, the first thing I notice is that she looks great. However, the colors, especially in the hair, are not as vivid as when I captured it.

My first step would be to try a preset that gets it a little closer. Typically what I would do is go into audition mode. I’m going to use a factory preset, Technicolor 2 Strip, that definitely brought back the red. She looks great. However, I’m not happy with the background. It’s quite dark, and I’ve lost a lot of saturation. But, what I’m thinking is that I might be able to make that background work in another preset. So what I’m going to do is, I know that I’ve created my own preset from another editorial that I’ve shot that has a few greens and yellows in it. So If I select this one, and I just ignore her, because she’s not looking that great, but the background is looking quite good. So I think I’m going to use that as well. Let me just try one more, maybe this one. And no, both the background and she look no good. So let me start with applying the Technicolor preset.

Along with the preset, we get a good dosage of grain. So what I’m going to do is remove that, or bring it back considerably just leaving a tiny bit in there. I’m also going to tweak a few things from this preset as well. She is a little bit hot, so I’m going to bring the highlights down a tiny bit. I’ll increase the temperature. And I’m also going to kick in some clarity just to give it a tiny bit of punch.

As far as I’m concerned, she’s looking great, there. I’m going to add a layer, then I’m going to go down to my preset again, and I’ll add that. Right away I can see the background is looking a lot better, but she’s blown out, and she’s looking very yellow. So what I intend to do now is mask her from the background. Now rather than you guys watching me paint, I’ve premade a mask on a virtual copy of the image. I’ll navigate to that image, copy the mask, and then paste the mask. And so, as you can see from the mask itself, it’s a little bit all over the place, it doesn’t need to be that precise. But the overall image already looks a lot, lot better. Because I know my own preset, that would have quite a bit of grain. So I’m going to bring the grain back again. I will add it at the end as part of my finalize layer.

The image is almost done. The only thing I want to do is some dodge and burning. So I’m going to add a new layer and set it to dodge. As you can see in the layer thumbnail, the effect has really lit up the whole image. Again, I’m going to save time and copy the mask for the dodge layer in my virtual copy. There are subtle changes to the hair and the highlight on her eyes. What I’ll do is add another layer, and this time I’ll make it burn. Now, I’ll go over to the virtual copy, select and copy the mask, and paste it in onto our image. Again, very subtle, but if I turn it on and off you can see a little change on her forehead, and some contouring on her face, as well as darkening some of the denim to bring out the colors there.

At this stage, all I have to do is apply a final layer. I’ll make a new layer; then I feel like I need to warm up the image a little bit more, I’m going to add a little more green to the background. I’m going to increase vibrance. I like globally how the image looks, but I’ll take this opportunity to do some tweaking with the colors. The Oranges I’m going to decrease slightly. I know that I’ve added warmth, and now I’m removing orange, but that’s one of the great things about being able to tweak the image to what you like.

Now I’m going to work on the denim, just making it pop a little bit more by adding some saturation to the blues and cyans. I’ll go to the curve and finish up on my toning. On the Blue curve, I’ll tweak them a tiny bit. Then I’ll go back to RGB, and I’ll bring out some of those shadows. Two more steps and we’re done.

Next, I’ll add grain. My go-to grain is to select Regular Grain 25% and then tweak how that is applied to the image. I love the grain in Exposure. This recipe is my starting point. And then depending on what the image is, I’ll tweak it. I don’t want my shadows where usually grain or noise comes through quite well, to be as much as what’s in the highlights. I feel like grain in the highlights gives it a filmlike feel so that it doesn’t look too digital. The last thing I want to do is some vignetting.

When I do vignetting, I go crazy with the amount, and I’ll make it small with the size slider. Then I’ll place the center of it, and make adjustments to the softness. Then I’ll bring the amount back down and make it work with the photo.

And that’s about it. That’s the whole process. It’s actually very quick.

I’ll edit an image like this; then I’ll take the edits and copy them to the other images in the editorial. Obviously, I’ll have to tweak each one of the masks because the subject may be in different places, but it’s still very fast because I have a consistent look and feel across the whole spread of the editorial. And really it’s just being able to paint on or off the masking for the subject.