I am sure this is going to turn out harder to explain than I want, but I am going to try this anyway. You saw the set up, you know what you need to get the cute, messy, cake smash pictures. But if you want them to look REALLY nice, then you are going to need to spend a little time on them after the shoot is over. Honestly, I think this is where photographers can get away with charging so much money. Once you have your camera settings and lighting figured out, it only takes maybe 15 minutes to take these pictures. Post processing, on the other hand, can take 15 min PER PHOTO! Now that I am comfortable with Lightroom and Photoshop it doesn’t take that long anymore, but it is still a good amount of time and work. If you have the patience for this, it can really be worth it.
It is probably best to start at the beginning with this tutorial, so camera settings! For pretty much the whole shoot I left my camera set at ISO 800, 50mm, f2.5, 1/400s (shutter speed changed a little here and there) and shot in RAW format for the highest quality and detail capture. It was (of course) a little cloudy so my lighting wasn’t ideal and that pushed my ISO up to 800, which I don’t particularly like. It left the pictures grainier than I prefer, but hey I worked with what I had! I underexposed the entire shoot so that I could get the shutter speed up to 1/400s. Most of you reading probably know how hard it is to get a one year old to sit still. If my shutter was any slower the pictures would have been blurry so I underexposed, knowing I could fix the exposure in Lightroom. Fixing exposer issues is easier than fixing a blurry picture… Mostly because you can’t really fix a blurry picture. If you saw my last post, with all the pretty edited pictures, this next picture might be shocking;) Here is the example photo I am going to use throughout the tutorial, straight out of my camera it looked like this:
It is very dark, grainy, not really that pretty, besides Summer looking adorable. There is definitely much to be desired, so take it to Lightroom. Lightroom actually comes with a set of General Presets that can sometimes be a helpful start. I usually use Auto Tone and Medium Contrast Curve on my pictures and then make adjustments from there. Once I had it looking nice my LR settings were: Exposure +1.05, Contrast -15, Highlights -6, Shadows +37, Whites +24, Blacks -12, Clarity +10, Vibrance +15, Medium Contrast Curve, Sharpening 25, and Luminance 20 (to help with the graininess). With those setting I then had this:
Ahhh, much better! Now, you can’t just take those adjustment settings and throw them on any picture, the adjustments will be different for different photos. That is there just to give you an idea. And that is all I do in Lightroom! You can crop and make other adjustments in LR, but from here I like to take my pictures to Photoshop for the rest of the work. First off, it needs to be cropped, as you can see the backdrop stand and my baby gates in the right side of the photo! In this step I also did a slight color adjustment because Summer was looking a little yellow (added blue). Here:
I wanted to keep the cake centered, and even though you can see that dark reflection bottom right, I didn’t want to close in on her anymore. That dark corner is easily edited out. Use the rectangular marquee tool to select an area of the background that matches what you want the darker spot to be. Copy and paste, and then drag that pasted piece to the bottom corner (or wherever you need it). Flatten image. Next I used the heal brush to smooth out the visible outer edge of the plexiglass. I used the background just above the edge as my sample, and painted with a hard brush (not too much bigger than the visible edge) over the edge. Do one side at a time and resample when you switch sides. Now we have this:
It is subtle and looks a little cleaner, easy work for a nice effect. And now it looks pretty great! I make simple, unnecessary adjustments from here but I will explain those too;) I’m not going to lie, I use some Photoshop Actions created by others and that is what I did in my next step. I am specifically using an action set called The Picture Perfect Mega Set, by Paint the Moon. There are lots of sets that basically do all of the same things, but this set is my favorite. You can do eye pops, skin smoothing, color adjustments, and so on. They are kind of expensive though, so if you are interested in free action sets let me know and I can help you find some good ones. So I used an action to brighten and smooth her skin just a tad, and to lightly highlight her hair.
(Considering making a video tutorial for anyone who thinks that would be easier to follow along with…)