I differ from most other dance photographers in that I only edit and present about 20 photos from the 500 to 800 frames I take at each shoot. Most dance photographers take hundreds of frames and turn over all the photos, even those with eyes closed or toes unpointed, to the client. My client only sees the very best photos, with their dancer at the height of the jump and every hair in place. It takes a lot of skill in lighting and directing the shoot, as well as in the final edits. Here is a progression of my Photoshop process.
Original RAW File
Smoothing the Backdrop
I always start by selecting the background so I can manipulate it easily and then delete anywhere it overlaps with the figure. In this case, I used the stamp tool to eliminate wrinkles and the gradient tool to smooth the tone of the background.
Color Temperature Correction
The original file is slightly warmer on the left. I used a blue gradient set to Soft Light to balance the photo.
I wanted to bring the figure out from the background, so I used the lasso to select areas to add contrast. I chose a few areas to lighten, like the front of the knee, and a few to darken, like the back of the thigh. I wanted to be sure every area was significantly different from the gray background to create a strong shape.
Background Selection Pays Off
Here, I was able to use that background channel I created earlier to quickly eliminate the edge of the shadow that overlapped the backdrop. From here, I could easily soften the shadow and erase the hard edge to blend it in.
Here, I’ve added a gradient at the top of the backdrop to emphasize the shape of the bright hand and foot. I’ve also added a subtle filter to unify the colors. The final photo is perfectly lit, with a smooth backdrop and cohesive color. The outcome took about five minutes from Lightroom to the final jpg.