Lance's Studio Photography | Sleeklens Portrait Actions and My Workflow

Sleeklens Portrait Actions and My Workflow

October 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

 Sleeklens recently offered me a chance to try out their Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions. I have never purchased or tried any Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets before so I thought it might be fun to see how many photographers work. I always wondered if there was a "secret sauce" for photography. 

The actions they provided me are pretty comprehensive to a portrait photographers workflow. When Sleeklens approached me about reviewing their product, I was at first interested in the Lightroom presets to speed up my workflow by removing Photoshop. However, when I actually considered the process I take through a photograph, I settled on reviewing their Photoshop Portrait Actions instead. 

I'll start with a description of my workflow for web images or digital download as the final output. I'm not including a discussion on color managed workflow or photographs that I print which receive an additional workflow to prepare them. I photograph dance (on-location, in studio and onstage) and portraits (kids, families, senior).

  1. I import the photos into Lightroom with a preset designed for my camera and its color profile.
  2. We will do a quick first pass to cull the photos; I like to keep only about 10% of the photos.
  3. I'll quickly go through those and remove any that I feel are technically flawed and I'll adjust the cropping to fix any composition.
  4. The next pass through is for exposure adjustments, both global and local brush adjustments, often I'll adjust the shadows and highlights too.
  5. I'll follow those changes with spot healing small issues that I find distracting in the photographs.
  6. Once I've narrowed down the selection as much as possible, I'll take each photograph into Photoshop for any finishing touches. Most of the changes in photoshop could be done in Lightroom, but I like to work in layers, blending them and building the final photograph. Over the last few years, I have developed many of my own actions:
  • Anti-Banding, to remove moire when dealing with small textures on fabrics.
  • Skin, Frequency Separation technique in two layers that allow control of localized texture and tone of skin.
  • Dynamic Contrast, mixing luminosity and soft light layers to control "dynamic" contrast of an overall image.
  • Portrait, the base of my portrait retouching with layers for basic skin, fill light, eyes, dodge/burn, black density, and saturation. 
  • Curves, a variety of custom RGB curve adjustments. 
  • Sharpening, a frequency separation technique.

I'm pretty particular about my finished photographs. I prefer to shape and modify the light when I take the photograph, and not "fix" it in photoshop. I've invested more in great lights and modifiers than cameras and lenses. Improving a photographers workflow is worth a lot of money, so the market for lightroom presets and photoshop actions seems obvious.

Sleeklens intrigued me with a chance to try out their Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions. 

Sleeklens states "We provide professional, well-crafted, high-quality Lightroom presets, thereby helping you take your creative photography to the next level. We are always innovating our products and services in a bid to meet the ever evolving needs of all kinds of photographers."

The action set they provided me is broken down into groups and they provide a pdf with examples for each action and a great youtube video that walks through using some of these effects. Their coverage of the workflow using these tools is quite comprehensive in the video. Installation was easy and well documented. The actions are contained nicely in one group. There are some usage notes for the actions and on some of the layers. 

    • ​This layer comes in flattened, so without being added as a duplicate background layer, not very useful. I find myself copying the "actioned" layer, reverting the image and then pasting the "actioned" layer back on top. ​
  • BASE
    • ​As the name implies, these are great layers to start from and all of the effects are saved in individual layers, so you can easily adjust any to your preference. 
    • ​A quick control of exposure and temperature is always useful.
    • These layers come in masked out, so that you can quickly apply it selectively to a photo.
    • These are useful to make quick work of changes to skin, lips and eyes. A variety of brushes for adjusting skin color and tones.
    • These focus on color toning of an image.
    • I tend to use Nik Analog Efex Pro 2 if I want to tone and texture an image.
    • Regular and toned options, a nice finishing touch.
    • Allows localized, movable glows to be added to parts of the photographs.
    • This is the most important section for retouching a portrait. It contains actions that are variations of almost all of the actions I created over the last few years! Very useful.
    • Resizes the images, but I find this better to do in Lightroom.

There are a lot of tools in this pack.  It would be nice if all the tools could take advantage of smart objects or at least execute on a specific layer instead of relying on pre-flattening (or entirely flattening) the image between tools. I prefer not to flatten an image until it is ready for exporting or print.  I also tend to prefer a Photoshop Plugin over actions and a control point system as used in the Google Nik Collection.

Many of these layered actions can take awhile to run on large image files and working with many layers is very time consuming. I find myself even using my own actions far less than I used to. The better I can control the frame, exposure, composition and especially lighting, the less time I need to spend in photoshop and the faster I can get the images to my client.

For a workflow like mine, the most useful tools are FROM A CANDY STORE and PORTRAIT RETOUCH. These are actions that every portrait photographer should understand, even if they choose not to apply them. BASE is also particularly useful as it creates a variety of layers that can help to define the overall feel of an image.

There is a huge market of actions and presets, find one that matches your style of photography and think about time savings (or sink) required when using these tools and the effect that will have on providing photographs to your client. If you are interested, check out Sleeklens's Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions, a nice preset for adding some finishing touches to a photograph. You can even have them edit your photos for you! And if portraits aren't your thing, they have a variety of actions available.




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