1. Directional lighting shows all the wrinkles. Here I
am wearing no makeup; the picture was shot on 5x7"
Ilford HP5 Plus film using a 100-year-old Ross lens (21",
f/7.7) on a 50-year-old 8x10" De Vere camera with
a reducing back. It is far easier to use my own wrinkles
for demonstration than to worry about offending another
subject! This is from a silver halide contact print.
Photos © 2003, Roger W. Hicks, All Rights Reserved
1a. Here, I scanned the 5x7" negative, using a big
transparency hood on an Agfa scanner; reversed it (Image
Adjust Invert in Photoshop); and then corrected it for
contrast (Image Adjust Levels), before retouching. The
line down from the corner of my mouth (inherited from
Grossmama Schultz!) repaid retouching best, but it is
also fairly easy to minimize this with good lighting or
Wrinkles or character lines?
Few people want their portraits to show every line on their face. The
camera may not lie, but we can help it to put the facts in a better
light by judicious use of makeup, posing, lighting, soft focus, and
Concealing wrinkles with makeup is rarely successful unless the subject
has considerable experience with makeup, or unless you have a professional
stylist. Also remember that in many states you need to be a licensed
cosmetician to apply makeup to your subject. But there are still a few
tricks worth remembering.
Lipstick can be a terrible giveaway. Use a brush or matching lip liner
to give a clean, clear outline. Applying it from the tube allows the
color to smudge up into the wrinkles around the mouth. This makes them
look deeper, and loses the definition of the lip line. Even with men,
a natural tone lipstick can emphasize the lip line and knock years off
your subject, but few men will accept this unless they are unusually
vain. Politicians often do it.
Avoid old-fashioned makeup. Most women "freeze" their makeup
when they are in their 30s and continue to use the same colors and techniques
ever after--and even though this does not strictly concern wrinkles,
it can age your subject. Think of the red lips of the 1930s to the '50s,
the pale lips of the '60s and '70s, the browns of the '80s,
the heavy, dark lip liner from the '90s...
To return to wrinkles, use two foundations, one for the natural skin
tone, and one slightly lighter. Apply the natural foundation to give
the skin a smooth, even tone. Be careful: heavy makeup can accumulate
in wrinkles and make them look worse.
Think of wrinkles as shadows. With a fingertip, apply the lighter foundation
over the deepest (darkest) part of the wrinkle. Pat the highlights gently
until the edges blend into the base. Follow with a very light application
of translucent powder, then check under the lights to make sure it looks
natural. Unnatural makeup is worse than no makeup.
Careful posing can help minimize wrinkles. Tension accentuates wrinkles:
the more relaxed your subject is, the better. Look at the old Hollywood
portraits. The subjects are usually leaning against some sort of support.
Of course Hollywood portraitists were using 8x10" cameras and
long exposures so the support was very important in maintaining the
model's position as well as a natural, relaxed pose.
Study your subject's face to find their best angle. Many people
have fixed ideas about their faces. Someone with a double chin may automatically
lift her (or his) head when faced with a camera. You may need to persuade
them tactfully that a less forced pose will look better.
To understand more, look in a hand mirror. Hold it below your face and
look down. Then hold it above your face and look up. Even a small change
of angle can have a dramatic effect. Wrinkles are often asymmetrical,
too: a slight turn of the head, one way or the other, may reduce them
or accentuate them.
lighting. A relaxed pose, plus a fill light to lighten the
shadows from the key, softens the wrinkles and takes a few
years off my age without any retouching. (De Vere camera,
Ross lens, HP5 Plus film.)
Flatter With Lighting
Now for lighting. Soft, diffuse lighting which wraps around the subject
is generally more flattering and less apt to show wrinkles than hard,
directional lighting. There are lots of ways to achieve this: softboxes,
umbrellas, and reflectors of different sizes, shapes, and materials.
Although this can involve expensive light modifiers you can get many of
the same results with inexpensive, homemade equipment. A piece of Styrofoam
or crumpled aluminum foil glued to a piece of cardboard will bounce light
just as effectively as an expensive purpose-built reflector. Placing lights
and reflectors is far more important than the equipment you use.
Lighting for portraits usually involves at least a key light (which gives
the shadows) and a weaker fill. The famous "Paramount" lighting
places the key well above the subject's eye line, very slightly
to one side, with a fill well below the eye line and on the other side.
3a. Wraparound high-key lighting, and a bit of makeup, give
a much more pleasing result. Although this was shot with
a "soft-focus" lens--the legendary Leitz
90mm f/2.2 Thambar--it was taken at a small aperture
(f/9) at which there is little or no softening effect. The
lens was mounted on a Voigtländer Bessa R loaded with
Paterson Acupan 200 film. Again, unretouched.
3b. At wide apertures the Leitz Thambar gives soft-focus
effects: soft, but not too soft. Look at the side of my
mouth and my forehead. It is almost magical the way the
wrinkles diminish or disappear in this unretouched shot.
Compare this with the shot taken at f/9. The lighting is
identical. (Voigtländer Bessa R and Paterson Acupan
High key is often useful. These
are very light images, with only small areas of dark tones. Flood the
subject with light; keep exposure to a minimum; and consider printing
on very hard paper. This tends to "burn out" the wrinkles.
The Triflector, devised by British photographer Stu Williamson and made
by Lastolite, has a central reflector with two wings. Use it to wrap the
subject in light, with a softbox overhead. When Roger Hicks, Marie Muscat-King,
and I were experimenting with a Triflector a while back, I decided it
took about 10 years off my age!
The best way to learn which lighting techniques work best is to find a
willing model and experiment. A session with two or three like-minded
(preferably wrinkly!) photographers will teach you a lot. Not only will
you benefit from collective knowledge and experience, but you will see
what works and what doesn't, and why.
You can do more with good lighting than with soft focus, but both together
can be very effective. Soft-focus lenses are more usual in medium and
large format than in 35mm, where they are harder to use.
Soft-focus pictures consist of a sharply focused "core," with
a halo around the highlights which spreads them into the shadows. This
softens and masks wrinkles. Traditional but effective ways to get soft
focus without a soft-focus lens include shooting through net or a nylon
stocking or a filter smeared with Vaseline, or shooting wide-open with
an uncoated lens or an old, cheap, nasty zoom. Cut exposure as compared
with normal lenses, because flare fills the shadows.
What you do after shooting will depend on whether you take the digital
route to printing--scanned film or from a digital camera--or
the traditional wet route.
The easiest approach is to use Adobe Photoshop or another image-manipulation
program. Remember three things. First, some wrinkles are more obvious
(and aging) than others. Concentrate on the ones that matter most. Second,
within reason, the bigger the magnification at which you work, the better.
Third, keep checking the overall image.
Working at high magnifications may be deadly slow, but always gives you
the most control. You may also see faint wrinkles that are hard to see
at smaller magnifications. On the other hand, you may miss larger lines
that are clear in the whole image, so zoom back frequently to full-image
size on the screen. Save the file if you are happy, or go back to the
previous generation if you are not. I usually save different generations
under different names, using the "Save As" command in Photoshop.
If I decide later that I have overdone the retouching, I can go back to
the last generation I am happy with.
I call this portrait "A Certain Age." It could
have been taken almost any time in my adult life. Only the
hairstyle gives it away. It is perhaps the way I see myself
in dreams. Taken with a Nikkormat using a 90mm f/4 Dreamagon
lens and Paterson Acupan film. Unretouched.
Which control you use is up
to you, but I mostly use "dodge," set to about 20 percent,
with a fairly small soft-edged brush. I just lighten the wrinkles. I don't
worry if they are not removed fully. It can be surprising how much younger
someone can look just with the wrinkles lightened, not removed. It leaves
the character in, but removes some of the age. The same goes for liver
spots, though I use a bigger brush for these. Other control possibilities
are "clone" and "smudge," but neither works as
well for me, though I occasionally use "burn" (again at about
10-20 percent, again with a small brush) to lighten the bright highlights
beside a deep wrinkle or jowl. "Burn" can also be useful for
emphasizing a faint lip line, but be careful: do not overdo it.
As with all retouching, electronic or manual, do not try to "paint
out" lines. Instead, break them up using tiny "dabs"
or short strokes of retouching. The aim is to stop the eye following the
line. "Painting it out" leaves the line in place, sometimes
more obviously than before (because it is less natural). A useful trick
is to follow the line with the mouse or trackball, pressing only intermittently
on the button, so the line is followed but broken up at the same time.
5. Printing through a screen can mask wrinkles. This was
contact printed from an 8x10" negative with an 8x10
Mortensen Craquelure screen (from Texturefects) sandwiched
between it and the paper. I used the De Vere 8x10"
camera and 21" Ross lens, shooting on lford Ortho
You can work in negative instead
of positive, in which case the wrinkles are light and the adjacent skin
is dark. This may make it easier to concentrate on the mechanical process
of wrinkle removal, rather than worrying about the overall picture, but
I find positives easier.
The drawback to digital manipulation is that it is extremely difficult
to achieve the same print quality and permanence that you take for granted
with traditional silver halide, especially in black and white. This is
why some top professionals have their film images scanned; retouched electronically;
and then printed (via a film writer) onto silver halide film, which is
then developed and printed conventionally. The price of film writers makes
this impossible for most people, so it is well worth looking at the possibilities
of the traditional darkroom.
The Darkroom Route
To begin with, some enlargers hide wrinkles better than others: a diffuser
enlarger tends to soften the image while a condenser shows every tiny
line. Many people reckon that cold cathode light sources are best of all.
Trying to soften an image by using modifiers under the enlarger lens is
rarely satisfactory. Instead of the highlights spreading into the shadows,
the shadows spread into the highlights. The image is softer, yes, but
it is also likely to be flat, dead and muddy.
6a. This is an enlargement from a 5x7" negative and
shows Roger Hicks' eye before retouching.
6b. Roger Hicks' eye after retouching. This was my
first attempt. I used a soft pencil to fill in the wrinkles
under the eye and between the eyebrows. You can see the
retouching clearly in an enlargement, but in a contact print,
you have to look for it.
Printing through a texture
screen can disguise wrinkles. Paterson and FX Files screens are sandwiched
with the negative in the carrier; Texturefects screens are sandwiched
with the paper in the easel.
Retouching negatives is a time honored approach, much loved in Hollywood
right up to the '50s. A large negative, 5x7" or above, is
best, but you can retouch medium format if you have a really good magnifier
and very good light. The wrinkles show as clear lines, and are just filled
in. Use a very sharp pencil with a very soft lead (at least 3B or 4B),
making tiny, gentle tick marks on the emulsion side of the film. Fix the
retouching by steaming the negative: the pencil lead sinks into the gelatin.
It is much easier than it sounds and gives a real "old-time"
look. You don't even need a steady hand: in the old days negs were
retouched on a vibrating retouching desk.
Old-time retouchers used to retouch fiber-based prints with a very sharp
scalpel, physically shaving off the wrinkles. This requires a very steady
hand and nerves of steel. So does localized bleaching with very dilute
Farmer's solution. But both are possible, and were once commonplace.
Whether you choose the digital or traditional route, it is almost always
quicker to get the picture right at the taking stage (via lighting and
soft focus) than to try to fix it later. The main thing to remember is
that you don't want to get rid of all the lines. If you do, you
get rid of much of the character at the same time. If you want to see
what happens when you overdo it, just look at anyone who has had too many
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