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Drue Photo shares his secrets to beautiful light

Drue Photo has made social media waves with his dreamy portraits and mind-blowing glimpses behind the scenes. His favourite way to edit is ‘on the go’ with Affinity Photo for iPad. We spoke to Drue to talk us through his editing process…

When shooting I like to use natural light quite a bit and I always try to travel with a reflector or bounce to fill in shadows on the subject’s face. At this shoot I didn’t want the sun to create weird shadows on our model Mya Evangeline’s face, so I positioned her where the light just hit the side of her hair and used a bounce to fill her face with light. That way I could get a glowy backlight look, while still getting great lighting on the subject’s face.

Creating rays of light

I use Affinity Photo for iPad as my main editing tool. It has allowed me to be more ‘on the go’ with my work which I feel sets me apart from other photographers.

Here’s how I created rays of light across the model’s face using Affinity Photo:

  • Using the Triangle Tool on the tools menu, I drew a long white triangle to resemble a ray of light falling onto the model’s profile (you’ll see in the video that I duplicated my initial triangle multiple times but then decided to duplicate the one I edited first—trial and error is key!).

  • I then changed the blend mode of the triangle to Overlay and added a Gaussian Blur to start perfecting the illusion.

  • Next I applied a Mask layer to the triangle and used the eraser tool to shorten the ray and Duplicate to make additional rays.

  • Each one is carefully adjusted and then lined up; the idea is to insinuate light streaming down on to the model’s face.

  • Once satisfied with the positioning I decreased the Opacity of each of the triangle layers until the desired effect was achieved.

  • I then tidied up my layers and deleted ones I didn’t use, ready for the next steps.

Making rays of light in Affinity Photo for iPad.

Retouching of the image

Once the lighting of the image was complete I duplicated the original image before starting on the removal of stray hairs and some blemishes using the Inpainting Brush Tool.

I then used the Dodge & Burn Macro in the Presets category, which consists of 50% grey fill layers. I used the Paint Brush Tool with a soft edged brush with low flow—white for Dodge and black for Burn. I set the ‘local’ layer to Overlay. I used different layers to dodge and burn the hair, eyes etc. non-destructively.

I also used a Black & White adjustment layer as a reference to clearly see imperfections on the skin.

Once that was complete, I moved to the ‘dodge and burn’ layer in the layer group, where I added highlights and contour to the model’s face—I always prefer to accentuate what’s natural and avoid creating light where there naturally isn’t.

“I always prefer to accentuate what’s natural and avoid creating light where there naturally isn’t”

The eyes are then the next step in my editing process. I dodged the catchlight (where the light reflects in the eyes) a bit, as well as the eye itself. I also tweaked the colour.

When I’m finished, I sometimes like to duplicate the layer to see the extreme of my dodge and burn, then I’ll drop the opacity to the desired effect.

Once the process of dodge and burn was finished, I used Merge Visible layers to create a new image. I then used a Macro that selects the Luminosity of the photo and used a Curves Adjustment layer to colour grade first the midtones, then the darks and finally highlights of the image. That way I could be very precise with my colour grading.

A White Balance adjustment is always great when a photo is too cool or warm in tone.

Retouching with Drue Photo.

Achieving a glow in your photos

A fun trick to achieve a glowy look to your photo is to merge all layers to visible and move to your Selections Persona (On iPad), you can then Select Tonal Range to grab highlights. Once highlights are selected you can create a fill layer and change it to white. From there you can use a Gaussian Blur on your white pixel layer as many times as needed for the desired look, then drop the Opacity or add a Blend Mode like Soft Light to your liking.

A screen grab of the UI in Affinity Photo for iPad that shows how to Select Tonal Range.
A screenshot showing the selected highlights.
Turning the highlights to white on a new layer.
The white highlights with a gaussian blur applied.

I also frequently use a similar technique to mask over red skin tones by targeting the reds in a photo and using HSL Adjustments.

Before and after editing.

About Drue

Drue’s photography journey started in Kansas City, USA with the initial goal to create and make connections. That was over three years ago. He’s now moved to Southern California and respectably gained over 48,000 followers on Instagram alone, with work commissioned by Instagram celebrity James Charles. Drue has won followers by showing the creative process and behind the scenes work of his craft, which is almost entirely edited in Affinity Photo. Drue says Affinity Photo has allowed him to be more pro-active and ‘on-the-go’ with his work which he believes has helped set him apart from the rest.

Visit Drue on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and his shop on Darkroom.