December 15, 2013

Smoothing Straggly Hair in Post Production

In our newborn care class we were instructed not to shampoo our baby in the first few weeks, to only use water. Shampoos can be abrasive on newborn delicate skin, besides newborns aren’t supposed to get very dirty. Nicki, however, was born with a full head of hair. Hair gets oily after a few days of not washing it, whether on a newborn or a full grown adult. After a few days it was quite obvious that we were sticking to the no-shampoo rule. In retrospect it was probably silly for us to have stuck so firmly to the rule. In the hospital they cleaned her with diluted soapy water right after she was born. Certainty we could have done the same on an as needed bases. But we didn’t.

I wanted to use a nine day old photo for her birth announcement, but the awkward teenager with oily hair inside me cringed. So I decided to see if there was anything that can be done in post processing to reduce the shine. Short answer: not really. You need mad fat skills to fix that level of hair problem. Still, I found a solution that kinda sorta worked. Shortly there after we started using shampoo.

Then last night I captured this.

Nicki hugging her daddy, looking at the Christmas tree.

I love it. It’s one of those moments that’s hard to manufacture. The photo was taken post bath. We pat Nicki’s hair dry, and let it air dry the rest of the way. I hadn’t gotten around to combing it yet, hence it’s still a little on the straggly side. The photo reminded me of her birth announcement photo, and decided to take another crack at smoothing her hair in post processing.

The goal is to reduce the contrast in the hair, without losing the texture. Thus the smoothing brush won’t work (it destroys the texture). The dodge (lightening) and burn (darkening) tools are risky and can make things worse. So instead I used the cloning brush.

Start by creating a second layer. I cloned her hair from the original image into the second layer. The intent is for the hair to be in a slightly different spot, so that it’s flowing in the same direction and the highlights in the hair from one layer are over/under the shadows in another. The new image should look very similar to the original.

The side by side. Left original, right with the clone. The difference I hardly noticeable, even side by side.

Next I reduce the opacity of the second layer to about 40-50%. If the cloned region is in good spot, the texture remains the same, but the overall lightness/darkness is more even. This gives the appearance of slightly smoother hair. As a final touch I use the eraser and touch up the edges of the cloned layer so they’re not noticeable.

Don’t worry about light region over top of a light region, or dark over top of dark. Since we’re merging two layers, rather than using the dodge/burn brush, the extremes won’t become more extreme. If it still doesn’t look even enough you can always try adding an additional cloned layer. I recommend not merging the layers together until the very end, and always clone from the original image.


The difference is hardly noticeable. It’s not perfect, but it is better and far easier than trying to capture the same moment again.

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