Creating a self portrait avatar on a low budget

please keep in mind that although I used 2 lights for this post, the point is that you can do it with just room lighting

For a while now I’ve used the same self-portrait for everything. I figured it was time to change things up. I spent some time deciding on the lighting I wanted for it. While this is not the final choice I decided to share the steps I took to create it the avatar you see below.

It all starts with a bunch of Nikon SB-800‘s. I placed one on each side of me at 1/128, the lowest power. I didn’t use a background so I could test Photoshop CS5‘s new content aware edge refining tool.

When loading the RAW file in Camera RAW there is a lot of flexibility a person has with exposure and noise. The original photo is dark because of my camera’s exposure but that is what I wanted. I wanted those dark, strong shadows down the front of my face.

After some tweaking of the RAW exposure settings I was able to get the photo to the exact point I wanted it. My light on my face is bright enough you can see me, but the strong shadows are still there. (Don’t mind the mess behind me)

Using the magnetic lasso tool I traced the outside of my body and then did some touch ups. Then using the content aware “smart” edge refining I adjusted the lasso to be exact. It even found the spaces between the shaved hairs on the top of my head. Crazy cool! I decided to make the background removal into a new layer. Then I added a bright blue layer to make sure there were no more artifacts. Then comes the fun.

(if you can’t afford Photoshop, there is a free alternative called Gimp)

This is where you get to choose what background you want. I decided on a smooth black gradient. I added the gradient later and then saved the photo as a PSD file. This is where the downside to underexposing a photo and only using side lighting comes in.  My eyes are too dark.  I imported the PSD into Lightroom where I get to use the eye brightening brush tool.  I’m not sure why I like using the Lightroom tools so much but I mostly work in Lightroom nowadays so I’m used to it.  Maybe that’s why?

So a bit of brushing over my eyes and the brightness comes back.  Now it’s time for the finishing touches and then to upload.

So why did I share this with you?  Not everyone has the ability to use backgrounds, lights or the right camera gear to create a professional photo.  But with the other tools out there the options are endless.  Yes I used Nikon lights for my photo but you can do this with regular room lights.  With Photoshop CS5 you have that extra bump of flexibility which in the end can improve your creativity.  Just look at the original photo and look at the result below.  This could also be done using any photo editing software with layers.  I only suggest Photoshop CS5 because it makes the job easier and speeds up the process.    If you can’t afford Photoshop download the free alternative, Gimp.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Your post makes me pitifully aware of the horrible funk of my avatar and how desperately I need to replace it. Thanks. I guess.I do appreciate the tip as I do not have lights, but I do have Photoshop, so you give me the glimmer of hope that I may be able to sort this all out.

  2. If you have any questions when you give it a shot feel free to shout at me!

  3. If you have any questions when you give it a shot feel free to shout at me!

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