How I Edited These Family Photos

Did you eat anything with pumpkin in it this week?  Just wondering.  It’s that time of the year.

I thought I would tell how I edited photos from this family’s session.  I realized I haven’t shared how I edit family sessions.  I’ve shared how I edit newborn sessions.  As usual, I’ll preface this by saying…every session is different.  I’m still finding my style and I like to experiment.  I’ll play with a photo and when I like it…I write down the steps in my “photography notebook.”

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So, while I don’t have screenshots of the step-by-step for this session. I can give you the play-by-play from my notebook.  You’ll have to imagine the steps.  I apologize if that’s difficult.  I’ll be doing some Photoshop speak, so hopefully you can follow along.


For this session I used all natural light. I used my ExpoDisc to white balance.  I shot in manual mode in RAW.

I opened the RAW files in Photoshop Elements and they opened into Adobe RAW.  Here I tweaked my exposure, if I needed to.  My Expodisc set the white balance temp at 5500.  In a few photos I did bump up the temp to 6000 for a warmer photo.  I like warmer.  I then dropped the highlights some and increased the shadows a bit in some photos. No formula, I just play with it until it pleases my eye.

The files were then fully opened into Photoshop Elements and I went to town with editing.  I used some actions and some hand tweaking.

Here are my steps in editing:

1) I started with a Quick Clean Workflow Action I got from Clickin’ Moms.

2) In some photos I ran a sun flare from Jessica Drossin’s Force of Nature: Pack 2 Light Effects.  I dropped the opacity of the layer to my liking, usually 20-30%.

3) I ran the Clean Colour Action from Clickin’ Moms.  I turned the Light layer off.  I also masked the skin and put the whole action at 50% opacity.

4) I did a Hue/Saturation Layer and increased the Yellows by +5.  I also decreased the Greens by -10.  On a few photos I decreased the Reds by -10.

5) I did my usual eye edits.

6) I used Dsisk Photography’s Deepen Background Action from the Make Me Wonderful Set ($2.00!!) with a soft brush set at 30% opacity and ran this over the background (not the subjects).  You could also duplicate this by using the burn tool.

7) I sharpened for web or for printing with MCP Action’s High Definition Sharpening Actions (FREE!).  I also ran a black and white gradient to turn the photos to black and white.  That’s it.


Whew!  Did you make it through to the end?  If you did, you deserve a big ol’ piece of pumpkin pie with real whipped cream.  Or maybe sneak some Halloween candy!  Enjoy!

How I Edit Eyes

First, a burning question.  Why must the low battery beep on a smoke detector go off only in the middle of the night?  Never during the day?  At least 3 out of 4 us wake up to it.  But then we can’t agree which detector is making the noise.  The kid thought it came from the parent’s room. The parents thought it came from the kids’ side of the house.  There are 3 smoke detectors within 10 feet on the kids’ side.  Guess we’ll have to change all 3 batteries.  Have you checked your smoke detectors lately?  There, that’s my public service announcement for the week.

Now on to the meat of this post.  I’m quickly going to show you how I edit eyes for portraits.  I’ve tried lots of different ways, but this is the way that I edit eyes most of the time.  It’s my favorite, at least right now.

I edited the eyes of my baby on this photo.  I quickly took this in the early evening at a bike park.  We were celebrating my boy’s birthday there.  The photo shown below is the edited version (at least the eyes).

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

In the before and after below, the only thing I edited was the eyes.

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

If you want to see how I do that, feel free to read on.

What I Use

I use Adobe Photoshop Elements (I have version 11) and Pioneer Woman’s free actions from “PW Action Set 2.” 

How I Do It

1) Open the photo in Photoshop Elements.  Locate the PW Actions Set 2 in my Actions Window.  See it with the black arrow below?

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

2) Click on “Bring On the Eyes!” action.  It’s highlighted in blue on the screenshot.  Run it.

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

3) Here’s where you use the action to your liking.  There are a couple of different ways.  This is what I do.  I prefer to use a hard brush set close to the size of the iris.  I then set my brush opacity at 30%.  I brush over only the colored part of the eye (iris and pupil).  The eyes get brighter and more sparkly.  Don’t over do this or you’ll get alien eyes.  You could also brush over with a 100% brush and then lower the opacity of the layer.  Occasionally, I’ll lower the opacity of the layer after a 30% brush if I feel the eyes are looking a little too fake.

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

4) Next I grab the “Sharpen This” action from the same set.  It’s right above the “Bring On the Eyes” in my action set.

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

5) Using the same brush (hard brush at 30%), I brush over the entire eye.  I get the colored part, white part, and lash line.  This sharpens just those areas a wee smidge.

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

That’s it!  Easy, peasy.  I prefer to use the actions because they’re quick and I like them.  I’ve hand-edited eyes before, but it takes me longer and I prefer how the eyes look this way.  How do you edit eyes?

How I Edit Eyes | Chrissy Martin Photography

There, now you know my secret to bright eyes.  Except, I guess it wasn’t a secret.  If you ask, I will tell.  About my photography, that is.

Other Resources:

I hope your week is going great!  It’s crazy busy here, but in a fun way!

Getting Sharp Photos

I’ve gotten a few questions about how I get sharp photos, so I thought it was worthy of a post.  Want the simple answer: My camera is awesome.  Kidding, totally kidding.   It’s because I’m awesome.  Again, totally kidding.  I only tell my kids I’m awesome, but otherwise I’m not.  I’m your wallflower type.  Shy and quiet and trying to avoid confrontation.  Back to sharp photos…it’s all because of the camera.  No, it’s not.  I rock one of the cheapest, low end DSLR’s out there.  So, if I can get sharp photos….you can get sharp photos.


First off, I don’t always get sharp photos.  Plain and simple.  I’ll get into that.  I also look at other photographer’s work and wonder how they get such sharp photos.  I’m sure we’ve all wonder that at one time or another.  Even the photographers that only display super sharp photos have their fair sharp of unsharp ones.  They really don’t need to show their unsharp ones.  Most of us dump those ones anyway (some can be saved, so hold on).  Frankly, if you ask, I’m all about showing and telling.  I’ve shown outtakes of myself and my kids with unfocused shots.  My anniversary shots had unfocused photos.  I had so many unsharp photos when I did my kids’ portraits.  And the outtake photos that you see here that I say are “unsharp” have been “sharpened” for the web.  So they’re even sharper than they were when they came out of the camera.  Believe me, they weren’t sharp at all.

Outtake-Web3 Outtake-Web4

So I’ll share what I’ve learned about sharp photos and you can glean what you want from it.  I’m still learning and practicing.

The Probability of Error

You will fail.  Your camera will fail.  No one can achieve 100% sharp photos 100% of the time.  (If someone can, they must share their secret).  Also, cameras cannot achieve sharp focus 100% of the time even if the human could.  There is a rate of failure.  After one of my few paid sessions, I was lamenting the fact that I had unfocused shots to my husband.  He’s an optical engineer.  He works with light, lenses, glass, sensors, and stuff.  He kindly told me there was no way I could get focused shots 100% of the time.  The camera can’t achieve focus all that time and there will be a certain percentage of unfocused shots no matter what I do.  Okay, that made me feel a little better.  But why is it that the unfocused shots are always my best shots where everyone is looking at the camera? I’m cursed that way, I tell ya.  Anyone else in that boat?


Aperture Settings

Aperture makes a difference, at least for most of us.  Some photographers can nail focus at F2 with 3 people and that’s awesome for them.  If you’re using a wide open aperture (low F number) and you have more 2 or more people, you need to make sure that they are all on the same plane.  Otherwise, someone is going to be out of focus.  Using a wide open aperture doesn’t work so well when you’re working with wiggly, young kids.  A good rule of thumb is to have your aperture relate to the number of people you’re shooting.  So F2 for 2 people (though I go to F3), F3 for 3 people, F4 for four people, and so on.  It’s just a suggestion.  I use F2.2 or F2.5 for newborns, F3 to F3.5 when I shoot mom and baby or 2 kids.  I use F3.5 to F4 for 3 kids and you get the drift.  I did some aperture experiments in the past and wrote about them.  In those posts you can see what happens when everything is on the same plane at different apertures and you can see what happens when you start to stagger your subjects and put them in different positions.


Your Lens

Lenses make a difference.  They really do.  There’s a reason some of them cost a lot!  I don’t have any expensive lenses, but I have found that my prime lens (35mm) achieves much sharper photos than the kit lens (18-55mm).  I love that 35mm lens.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment that I purchased.  Less than $200 for a lens that I keep on my camera 85-90% of the time has been worth it.


Your Body Position

How are you holding the camera?  If you want to achieve a sharp image, you need to have a steady camera.  That means having a steady handy.  You may have to brace your elbows into your sides, use the ground as a tripod, or brace your body into something.  Use a tripod if you find your hands shaking a bit.  At F2 you’re going to need to be way more steady than at F8.  Keep that in mind.


Post Camera Processing

People will say to “get it in camera.”  And yes, you need to get a sharp image in camera, but there are things you can do to the photo in Photoshop or equivalent editing programs.  No amount of sharpening in a program will save an out of focus photo.  If it’s a precious photo that means something to you, try and sharpen it as best you can.  That’s not a photo you would give to clients, but I think you knew that.  There are plenty of ways to sharpen your photos in Photoshop.  I’ll just quickly share my favorite way (I think I’ve mentioned it many times now).  I like to use MCP Actions free sharpening actions. I use the Web Sharpening action for all the photos that you see on this website and my facebook page.  I use the High Definition Sharpening Action at 50% on photos I save at high resolution for myself or others.  Search “how to sharpen photos” if you’d like to learn about other ways to sharpen photos.  I sometimes use the unsharp mask, but I love the actions for quickness.  I’ll also gently sharpen features such as lips, lash lines, and eyes.  Swoon…squishy baby lips are the best.

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Using Focus Buttons

With many DSLR cameras you have different focus point options.  I prefer to use the single point focus, especially when I am taking portraits.  You also have to select a focus mode.  A focus mode will depend on if you have a moving subject or not.  If you’re using a single-point focus mode and your subject moves…you’re going to lose focus and have an image that isn’t sharp.  I wrote all about using different focal points in this post.  That will may help you visualize what happens when you focus on different people who aren’t in a straight line or on the same plane.


Oh, what a big subject with vast opinions.  You can read a little about it in the post I mentioned in “using focus buttons.”  Basically, if you’re using single-point focus, and especially if you’re using a wide open aperture, don’t recompose.  You’ll end up with subjects out of focus.  Toggle your focus points until you come closest to the area you want to focus on.  I try to use the eye (or skin nearest the eye) that is closest to me.  If you have a family of 5 standing with parents in the back and kids in the front, I’ll usually focus on the kid in the middle front.

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Other Stuff

There’s something called back button focusing that I’ve read about more than one time, but I haven’t tried it yet.  I may have to venture there someday and give it a shot.  Some people swear by it and say it helps them achieve a sharp photo.  Have you tried it?  I’ll try and find a resource to it and will list it below.

One other thing…sometimes it is camera failure.  As in, your camera just isn’t working correctly.  It happened to me.  $250 worth of repairs.  My photos were consistently unsharp and out of focus in areas, with all my lenses.  After getting repaired, it was better.  Sometimes it might be just as easy as a firmware update.  Sometimes it might be something more.  Keep that in mind.

Other Resources

I love to glean info from other sites.  If you want to spend some time learning and reading about photography, I’m here to share what I learn from other places.  You’re going to want to put on your fuzzy jammies, grab a favorite drink, and plunk down in a comfy chair while you clicky the linkies.  Here’s a few of my favorite articles about achieving sharp photos:

Since I’m not the expert and I have given you more than my 2 cents, you can fill in what I left off.  Give your tips or resources for getting sharp images, cause I’m pretty sure you’re all a sharp bunch of photographers and people who love taking photos.

Playing Dress Up with a Mommy Photographer

October is more than half over!  Forget the easy button, someone get me a pause button.  I can’t keep up!  I have loads of things I want to share about photography, but for now they are laying in the depths of my overloaded mind.  Equipment posts…I really need to update how my equipment is holding up.  Plus my favorite piece of equipment.  And oh joy…my husband ordered my Christmas present from last year.  I can hardly wait!!!  A few more exclamation points might cover my excitement.  It’s photography related.  I’m stoked!

So, I photographed 3 families and one baby lately.  One more baby coming up!  I still have 2 families to edit.  Thankfully, those are gifts (photos are my kind of birthday gift) and those lucky ones are just going to have to wait a bit to get their photos.  I took photos of my boy and girl biking at the bike park the other day.  Fun times.  Nothing like standing in the line of kids trying to control bikes on a pump track and jumps.  Zoom lenses are a must, unless you want to be taken out by a bike.

The other day my daughter was dressing up the dog in doggie costumes.  Yep, those Target clearance aisles get me some years.  $1-2 dog costumes?!  Yes, please.  That’s cheaper than a dog toy.  The dog loves to thrash those costumes around like they are vermin.  He lets the girl dress him in the costumes, though I think he’d rather thrash the costumes around.  We did a doggie costume photo shoot.  I even brought out my backdrop stand and my seamless paper.  This was legit.  Here’s the unedited sneak peeks.


The photos are at least on my hard drive.  That’s an accomplishment.  I haven’t done anything with the photos yet, but at least they are off of my camera and on my hard drive.  Mocking me.  “You haven’t edited us yet.”  “You’re writing a blog post about us and you haven’t edited us yet.”  “Edit us!”  Sorry, doggie costume photos, I have a couple of families to edit first.  Unless you bribe me.  Bacon and chocolate might work.

My kids also decided to dress up.  Hey, if they’re going to let me take photos of them without having to bribe them with a treat…I’ll take it!  Again, I have the unedited versions or sneak peeks.


I really should come up with a photo for Halloween.  I sometimes do.  But time is ticking away like it’s on fast forward.  Maybe I could just do something quickly.  I’ll have to sleep on it, whenever I get to bed.  Mmmmm, bacon.

So for old times sakes, let’s take a peek at some heavily photoshopped photos of my kids in costumes.  Ignore any tears that may be running down my cheeks or sniffles/snorts emitting from me.  Oh wait…thankfully you can’t see or hear me.  You just get to read my ramblings.  Lucky you.  It’s not pretty here.  So let’s take a look at my pretty babies.

Halloween 2013.  These were edited with PicMonkey.  I wrote a post about how I edited the photo with two kids here.

PirateHalloweenWeb Pirate Girl PicMonkey Web Pirate Boy PicMonkey Web

Valentine’s Day 2013.  These were done with Photoshop Elements.  Here’s how I made the boy’s valentine and how I made the girl’s valentine.

Princess-Valentine-web Valentine's-Day-web

My Son’s Birthday Photos from 2012.  These were also done with Photoshop Elements.  Pinch me…that kid is going to be decade old soon!  How can I have a 10-year-old?  I have a tutorial on how I made the one with the droids here.  He’s got that one on a canvas in his room.

I’m not feeling very inspired for this year’s.  Time is waning.  I need chocolate, maybe that will help.  Or bacon.  Think, think, think…..

Apparently, I wrote a post 2 years ago with tips for taking Halloween photos.  That must have been on my old blogger blog.  I don’t think I’ve had this blog for 2 years.  Honestly, where is that pause button?!

And you, what have you been up to?  Anyone playing dress up?  Or anyone dressing up for you to take photographs of?


Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family

Fall sure is a busy time of year!  I’ve heard that October is to photographers what April is to tax accountants.  Yep.  And I’m not even a professional in business.  Busy, busy, busy.  But it’s great.  Especially when I get to take portraits of a beautiful family in a beautiful setting. Fall colors disappear so fast and I’m glad we got to take advantage of the beautiful aspens.  This family was amazing.  Such a joy to work with.  It’s amazing how God happens to work out who I get to photograph. Truly amazing.  I am the one blessed to be able to photograph and capture such loving families.  Take a peek at a few of my favorites:

Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography Portrait Preview: Beautiful Fall Family | Chrissy Martin Photography

Thank you so much to this beautiful family for trusting me with capturing your family portraits.  It was an honor!  Enjoy the fall and have yourself a great weekend!  I hope to be back with some equipment related posts soon!

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