Some of the PokerStars portraits are nicer than others but they all have the same effect applied to them.
When PokerStars announced they signed Liv Boeree as a Team Pro member they linked her photos to some very high resolution versions. The amount of detail in the photo allowed me to make a good guess at how it was lit.
Since I had PokerStars Pro Portraits on my mind I figured I'd try and reverse engineer the effect.
Not everyone can be a sponsored by PokerStars but if you'd like to look like you are, here's how to do it.
Creating the PokerStars Pro Portrait Effect
PokerStars Pro Portraits OverviewAll the PokerStars Pro portraits have similar characteristics. Dark background, muted tones and a soft black vignette. Here are some examples:
The instructions below are for modifying a photo using Adobe Photoshop. You might be able to perform the same functions in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 or The GIMP.
Step 1: Start With a Good Photo
For this tutorial I'll be using one of the portraits from the Liv Boeree announcment on PokerStars' blog. (pictured right) The photo was taken by Adam Lawrence.
It's a nicely lit photo with a lot of depth. At the end of this post I'll describe how I think this photo was made. It's a bit complex and most people won't be able to recreate it exactly but it might help. For now, just start with a nice photo that you currently have of yourself.
It's flat and 1-dimensional. Beautiful female poker pros tend to have a lot of pictures and Boeree is no exception. This one just doesn't seem to be as high a caliber as some of her other photos or even the other Team Pro portraits.
I wasn't going to say anything but I can't help it. I'm a very opinionated SOB.
Not all the Team Pro portraits are the same. The earlier ones are nicer in my opinion. Maybe they switched photographers?
Step 2: Crop To Face
Use the rectangular marquee tool while holding the Shift key to keep the selection square.
Leave a little room around the face for the vignette effect.
Once you've roughly defined the selection go into Select - Transform Selection to fine tune the size and position. When you're in this mode there will be an anchor point in the middle of the selection. Center this between the eyes on the bridge of the nose so that the face will be centered in the final image.
Once you're satisfied with the selection select Crop from the Image menu.
Step 3: Reduce Saturation
The first step in changing the tone of the image is to reduce the saturation
Hit CTRL-U to bring up the Hue/Saturation Dialog box.
The settings you choose will depend on the original image you're using. You want to bring down the saturation to the point where there is still a fair bit of color but it's very subtle as shown in the picture to the right. Don't go too far, there will be another reduction of saturation coming up.
In this case I set the saturation to -25.
Step 4: Apply Sepia Filter
In this case I used a density of 75% but you may need to use a different value. Try and get a similar bronze tone as shown in the example.
Step 5: Reduce Saturation Again
Hit CTRL-U to bring up the Hue/Saturation dialog box.
Depending on your image you may have to use a different setting in this case I set the saturation to -25.
You want to retain the bronze color and the slightest bit of color from the original image.
Step 6: Apply A Soft Black VignetteWe're almost done. All we need to do now is apply a dark vignette around the image. This will help isolate the face.
Then hit CTRL-A to select the entire image.
Now go into Select - Transform Selection to reduce the size of the selection. Hold down the Alt and Shift keys as you drag a corner of the selection. This will keep the proportions as well as keep the selection centered.
Reduce the size of the selection until it's just above the top of the head.
Go into Select - Modify - Smooth and enter an appropriate radius. In this case I chose 100.
The value you enter will depend on the size of the photo you're working with. Try and get something that resembles the photo on the left.
We further need to modify the selection to feather the edges so that there's a smooth transition for the vignette.
Hit Alt-CTRL-R to bring up the Refine Edge dialog box. I used the following Settings:
You may need to modify these settings to match your image.
Hit Q to enter Quick Mask mode. In this mode the selected areas will be clear and the non-selected areas will appear red.
Using the paint brush tool modify the selection where needed. In this photo I reduced the selection around her hair so it wouldn't be completely covered by the vignette.
To make sure the edges remain smooth I used a large brush with hardness set to 0 and opacity set to 15 and made multiple passes to clear the selection from where I wanted.
When done hit Q again to exit Quick Mask mode.
The way we defined the selection is actually the inverse of what we want so hit CTRL-SHIFT-I to inverse the selection.
Make sure you have the new blank layer selected before the next step. This will make it easier for you to start over if the vignette isn't to your liking.
Now hit D to reset to the default colors (making black the foreground color) and Alt-Backspace to fill in the selection with black.
This will darken the edges around the photo. If the effect isn't strong enough hit ALT-Backspace one or more times to increase the effect.
A little more cropping and adjusting curves and we're done.
Now you too can look like a PokerStars Pro!
Step 7: Preparing Your AvatarIf you want to use your new portrait as your PokerStars avatar there's a few steps that will help it look good after you upload it.
We want to upload a small image so that PokerStar's software doesn't have to manipulate it much.
Resize the image to 70px x 70px.
After resizing, apply an Unsharp Mask filter to clean up the blurriness that occurs after shrinking. Play with the settings until it looks good. This will depend on what the original size was.
Save the image as a JPEG file using the highest quality.
Recreating the Liv Boeree PortraitAdam Lawrence I used in this example and was curious if I could figure out how it was made.
Most people won't have the equipment necessary to recreate this portrait but some of the info might help you take better photos. Even without all the professional equipment a little improvisation and ingenuity should yield better results than just using the on-camera flash.
Her skin has a nice glow to it and her facial features are well defined. Obviously starting with a very beautiful woman and good makeup helps but a lot has to do with the lighting.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul but in this case they're the key to understanding how this portrait was lit. Thanks to PokerStars posting such a high resolution version of this image I was able to get a close up of her eyes to see the reflections of the flashes.
In addition to the reflections, the shadow cast by her nose and some other features of the photo helped me get a general idea of how the portrait might have been lit.
Background: In this case it looks like a gray paper background. To recreate the PokerStars Pro portrait effect a gray to dark gray background would be better. Most people don't have large rolls of seamless paper so a plain white wall is what most people will use. If you stand far enough away from the wall so that your lighting doesn't hit it, it will appear darker in the photo. The background shouldn't come out completely back in the photo because then the vignette effect is pointless. A black background with a background light on it should work.
A: It looks like a backlight was used. This helps keep the background clean so there are no shadows on it and helps separate the subject from the background and provides a gradient effect. Professional photographer would likely use a strobe (flash) but if you're trying to do this shot yourself any directional light pointed at the background might work. Something like the Smith Victor Tabletop / Background Light Stand, 18" would be nicer.
B: This is one of the main lights it appears to be a strobe in a medium soft box. Something like a Photogenic 36" x 48" Softbox. This is a flash head with a large rectangular diffuser panel. This provides a soft even light. Based on the reflections in her eyes it looks like this was set at about half the intensity of the main light (C below). Based on the reflection and shadows it seems to be slightly to the right (as shown in the diagram) and positioned slight higher than face level and pointing down slightly. Recreating this without the proper equipment is difficult but a bright light or flash behind a white sheet for diffusion can come close.
C: This is the main light. It's stronger in intensity than light B. It's also not as soft which gives her skin some nice highlights. It's not so harsh as to be a straight strobe. Most likely some sort of Beauty Dish. An example would be the JTL 16" Beauty Dish with Front Soft Diffuser. This provides a more directional light while still maintaining soft shadows. This is a little harder to simulate with stuff you might have laying around but a round silver shop light reflector with a bright bulb and a soft white gel in front might come close.
D: Since Liv Boeree has dark hair, an overhead light shining on the top of her head helps her hair from just coming out as a dark blob in the photo. A hair light on a boom, most likely with a snoot to direct the light was used. A low cost version would be something like the MB500 Single Light Mini-Boom Kit though any light you can get to shine down from above might help create the effect.
E: There's a bit of a highlight on her right cheek. Most likely from using a white or silver reflector to reflect the light from the two front lights. A large white sheet or large white posterboard could work.
F: The right side of the photo looks a little darker. I think there might have been a black flag used to prevent reflections on that side of the face. A dark sheet or black posterboard could be used.
Camera: Most people have some sort of digital camera. Probably not as nice as the Phase One with P30+ digital back used in this shot but good enough to take a decent enough photograph. Trying to get good lighting, even if it's just worklights and desklamps can help. To get a similar perspective as in this photo, try and step far back from the subject, maybe 10 feet, and zoom in to fill the frame.
If you try and recreate the PokerStars Pro Portrait effect leave a comment with a link to your photo. I'd love to see it.