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The digital stocking filter

The digital stocking filter - An old Hollywood film trick to smooth skin tones was to film through a soft filter. Photographers of the stars have used the same trick. Here's how it's done digitally.

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Adobe Photoshop


Words & images Max Ferguson Original photo of Jerry Hall Tobi Corney



Modern coated lenses show every pore in the skin. Quite often I was often asked to print through a stocking to emulate the old Hollywood masters. A high-end drum scanner will hold all the detail on the negative, far more detail than is necessary for the look we wanted. As with everything in the analogue darkroom, careful use of the Photoshop tools finds a digital equivalent. This is a repeat of a print that I did for Tobi Corney in the darkroom some years ago. With the original, my split grade technique was employed ­ gold toned on top of a sepia tone to give it a pink colour. We wanted Jerry's luxuriant hair to frame her face. Printing her dark just made the print far too heavy. Printing the high-grade exposure through a stocking to gently blur the shadows gave it the depth we required. A digital stocking filter can easily emulated in Photoshop and saves us the embarrassment of purchasing fine denier stockings!

This is a simple treatment. Used judiciously, it is a very effective emulation of the photographic uses of lingerie and extremely controllable.

jerry11 Convert the gray scale scan into RGB colour mode Image > Mode > RGB. jerry32 Now duplicate the layer Layer> Duplicate and tick the multiply box in the layers pallete.


3 This doubles the exposure and makes the image look too dark (Shown right).

4 Add an adjustment layer: Layer > New > Adjustment Layer. (Layer > New adjustment layer in Photoshop 6) Select the Curves option in the drop down menu. To apply gold tone with curves as shown in. Notice the radical pull on the RGB curve.


jerry55 To apply a gold tone adjust the curves as shown in the four boxes right.
Select each channel individually and make the suggested adjustments to the input and output boxes. This will make the curves bend as they do in the illustrations here. Notice the radical pull on the RGB curve.

jerry6 jerry7 jerry9
6 This dramatically lightens the mid-tones. As a result, mainly the shadows are multiplied. 7 Apply gaussian blur-Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur - to the background copy layer. 8 I always go over the top with this filter. The opacity can be reduced to achieve a mix between the blurred layer and the sharp layer.

9 As the highlights have been reduced the pronounced blur is now mainly where the shadows are multiplied in the duplicate layer. If the file is being reproduced small, less blur is required, as the detail from the sharp layer will be lost. With bigger output more blur can be used. The colour can change when altering the opacity of the blurred layers. Tweak the curves in the adjustment layers. Save the file in its layered form.


10 We will now crop the picture to tidy up the composition. When cropping, check Fixed Size and enter the required dimensions in the crop image options box. To set a final print size I've also entered the resolution of 300ppi into the box in the options box (Menu bar as above in Photoshop 6).

jerry11 jerry12 jerry13
11 A small, curved, double-tipped, arrow shows as the cursor is placed near the corner of the crop selection. Rotate the crop, by dragging the corner when this arrow shows. 12 Complete the image with a black keyline.Use the marquee tool to make a selection inside the edges of the image. Invert: Select > Inverse (Command+Shift+ I) and fill: Edit > Fill, check black, and 100% in fill dialogue box.

jerry1413 Notice that the strong diagonals created through the forehead and nose counterbalanced by the line through the shoulder and hair.

Angling Jerry's head back a little more gives the pose a little more poise and attitude.

jerry1414 Now I'll show you how to give the picture a different effect using the same technique but with a saved Curve.

One of the great things about the history pallet, introduced in Photoshop 5.0, is that you can regress to a previous state in the preparation. The history pallet is more than just a multiple undo. In the flyaway menu: click on arrow to the right of history pallet and click New Snapshot. The new snapshot rename dialogue appears.

It's a safe idea to rename the new snapshot so as not to accidentally over-write the previously saved image. We can now explore an alternative treatment.

jerry1715 Now we're back at the beginning I've made the duplicate layer extremely contrasty by applying a near vertical curve. jerry1816 Pulling the highlights over to near the center and pushing the shadows is the same as an extreme over printing of an exposure with Grade 5 in the darkroom.

jerry19 jerr20
18 For the adjustment layer tone, a curve called copper blue, saved from a previous image is loaded. Curves can be saved for future use, with the Save button in the curves dialogue box. They can then be loaded and used again. Though the curves might not be totally correct for the image you are loading them into, they often give a ballpark setting to then tweak them from. Click the Load button in the curves dialogue and open the curve from the folder you have saved it too.

jerry2219 The background copy was once again filtered with gaussian blur again. If you haven't made any other filtrations since last using gaussian blur, the last filter can be repeated with the [Command/ F] keystroke. The filtration will repeat at the setting that was previously used. The opacity of blurred layer is again altered to the correct mix. Notice with this variation only the shadows are blurred as the highlights were reduced with the extreme curve applied to the duplicate layer.

The black border is dropped in after cropping the image.

If you want a purely black border, add an empty layer above the adjustment layer and repeat the marquee selection, invert then fill process. Below the adjustment layer would give the same blue as the shadows of the image.

About the Author
Max Ferguson is a leading monochrome printer who has worked for many top photographic labs including Joe's Basement and Visualeyes. He has spent many years splashing around with chemicals and his toning techniques are second to none.

Now Max has discovered Photoshop and has recreated many of his traditonal chemical based techniques, like this one, using the digital darkroom.

His book Max Ferguson's Digital Darkroom Masterclass ISBN 0-240-51569-2 is essential reading if you want to learn how to tone, dodge & burn and retouch using the computer. We have teamed up with the Publisher, Focal Press to give UK readers a 10% discount on orders through the Focal Press website. Click here to go direct to the offer page.

Also visit his web site http://home.iprimus.com.au/powermax
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