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The Dave Hill Look in Lightroom

The Dave Hill Look in LightroomDave Hill is a genius. Period. I could look at his images all day long and his behind the scenes videos are strangely addictive. Naturally, thousands want to create his hyper-real, painterly, utterly hypnotising look on their images.

The first observation one can make about his method is the painstaking attention to lighting during the shoot. In the final product, the lighting and contrast make the images what they are. This can’t be done without interesting lighting.

Of course after being engrossed in his work for far too long, I said, “I MUST know how he does that?!” I didn’t find anything from him personally, but there are plenty of photographers out there tearing the method apart and sharing their findings. The first tutorial I ran across was for PS using high pass filters. I got stuck at the end with the masking layer since I’m still only using PSE.

But have no fear PSE users! I found a really great method for creating the Dave Hill look in Lightroom from, who else, Scott Kelby. The following suggestions are his. My additions are in italics.

{SETTINGS}

  • Recovery = 100
  • Fill Light = 100 this doesn’t always work at 100 it depends on the image – you’ll have to experiment
  • Blacks = Drag this slider to the right until photo looks balanced again, because setting the Fill Light at 100 will wash the photo out big time. In our example, I dragged it to 24. I haven’t been able to get the blacks all the way up to 24. In the example image, I went only to 17
  • Contrast = 100
  • Clarity = 100
  • Vibrance = 100
  • Saturation = -81 (basically what I do here is drag the saturation all the way to the left, to -100 (which removes all color, making it a black and white image), and then I slowly drag back to the right until some of the color starts to return to the image. In my image, I took it down to -61, leaving it a bit more colourful than suggested. I just love the red of the pushchair.

{ADJUSTMENT BRUSH}

Once you get the look the way you want it, head over to the adjustment brush. In Dave’s work, the models always have silky smooth skin, even the blokes. You can use to pre-set ‘soften skin’ brush. When you’ve done the skin, click ‘new’ and do another soften skin brush. In this image, I used 5 or 6 new skin softening brushes before his skin was smooth enough. Even then, it probably could have used more:

The Dave Hill Look in Lightroom

Once it’s finished in LR, I headed into PS and did a simple duplicate layer > soft light > very low percent (around 10%) just to add to the contrast. You could even add a gaussian blur to the top layer to soften the image a tad bit more.

I don’t remember if Scott mentioned this or not, but a vignette can be excellent, especially in the case of intentional barrel distortion as in the image above.

One thing I’ve found with this method in LR is the problem of severe fringing of some of the more contrasty edges as seen here:

The Dave Hill Look in Lightroom

No matter what I do to alter the sliders, this does not go away. A biproduct of doing this method in LR, you’re better off finding ways to do it in PS if you have the resource. If not, you can just pretend it doesn’t exist like I do. I really should try harder to be a perfectionist!

The Dave Hill Look in Lightroom

Are there other photographers whose skills you totally covet and try to harness for yourself?

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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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