Tutorial: Photoshop for 70 basketball portraits in in two days

by Dustin Snipes on  January 30, 2009 |

For the last few months, people have been asking me about the post-production involved in the photos on my blog post “70 basketball portraits I did in two days.”

I always planned on sharing it with everyone but just haven’t had time to put anything together until now. Recently, I was asked to do a guest post for Scott Kelby’s blog and thought, “What better way to share this Photoshop tip with everyone than on Mr. Photoshop himself’s blog, Scott Kelby?” I was pretty giddy, to say the least.

It’s actually a pretty simple process that has a few steps to get this “look” (and its not LucasArts or HDR:)).

I wanted to make sure everyone who reads my blog also got to check it out as well.

Here goes:
There is one thing you must promise me–and yourself–before reading this post. Repeat (or read) after me:

“I, (state your name, or clever web user ID) will not overuse this technique on EVERY photo I take. I will only use it in moderation.”

Good, now that we got that out of the way, I just want to say that I don’t have an action made, nor do I think you should make one with this style of post processing. It all has to be about feel and knowing when you have gone too far or when to go further. It all varies depending on the scene and lighting. On this session of portraits, I went further than I normally would because that is what the client needed.

Step one: Lighting

To get a hard look, you have to have a hard light. I started with a three-light setup for most shots: Two back lights set at full power (Alien Bees Ab800) behind the subject, hitting the sides of their faces, and one in the front at a lower power with a small softbox. I added a fill light and background light when needed. See setups here.

This light set up changed slightly depending on the subject.

Step two: RAW Conversion

On this photo I started with a raw conversion and just slightly tweak levels to get the photo at a good color and contrast. The photo below is very close to raw, I cleaned a few dust spots that were on the photos from not cleaning my camera before…oops.

Step three: Dodge and Burn

The next step is a the one that really gives it that 3-D look. It’s were you take the subject’s highlights, shadows and features and “Carve” them out using dodging and burning.

Now there are a ton of ways to do this but this is how I do it. I first create a new layer by pressing (apple shift N) or by going to Layer/New on the top bar. I then change the blending mode to Softlight. Then change your brushes opacity to 5% and make sure it’s on 0% hardness. You can make two layers, one for highlights, one for shadows, but I usually just use one.

Next I go along and “paint” (with the brush) or enhance shadows and highlights that are already there. This really makes the photo pop out.

After this is done.

Step four: High Pass

I enhanced the contrast by duplicating the original image layer and de-saturating it by pressing (command (apple)-shift-”U”). This is important. If you don’t do this, your photo’s color will be really off once you select your blending mode. Then I select either soft light or hard light, depending on the amount of contrast I want to add.

The next thing I do is go to filter/other/high pass. This is what gives it the shinier look. This is also a key step because you must use judgement to determine how much of the effect you want. I usually go from somewhere between 100-200 depending on the amount of highlights I want to bring out. Again, you have to use your best judgement on this.

If the effect is still to much be sure to use your layers window and decrease the opacity on the high pass layer.

Step five: Color

The next thing I did was desaturate the reds in the photo. I used the hue/saturation window for this and changed the edit color from “master” to “red.”

Again, use your best judgment on this as well and take down as much or little as needed.

After I de-saturated the reds, I cropped and turned the image.

Step six: Final Touches

I’m almost done and I have the look I want, so I increase the contrast and brighten the photo.

Below is my final layers window.

As you can see, a lot of it is manual Photoshop, where you should tweak certain aspects and not rely on an action.

I hope that helps some of you in your Photoshop quests.

I would love to see finished products, so be sure to leave your comments here or on my blog with links to your finished work. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

If you would like to see more photos and set up shots from the shoot click on the photo below.

Thanks for reading!

44 comments on “Tutorial: Photoshop for 70 basketball portraits in in two days”
  1. Jason Corica | | Reply

    Thanks for giving such a short but useful tutorial on this creative look. You give just enough description to let anyone run with the steps to be more creative. I live in the L.A. area and would like to help/observe a shoot if possible.

  2. Ben McKeown | | Reply

    Dustin.. Interesting and fun to read! Thanks for this. Again, inspiring and informative. Best to you my friend.

  3. Adam Swords | | Reply

    Over the next month I’ll be shooting a body of work featuring five athletes from different disciplines – Running, Cycling, Women’s Football, Ice Hockey and Karate. I’m going for two shots per athlete – an edgy, commercial looking portrait which will be lit similarly to this series of yours. Then I’m shooting an environmental portrait to show the athlete in their respective environments (track, pitch, skatepark, ice rink etc.) which will take on a more candid look with slightly less emphasis on dramatic lighting.

    I will certainly be trying out some of the methods of post-processing you’ve discussed here on my portraits. If you’re interested in seeing the results, feel free to subscribe to my blog at http://www.adamswords.com/blog.

    Thanks Dustin :)

  4. Scooter | | Reply

    Thanks, Dustin! I can’t wait to try this out :-)

  5. Benjamin Wong | | Reply

    whoa really cool stuff.

    Many thanks for sharing

  6. Rustin Sides | | Reply


    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. Your work continues to inspire me and just having the chance to look behind the scenes helps me discover new ways to get the results I am trying to achieve in my head out to the final image.


  7. Lee Corkett | | Reply


    I can’t thank you enough for NOT sharing.

    I’ve been following your blog for a few months now. Like everyone else who absolutely stuffed your blog with replies after your basketball shoot, I was very much inspired by the feel of your portraits. I read reply after reply of people on their hands and knees BEGGING for this tutorial, I was, of course, secretly hoping you’d give in. And more than anything, I’m now endlessly thankful that you DIDN’T let the cat out the bag until now.

    I remember two replies in particular, one supporting you in not sharing so easily and urging people to get into PS and start messing around, and another, by a pro, that chided you for dangling a carrot and not giving people what you said you would. The former was by the far the most important. Of course, she was right. I was frustrated enough in wanting to learn about this (and other) techniques, that I was forced to find my answers elsewhere and starting digging around in PS myself to figured it out. I didn’t find a whole lot regarding this specific effect, but I found an absolute PLETHORA of everything else. (To everyone else : all the pieces are out there if you want to find them and put them together)

    In the past six months I’ve learned more about PS than I ever have before, and I’ve come to better understand its role in the creative process, all because I started reading and experimenting. Crazy thought! Eventually I came up with my own path to this same “kind” of effect, yours is a different routine, but a similar outcome. But that’s just the point, PS is just a toolbox, hammers and wrenches, with no clear path from A to B and the things I discovered along the way to this effect are FAR more useful than the effect is itself.

    Most importantly though, my light has gotten better, since PS does nothing if the light’s not there. I’m sure that people will be running off and trying this effect on their own photos (as they should), but will come up a little short since they didn’t go into the photo with the right light for this sort of technique! After all, your light is more important than your layers.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to make this MY blog not yours. :) I just wanted to put it out there that you, among several others, made me a better photographer for what you didn’t tell me. It’s great to read it now, and see another way. It’s simplicity is ironic!

    Thank you again. :)


  8. Christopher Pasatieri | | Reply


    Great tutorial. Even more helpful was the “Behind The Scenes” photos of your lighting set up. This is a tricky technique to master on any level and I think you did a flawless job.

    The basketball portraits are all awesome and I’d really like to see what you do with some hockey eventually.

    Thanks again.


  9. Julie Ann | | Reply

    Dustin, you are the bees’ knees man….thank you for sharing your work and wisdom! I’m new to photoshop but can’t wait to try this among other projects.

  10. ButchM | | Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Dustin!

    Your work is inspiring … in fact I shot a similar series, the day before you posted your workflow on Kelby’s site … unfortunately … I couldn’t take advantage your sharing because I had already sent the images to the printer … but they were a big hit with the clients anyway … thanks again for sharing your vision with us all ….


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  12. Fear and loathing in Coeur d’Alene | Coeur d'Alene High School Photography Blog | | Reply

    [...] Today- You will be working on your fear image. MAKE A NEW CANVAS 16X20 INCHES and 200ppi. Create your fear image on this new canvas. I will be coming around to check to see that you shot your images and get points to those that did. These projects will be due on Thursday at the end of the period. Use the whole time to work on making the image a true original image. Use custom brushes, use layers, use layer styles, use whatever you can- want a really cool look? Try THIS OUT. [...]

  13. Chris | | Reply

    Absolutely great article. I enjoyed the photos as well, but it’s great to see a guy who is out their helping other photographers with their post processing. Thanks for the information, and keep up the great job – it is truly inspiring.

  14. Kevin La Presle | | Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, I’ve admired your work and am looking forward to trying this on my own.

  15. JT | | Reply

    Great tutorial, nice lighting. The results are stunning. Thank you for sharing !


  16. zetson | | Reply

    Thank you very much for this indepth tutorial. I’ve been trying this effect myself, but failed each time, especially because of the lighting.

    I have one question about step number three: Dodging and burning. You say you created a new layer, changed blending mode to Soft light and used a brush on this layer. I tried that, by painting black on the shadows and white on the highlights, but I think I’m doing it wrong. Because your screen shot of the layers palette shows a lot of gray tones on the Highlight/Shadow layer. Is there some info missing in step number three?

  17. Sterling | | Reply


    Appreciate the tutorial.

    The pic i used this technique on is in the people gallery on my website (www.sterlinghancockphotography.com)

    I think you’ll be able to tell which one it is.

    Thanks a lot


    (im 16 by the way)

  18. Jeff | | Reply

    Thank you !

  19. nico | | Reply

    great tutorial,
    the high pass filter rocks especially.
    i got an example on the link


  20. nico | | Reply

    wow, i forgot the link,

  21. Jason Martin | | Reply

    No matter what you did in Photoshop, you’re original images were incrediblya creative. What I learned most from your portraits are location, location, location and lighting.

  22. sylvain | | Reply

    Hey Dustin,

    thanks for the tutorial. unfortunately, i could not get myself to complete it so far. same remark as zetson.

    can someone send me a photoshop PSD file please so that i figure out what are the steps ?

    thanks you very much.


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  24. Frank | | Reply

    This is really great thanks for sharing.

  25. binjai | | Reply

    thanks a lot for sharing this.
    ill try it later, need to do some strobing first to get a good highlight n shadow pic.
    once again thanks.

  26. Mary-Jane Hoehler | | Reply

    Hi Dustin,

    that`s very cool. Very nice your photos, I like it.

  27. willie | | Reply

    Hi and greetings from Australia.

    I loved the examples in this post.

    May I ask a question?

    In step 3 – dodge and burn – what brushes are being used? Is it the dodge tool and burn tool? I have tried but see no change at all in the image (I used your suggested settings).

    I hope you don’t mind my asking. Would love to use the style.

    Thanks for the great work – much enjoyed down under.

  28. BloggerDudsky | | Reply

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read….

  29. L Hart | | Reply

    Dear Dustin,

    I was wondering if it were at all possible for you re-post your entry of “Tutorial: Photoshop for 70 basketball portraits in in two days” as i’m unable to view the images you have applied in this tutorial, i’ve tried various browsers but the problems still persists.


    L Hart.

  30. Hawaii Wedding Photographer | | Reply

    I definitely have to try this process. I have some images of some Angels players that I am gonna work on right now. AWESOME!

  31. Alex | | Reply

    Pictures are down :(

  32. Discount Basketball Hoops | | Reply

    Great post outlining the 6 steps involved in creating your high quality sports portraits.

  33. Rob | | Reply


    Big fan of your work but – i know i have come in at a late stage – but the pictures no longer show on your blog post of this tutorial..

    please please please can you fix this so that i can fully understand the processes you are taking.

    thanks in advance

  34. Tustnow | | Reply

    Amazingly done… But can u please elaborate more on the curves adjustment layer a little more… Thanks!!!

  35. onaltıdokuz istanbul | | Reply

    thanks for the great article. I like your post I’ll surely be peeping into it again soon!

  36. Ben Heys | | Reply

    Some really beautiful dynamic photography there and great info too – thanks for the inspiration!

  37. Juliet the model | | Reply

    Hey Dustin,

    First of all, thanks so much for explaining your procedures. As a professional model it is always interesting to find out more about these things.

    What are some of your other favorite effects? Are there any instructions you provide to your models (mostly athletes I see) to improve their poses, or do you just let them do their thing?

    Nice shots by the way.

  38. Stu | Photoshop Blog | | Reply

    […] Taken a little while back, its pretty hard lighted. Tried the best i could applying the tecniques in this step by step tutorial: dustinsnipes.com/blog/2009/01/30/tutorial-photoshop-for-7… […]

  39. On Assignment: Girls Basketball Team - DIY Photography | | Reply

    […] out there for basketball shooters so a quick research was due. I recalled an old story by Destin Snipes and knew that I wanted to get a similar gritty look. While post has lots to do with that particular […]


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