Being inundated with email newsletters I often go into auto-delete mode until I finally muster up the courage to unsubscribe. But in the split-second between being opened and meeting the same fate as its predecessors 🗑️ one email offered a glimpse of a photo that would later lead to this post.

It had a very atypical, almost surreal… dare I say it… aesthetic, much different from most of the stuff I’ve been seeing on IG today. And that was enough for me to go back and fish it out from email trash bin purgatory for a second take. A quick google search – ah, Ben Thomas, an award winning fine art photographer based out of Melbourne (apparently that’s where all famous photographers are from).

I must admit I cringed at first, but the more I browsed through his website and Instagram feed the more his work captivated me. The “flat” toning makes them look staged, kind of like the set of The Truman Show. And yet somehow the photos retain their candid, innocent, raw character.

But this blog is not about consuming content. It’s about producing something for the benefit of more than just yourself. In this spirit, I went out to snag some shots in the harsh light of early afternoon, which happens to work perfectly for the style I was hoping to recreate.

And if at this point you find yourself yawning and saying “shut up, just give me the preset,” say no more, here’s the link.

Below are several key characteristics that helped me lay the foundation for the subsequent set of edits.

  1. Minimal contrast for a “flat” look and retention of detail in both the highlights and shadows.
  2. Warm vivid pastel tones. Lots of slightly-muted cyans, saturated yellows and reds.
  3. Ideal for photos taken in the day time, typically on a sunny day.

While I do most of my edits in Lightroom you’ll be able to do the same in Photoshop if that’s your weapon of choice.

First step – play around with the lighting module, dropping the highlights and cranking up the shadows, whites and blacks. For good measure, I’ve dropped the contrast too, but only slightly as the effect will be further amplified by the tone curve.

Typically the tone curve is used to add contrast by modifying it to resemble an “S”. In this case, I decided to only do this for each individual channel separately, but then go the opposite route on the general curve affecting all RGB channels and draw an inverse “S” with a raised tail end to crush the dark tones slightly. The effect – reduced contrast, added detail and slight tonal shift, which will be further pronounced with HSL sliders.

As far as HSL, my vote has always been “less is more.” This edit certainly tested my limits, since part of what gives Ben Thomas’ photos their signature look is that pop of color. It took some tinkering across all 24 HSL sliders, but what we ended up with are values in the +/- 30 range favoring yellows, reds and cyans.

Lastly, we’ll add minor split toning adjustments, adding orange/yellow hues to both highlights and shadows, which helps add warmth to our photos in a uniform way, without messing with the white balance.

And that’s the gist! I must say, I was pretty happy with the final result. These edits certainly won’t be identical to our featured artist’s work, however, they introduce a new perspective and can always be further modified and developed into yet another unique and interesting style.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Until next time.