Contrast in Portraits
In many cases, a photographer wants a very sharp image. In fact, some want images tack-sharp. But does that really fit into the narrative of every image? Maybe not.
In the images above, the concept was to have a series of images by candlelight with a soft feel to it. There are of course many ways to arrive at this goal. The first image (left above) is certainly sharp enough for a typical portrait. That is to say, it is technically exposed and toned correctly for the lighting. The multiple small sources of light however create a hard lighting style. Not quite meeting the overall design concept.
One could of course drop back on the clarity, which would reduce contrast in the mid-tones. The skin would appear softer, and one may be ok with that result. The second image shows a much softer effect on the skin with less defined detail. Another option would be to select one of the blur options with a small threshold. This would of course blur the entire image, unless one took the time to carefully make a selection around the subject. With the latest version of Photoshop, the neural filters has a blur/soften option for the skin, but seems to be limited as to what may be selected.
Of course there a quite a few third party programs, actions, and pre-sets that could be used. In terms of overall workflow, the more complex the operation though, the longer it may take. In the third image above, the contrast was adjusted downward. There is a notable difference in the image tone and overall sharpness. This gives the image a different feel from either of the two posted samples above. It seems that reducing clarity increased the overall warmth/saturation of the image over the original image, while reducing contrast actually made the image less saturated, and possibly cooler. Reducing the contrast also created almost a dreamy or slightly hazy feel to it.
Depending upon the look the photographer is moving toward, it would be easy enough to slightly warm the image if desired. In the end, it is all about what feel one wants to impart to an image. One could argue points on any of the images above, however in this case the client choose the image where contrast was lowered.
The next time a romantic softer image may be desired, consider that you have many possibilities only limited by the time you spend on an image, your vision, and in some cases a clients desired final results.