As a photographer you have the ability to be as creative as you want when taking and post processing your images. That is how you create your style and how people can recognize your work in a crowd of other images from other photographers. The way I edit, specifically, my black background images is very artsy, bold and eye catching. I enjoy applying my creative side to a photo and tastefully bringing out every detail which creates a painted effect.
SETTING UP MY SHOT
The picture taking process is just as important as the post processing. I use a dark isle way making sure all light and doors behind the horse are turned off and shut. I then place the horse at the threshold of the barn doorway and choose a doorway that does not have harsh sunlight beaming into the alley way. This is the best possible location and setting to execute this look. When I am ready to take the shot I expose for the horse using my exposure meter which will automatically darken the background. I tend to sometimes under expose a stop or two so that I am keeping that background as dark as possible for easier editing later. My aperture stays between f2.5 and f4 depending on what lighting I'm working with that day. I adjust my shutter speed at the highest I can which is usually around 1/500-1/700 and I try to keep my ISO below 400.
Step One - I open my image in Photoshop and in camera raw I adjust brightness contrast and white balance as needed to my subject. I want to make sure the horse has a good amount of contrast.
Step Two - I go in and use my patch tool to remove any blemishes or any other distracting marks such as eye boogers. I will also remove any leads, reins and also clean up the floor in this step as well.
Step Three- I duplicate my layer and begin selecting my horse using the quick selection tool getting as precise as I can. I will not use select and mask.
Step Four - After everything is selected I will click the "create a mask" icon. This separates the horse from the background. I then add a solid black color layer below the masked horse layer and click on the layer mask. If the image is of the full horse I use my gradient tool and make a line from the bottom of the image up to a little passed the hooves which creates a nice even transition from the floor to black.
Step Five - I with then click on the layer mask above of the masked horse and take a small soft brush to clean up all my edges all the way around the horse the way that I like making sure I did not miss anything.
Step Six - I will then start Dodging and Burning the horse using levels and a layer mask. I use a soft brush on a low flow between 10-20% and hit all the big and little highlights and shadows adjusting the size of my brush as necessary.
Step Seven - Eyes are done separately but the same way. I brighten the catch light as well as the lower part of the eye to add some dimension so you are drawn right in. I will add back some color as well using a solid color layer and masking the area I need color and bringing my opacity down so it is not over powering.
Step Eight - The last few steps are about getting that color just right. I will de-saturate the blues so the blacks are truer as well as fix any odd color casts or chromatic aberration which I usually get around the bit.
Step Nine - I will use a custom gradient map and change the blending mode to soft light adjusting the opacity of the layer to somewhere around 15%. It adds overall contrast and evens out the horses color.
Step Ten - Make sure you look at your before and after image and fix anything that you might have missed. Because I edit in a non-destructive way, any changes that I need to make are usually a very simple fix.
STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA IMAGES
(Not the best lighting behind the horses but I made it work for what I had!)