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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Basic Portrait Retouching with Adobe Photoshop

Post-processing of your photos is a vital element in the photography workflow. Luckily in this information and technology age this process is made fairly straightforward with powerful applications like Adobe Photoshop providing an in-depth myriad of options and capabilities to help you get your images looking the best they can be. 

In this short, but hopefully helpful article we would like to give you some pointers on adding a touch of magic to your portrait shots.
The tool names in the article are representative of those in Adobe Photoshop; however the techniques can be applied in many software suites. Consult your manual for the appropriate similar tools in your preferred software.
Find a recent portrait shot you’d like to improve; if possible use a RAW format file so you have the most data available for editing and let’s get started!



1. Check Your White Balance. Do the skin tones present in the photograph look natural? While you may have adjusted your settings in-camera, sometimes indoor lighting can be difficult to balance correctly. If your white balance needs adjusting, a simple way of doing this is as follows:

Click “Add level adjustment layer” by going to Layer – New Adjustment Layer - Levels and select “Auto”. Did this work? Sometimes it won’t do much of anything to improve your image. If that is the case we need to go deeper (and this will likely yield a better result anyway!).

Use the three “eyedropper” icons to pick the black, grey and white samples from your photo. Typically you can get away with simply using the black and white tonal value selectors, but if you find your images still requires further adjustment try picking grey as well. For these finer adjustments, hit up Image – Adjust – Hue/Saturation and make your finer adjustments to the colour there, paying attention to the overall tones in the image – if it starts looking a little too cool or warm bring the levels back slightly until you find a natural look.




2. Spot healing and skin softening. Everyone, even the big stars have skin marks and imperfections. Take a high-resolution photo of a face and they will often show up quite prominently. If you’d like to mask these a little, there are a couple of things you can do.

Spot healing tool (In the expandable Band-Aid icon on the tool panel) – This is a handy tool for removing blemishes, acne scars and other marks on the face. Don’t go completely nuts with it – just dab it over the real imperfections, don’t go removing every line and freckle as not only will the overuse give the image a plasticky look, it will remove the unique features of the face and the natural structure.

If you simply want to improve the appearance of something, such as a hairline with deep follicles or a mole, the clone tool can be a better option. Adjust the opacity for a more translucent effect that works well for natural blending of skin areas.

Skin softening – Everyone loves to look smooth and young, but overdoing this in the editing process will alter the natural look of the model – refining and softening the skin will give the face a lovely glow, but do keep it realistic or the person will look like a wax dummy. Less is more. Here’s a quick way:

First, duplicate the layer (Command+J on Mac, Control+J on PC).

Then invert that layer (Command+I/Control+I).

Add a “high pass” filter to the layer. You can do this by hitting Filter – Other – High pass. Use around setting 5. Hit “OK” and set the blending for the layer to “overlay”. Right now it may look quite scary, but we are not done yet.

Add “Gaussian Blur” by hitting Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur and set this to half of the High pass filter setting, so 2.5 for the sake of this example. This should have it looking better.

If you like, you can now add a layer mask and work the face detail like lips and eyes back into the image if you have already worked on them.




3. Clean up the eyes. Perhaps the model still has glassy morning eyes, and some people simply have a redder look to their eyeballs in general. If you’d like to make them stand out by making the whites a little whiter, do the following:

Add a new blank layer (Perhaps change the name to something like “eyeball clean up”).

Change the blend mode to “Color”.

Pick the brush tool and ensure the opacity setting is around 50%.


Hold the ALT key down and pick some “good” white from the eye as a sample. 

(ALT+click on the good sample).

Paint the vessels and blotches with the brush tool.


Adjust the opacity of the layer if you find it looks a little overcooked.




And there you have it! Three tips for improving your portraits.

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