Portraiture Basics

Simple Retouching
Photoshop Techniques
Don’t go too far with your portrait retouching. By Peter Eastway.
One of the ways you can differentiate the quality of your portrait photography from the average snapshot is to ‘retouch’ it with Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom or Photoshop Elements. Retouching used to be (and still is) almost as much of an art as taking the portrait itself. In the early days, brushes, inks, dyes and scapels were used to correct prints and negatives in the quest for the perfect complexion. Today the approach is similar but the tools are much more accessible. Retouching is necessary for a variety of reasons. In the case of the portrait here, the young boy didn’t normally carry the battle-scars from riding too quickly on his scooter (the small grazes between the eyes), so it was appropriate to ‘retouch’ them out. On the other hand, if a subject has a birthmark or freckles which are as much a part of them as their hair colour, it is probably not appropriate to retouch them. Sometimes this aspect of retouching can be tricky because you, as the photographer, might not necessarily know whether a client wants a mole or eye wrinkles removed. If in doubt, ask. And be as diplomatic as possible! There are different levels of retouching. Photographs seen in glamour and fashion magazines are usually extensively retouched, but generally this is not appropriate for family portraiture. A fashion shoot may demand a highly finished result, but a familiy portrait is better served with a more natural look. And that means less retouching.

Technical Details: Canon 1Ds Mark III with 50mm f1.0 lens, ISO 100, 1/1350 second at f1.4, hand-held.

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spots are hidden. Boys will be boys and when shooting family portraits you’ll often be asked to remove unwanted grazes and scratches. fixes the problems. it’s even easier with the Spot Healing Brush Tool. The Hardness should be left at 100% in most situations and the other settings can also be left at their default positions for most portrait retouching. and for Photoshop CS3 and later. it might be a pimple or two. there will be occasions when reverting to the Clone Stamp tool is necessary.72 betterphotoshoptechniques16 Portraiture Basics Simple Retouching Small grazes. lines and wrinkles can be removed from subjects’ faces easily with the Spot Healing Brush Tool – most of the time. if you weren’t careful. You may have to press J several times as it rotates through four different tools. Photoshop is pretty good at guessing what needs to be fixed and the correction is made instantly. There are six settings to consider with the Spot Healing Brush Tool. The Spot Healing Brush Tool is the easiest to use – just select it from the Toolbar. Sometimes this would involve the Clone Stamp Tool which would sample an area of ‘good’ skin and cover up an area of bad skin. but you might only change the Diameter (the size of the brush).] 72 Keyboard shortcuts for this technique: Press J to select the Spot Healing Brush Tool. crinkles dissolved. [Prior to the Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush. pimples. the edges of the ‘stamp’ could be easily seen and extra remedial work was necessary. However. The Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush tools do all the remedial work automatically – most of the time. . LIke the Healing Brush (discussed next). retouchers would employ a variety of methods. many of these are not difficult to fix with Photoshop. size the brush appropriately (shown here) and brush over the affected areas. For older children. generally. scratches. Grazes are erased. while for parents it can be unwanted wrinkles and lines. Fortunately. However. the Spot 01 Healing Brush Tool samples the pixels near the area being worked on and.

don’t select a shadow area to copy from. texture and lighting.When sampling a ‘good’ area (green circle) for the Healing Brush to use when correcting a ‘bad’ area. set the Hardness of the brush to 100% (click the arrow next to the Brush size icon at the top of the screen to access the brush menu) and set the size so it is apppropriate to the size of the area to be fixed. a little bit of practice will soon have you removing simple facial problems like a professional. With the Healing Brush Tool. To use the Healing Brush Tool. Fortunately. The difference 02 between the tools is mainly in their operation. let go of the Alt/ Opt key and paint over the problem area – either clicking or dragging the mouse. With portraits. Note the ‘Aligned’ tick box on the top menu panel. The Headling Brush Tool and the Spot Healing Brush Tool will very often produce a result that is identical. In other words. when retouching a highlight area. you need to show it the area you wish to copy from before you start your retouching. However. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and click a ‘good’ area nearby (as described previously). www. tone and texture. don’t select an area that also has a pimple because you aren’t going to solve your problem. . Similarly. you will find times when the Spot Healing Brush Tool doesn’t seem to work properly and Adobe seems to acknowledge this by keeping the standard Healing Brush Tool in reserve. it’s a good idea to copy from an area of skin with similar colour. but you can ask it to always sample the same area by unchecking it. to fix a pimple. Normally this is checked so the Tool resamples different areas each time you apply the Healing Brush Tool.betterphotoshoptechniques. The Spot Healing Brush Tool is great because Photoshop does everything for you automatically. You may have to press J several times as it rotates through four different tools. select an area that has a similar colour.com 73 Keyboard shortcuts for this technique: Press J to select the Healing Brush Tool.

holding down the Alt/Opt key. Now use the Dodge tool to gentle lighten the bags under the eyes. Here’s how: To start. Then you select the colour from the surrounding skin and 74 brush it back in. or with the Healing Brush Tool as mentioned previously. Lines and wrinkles can be handled the same way. The best way – which does require a little practice – seems to be an older technique that combines the Dodge Tool and the Brush Tool. sample some well-coloured skin on the cheek. reduce the opacity of this retouching layer so that a hint of the shadows can be seen below. The result should be spectacular! As this is a family portrait and we don’t usually want a ‘perfect’ face. switch to the Brush Tool and. . 03 The theory behind the technique is to use the Dodge Tool to lighten the ‘black’ areas so they are the same tone as the surrounding skin. Next. even though they will be a different colour. you may chose to save your work. To retouch the ‘black bags’ under a subject’s eyes can be quite difficult. just brush away until the tones are even and the shadow has disappeared. And then set the Exposure between 5% and 10% – you want to do this very gradually. flatten the image and then save it again as a new file for the next steps. Also set the range to Midtones. This is just another retouching technique to use. Change the blending mode on the Brush tool to Color and now brush in the colour over the area you’ve just lightened. but be prepared to experiment with Shadows as well. When you’re happy with your skin retouching. Don’t worry about colour differences. others don’t seem to notice them as most of us have them! A combination of the Dodge Tool and a Brush in Color blending mode are used to carefully remove the black areas and replace them with better quality skin. make a copy layer as insurance (you can delete it and start again if necessary). Select the Dodge Tool and set it to a small brush size with zero hardness (soft). Rarely do the Healing Brush or Patch Tools work. and nor does the Clone Stamp Tool get it quite right.74 betterphotoshoptechniques16 Portraiture Basics Simple Retouching Some people really hate seeing the black bags under a subject’s eyes.

change the blending mode from Normal to Screen. Just press OK and then in the Layers palette (see above).betterphotoshoptechniques. What we’re trying to ensure is that our starting point has a good range of tones and natural colours. Let’s lighten it up. click on the Auto button and then click on OK. Photoshop in the previous step has left the image a little dark. but don’t make any adjustments to the curve. Add a second Curves adjustment layer. www.04 Let’sget to work on the portrait itself. This is an optional step because the file you’re working might already be very good.com 75 . Do this by adding a Curves Adjustment Layer (Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and when the Curves dialog opens. Perhaps influenced by the white shirt. It can be worthwhile asking Photoshop to do an Auto Levels command. Now move the Opacity slider until you have the effect that looks best – in this example we have chosen an opacity of 59%. This will lighten the image. 05 It’s important for family portraits like this to be bright and fresh.

so reduce it by adjusting the layer opacity. Next. The image will lighten. Next.76 betterphotoshoptechniques16 Portraiture Basics Simple Retouching 06 The eyes are the most important part of a portrait and there are four things to consider. The image will darken. paint carefully around the edges of the pupil. change the blend mode to Multiply. In this case a setting of 51 % was used. Instead. In this case a setting of 14% was used. and. change the blend mode to Screen. ensuring the foreground colour is white. this step will be dependent on the natural colour of the pupils – you don’t want to change the colour or make the eyes look different to their natural state. so reduce it by adjusting the layer opacity. 76 Keyboard shortcuts for this technique: text . Now. the edges of the pupil can be darkened to produce additional contrast between the whites of the eye and the colour inside the pupil (this works best with lighter coloured pupils). Next. Instead. Again. select the Brush Tool. set it to 0% Hardness (soft). the effect is usually too strong like this. Again. The image will now darken back down and no effect is visible. To achieve this effect. They will darken up. but make no curve adjustment. re-select the Brush Tool. merely enhance them. add a Curves Adjustment Layer (as per the previous step). 07 Next step is to lighten the pupils themselves. paint carefully over the pupils. very small (2 to 20 pixels). but make no curve adjustment. click on the mask attached to the adjustment layer (just to be sure it’s active) and press Ctrl/Cmd + Delete to turn the mask black (assuming your foreground and background colours are white and black respectively). click on the mask attached to the adjustment layer and press Ctrl/Cmd + Delete to turn the mask black (assuming your foreground and background colours are white and black respectively). They will lighten up. First. ensuring the foreground colour is white. enlarge it a little bit and. Another Curves Adjustment Layer is added (called Pupils in this example). The image will now lighten up and no effect is visible. Usually the effect is too strong like this.

The beauty of doing each of these adjustments separately is that you can play around with each layer’s opacity until you get exactly the result you want. so the layers make it a lot easier to fix up. In this case a setting of 33 % was used. Don’t over-do this effect. A Curves Adjustment layer is added (called Catchlights in this example) with no curve adjustment and the blend mode set to Screen. Older subjects may have some further skin smoothing. Re-select the Brush Tool. repeat the process from Step 7 (adding a curves adjustment layer.08 To lighten the whites of the eyes. the effect is usually too strong like this. Again. so a pure white will look unnatural in a family portrait context. but generally it’s best not to overly retouch a portrait or you will lose the ‘naturalness’ of the image. They will lighten up. but generally you’re better off using existing catchlights and lightening them. You may find when you revisit your handiwork the following day that you have either underor over-cooked your subject. It’s a different matter for a highly retouched fashion portrait. with experience you may make these adjustments to the image file itself. The whites of our eyes aren’t really white. but a cream colour. As in the previous steps. certainly for a natural looking portrait.com 09 The final step is to enhance the ‘catchlights’.betterphotoshoptechniques. click on the mask attached to the adjustment layer and press Ctrl/Cmd + Delete to turn the mask black. www. so reduce it by adjusting the layer opacity. This is as far as we will take retouching for this example. and paint over the catchlights. The image will lighten. although using actions there’s no reason this technique can’t be just as quick. setting the blending mode to screen) and paint in the corners of the eyes to lighten them. Compare the eyes at the beginning of Step 6 to the final result here. adjust its size to match the existing catchlights (ensuring the foreground colour is white). 77 . Some photographers add false catchlights by selecting a soft white brush and painting directly onto the eye. However.

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