photoshop creative

Retouch a portrait with ease

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
November 11, 2015

Whether you want to make subtle changes or drastic alterations, learn how to make your edits deliberate, but not overpowering


1. Start with Camera Raw


When opening a Raw file in Photoshop, it will open Adobe Camera Raw. It has very simple controls for complex functions. Start with the balancing of tone and adjusting the colour by making global moves in the first tool panel.

2. Open as Object


Rather than pushing the Open Image button, hold down Shift to reveal the Open as Object button instead. This retains the Camera Raw functionality and settings. Once in Photoshop, you will notice the layer is now a Smart Object.

3. Make global changes first


Subtle changes can use simple masks, while large changes need more attention. Work globally at first; don’t get too involved with the details. Create quick and loose masks for the eyes, skin and blouse as you work through steps 4-6.

4. Adjust blouse saturation


The blouse is too bright; it is considered a prop, and should not be dominant. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with Colorize to slightly change the colour. Also use a Curves adjustment layer to modify the contrast and bring back lost detail in the fabric.

5. Make tonal changes


A soft and loose mask can be used to encircle the entire eye area. Using a Curves adjustment layer, brighten the eye sockets, but then darken the iris to keep the area from looking like it’s been worked too much. Again, subtlety is key. Keep it bright, but not too bright.

6. Create depth of field


Go to Filter>Blur>Iris Blur to leave the face sharp, but soften the hair and back of the head to simulate depth of field. You should also mask out the areas that are even with the face, and let those stay sharp. This will help enhance the illusion that this was an in-camera effect.

7. Graft skin


The skin under the eyes and across the nose is pretty bad, so skin grafting from another shot is necessary. Replace this section with another shot, and blend the two together. Set the layer Opacity to 75% and scale and rotate with Edit>Free Transform.

8. Match colour and tone


Return the layer Opacity to 100% and add a layer mask filled with white. Match the colour with Selective Color and tone with a Levels or Curves adjustment layer while you simultaneously paint on the mask with a soft black brush. Gradually blend the two images together.

9. Sharpen skin details


Rather than blurring the skin to smooth it out, use Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask on the skin with 100, 2, 2 to bring out the softer details barely seen. This will make bad skin look worse, but you can fix it later during the cloning step.

10. Use dual window panes


When cloning skin, use a split view of the same image with Window>Arrange>New Window. One is a close-up for the details, and one is far away for an overall view. Doing this will make it much easier to see patches of dark and light areas that need fixing.

11. Heal and clone


Start with the Healing Brush. Then go back with the Clone Stamp set to 10% Opacity. Clone a light area over a dark area, and a dark area over a light area. Pixel for pixel, pore for pore. This slow and tedious work is necessary for quality results.

12. Soften the lips


The lips have too many creases and are uneven in the top centre. Fill in the gaps with cloning techniques, the same as the rest of the skin. The lips should have a soft shimmer and not cause distraction.

13. Sharpen the skin


You may find that all the cloning makes the skin look too soft. Select all the layers and either merge them all together, or right-click and Convert to Smart Object. Create a selection of the skin and Apply Filter>Unsharp Mask 100, 1.5, 0 to pull out extra fine details in skin.

14. Adjust highlights and shadows


Light sculpting, also known as dodge and burn, can be used to manipulate the highlights and shadows to enhance the contours and focal points. Start by creating a darkening Curve, and also a lightening Curve. Fill both masks with black so the Curves effects are hidden.

15. Dodge and burn15

You can then paint on each of the masks with a white brush set to 10% Opacity. Gradually, you will be adding or removing the different tones around the face. By darkening the shadows and lightening the brights, the image will become more visually interest.