Super-soft light might make a portrait seem too flat; in this tutorial we’re going to see how to bring depth back.
To pull some extra details in the shadows, you can perform an additional RAW conversion with overexposed settings and show the new shadows with details through the mask. You could also use the Shadows/Highlights tool instead, but it might give you a bit less detail.
The first step is not strictly necessary and if you don’t have a problem with the shadow or highlight details, go straight to liquifying a copy of the original layer. You might want to carry out tasks such as adjusting jaw lines, or adding volume to hair.
Using the Healing Brush tool, Clone Stamp tool or any other tool of that kind, clean up the biggest flaws on the skin, such as big pimples, scars, hairs and so on. If needed, clean up the background as well.
An optional step is to separate the image into three frequencies, leaving most of the skin flaws in the middle frequency, then mask the problem areas out on the mask of its layer. If you have heard about the ‘inverted High Pass’ technique, this one has a similar effect.
Time for a bit of precise correction using the Dodge and Burn tools on a layer in Soft Light. If you don’t want to bother with frequency separation, you could use only dodging and burning for almost the same effect. However, its combination with frequency separation saves you a lot of time.
The hair is all in the shadows and bringing them up would give the hair more detail and volume. One of the ways to make a mask for shadows is using a channel. The red channel would work well, as it has the most contrast between the skin and the hair.
Create a new Curves adjustment layer and use the Apply Image command to load an inverted red channel into the mask of that layer. Blur the mask using Gaussian Blur with a Radius of around 95. Change the blend mode to Screen and set the Opacity to about 25%.
In conditions like these you can really bring an image to life by brightening the highlights. For that you’re going to need a mask, and one of the ways to create it is the Color Range command in the Select menu. In the Color Range window, select Highlights from the list.
Set the Fuzziness to 60% and Range to 250 and click OK. You have an active selection now, and if you create a new Curves adjustment layer, the selection would go into the mask. Change the blend mode to Screen and set the Opacity to 65%. Voila!
Mixing channels is a great way to bring a bit more contrast to the skin. Create a new Channel Mixer layer and change the blend mode to Luminosity. In the Red channel, set the red slider to 50% and the blue one to 60%.
To make the highlights a bit more pronounced, separating them from the middle tones might be a good idea. Create a new Selective Color layer, using the red channel as a mask. In Whites, set the Black slider to -3 and in Neutrals, set Black to +3.
Create a new Curves adjustment layer. Leave it in Normal mode, put a point in the middle of the RGB curve, and then bring it down between 7-9 points.
To edit the reds, create a new Hue/ Saturation layer, go to the Reds and move the Hue slider to the right by 3. To reduce reds even more and to make the yellows more clean, create a new Selective Color layer and set the Yellows to +5, 3, 6, 0, from the top down.
At this point the image has enough contrast, but not enough colour. The ideal solution would be going to Lab and pumping the colours there, but this tutorial isn’t long enough for that! Let’s stay in RGB and create a new Hue/Saturation layer. Set Master saturation to +10.
As boosting the saturation like this is a bit too much, go to the Yellows and set to -8. This way you have all the colours increased, except a part of the yellows. Now you have balanced the contrast with colour.