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5 simple portrait retouching techniques that will knock your socks off

Added on Tuesday 26th of April 2005 11:40 pm EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Photoshop, Retouching, Blemishes, Glare, Wrinkles, Under-Eye Circles, Brighten


Obtaining a great portrait is often a challenge created by improper lighting and human physical flaws. Conquering those challenges is a cinch with these quick and simple portrait-retouching techniques.


To easily fix common portrait mishaps, we’ll:

       Brighten eyes and teeth to reduce discoloration.

       Remove deep wrinkles to reverse the aging process.

       Control harsh highlights to eliminate skin glare.

       Conceal blemishes to create a less distracting skin tone.

       Eliminate dark under-eye circles to balance out facial features.



When you don’t have much time to fuss with a lot of complex image editing, these portrait-retouching techniques are great to know. Each one involves one primary tool, doesn’t take a lot of time, and works wonderfully to eliminate some of the more common problems that the camera won’t hide.

Important setup info: For each of these techniques, we suggest that you start with a flattened file. After you open it, duplicate the layer and rename it Retouching Layer. Keep your Retouching Layer active as you work on these techniques, and toggle back and forth to view your results by clicking on the Retouching Layer’s Eye icon eye_icon. When you’re happy with your results, save a copy or simply flatten and save your file.


Dodge the whites

Our primary focus here is to brighten up the whites of our subject’s eyes and teeth. We’ll use the Dodge tool, which is a simple method that doesn’t require making a selection. We want to maintain the integrity of the shadowed areas, but remove the harsh red and yellow tints in the eyes, as shown in Figure A.




To brighten the whites:

1.          Select the Zoom tool zoom and zoom way in to the white of an eye so that you can see the troubled spot clearly.

2.          Choose the Dodge tool dodge from the Toolbox.

3.          Pick a soft brush with a small diameter from the Brush pop-up menu. We used the Soft Round 13 pixel diameter brush.

4.          Select Midtones from the Range pop-up menu.

5.          Set the Exposure to 20%.

6.          Click an area in the white of the eye, and then dodge the entire area.

As you dodge the area inside the whites, you’ll notice the whites start to brighten up more. You might need to adjust your brush as you progress depending on the area you need to cover. Remember, the eyes don’t need to be stark white; they should retain the natural shadow and highlight areas. Complete the eyes and then move on to the teeth using the steps outlined previously.


Note: For stubborn dark spots, switch the Range to Shadows, lower the Exposure to 10%, and then go over those areas gently being careful not to dodge the shadows completely out.



Wrinkle remover

If you have a portrait that looks like it needs some wrinkle removal, look no further than the Healing Brush tool. The Healing Brush tool is a great retouching tool because it blends the problem free pixels you sample with the troubled areas. Our primary goal here is to reduce the harsh deep wrinkles, not eliminate the original texture or shading, as shown in Figure B.




To remove wrinkles:

1.          Select the Zoom tool and zoom way in to isolate the problem area.

2.          Choose the Healing Brush tool healing_Brush from the Toolbox.

3.          Select Normal from the Mode pop-up menu.

4.          Click on the Brush pop-up menu and adjust the diameter of your brush to something just slightly larger than the wrinkled area you need to fix.

5.          [option]-click ([Alt]-click in Windows) on a surrounding wrinkle-free area.

6.          Paint over the wrinkles in your image using small strokes.

Keep in mind as you paint, the stroke color will look out of place, but once you release the mouse the pixels will blend in better.


Healing the troubled spots

If you run into a situation where your brush strokes are picking up pixels from the high contrasting surrounding areas as they do in Figure C, don’t despair. This is caused because the Healing Brush tool relies on the surrounding pixels to create its effect. Here’s the solution:

1.          Press [command]Z ([Ctrl]Z in Windows) to undo your undesired brush strokes. If you created more than one stroke, you’ll need to back step through the History Palette to undo your brush strokes.

2.          Select the Lasso Tool Lasso_tool and create a selection around the area you want to retouch, as shown in Figure D.

3.          Choose Select > Feather.

4.          Enter 5 in the Feather Radius text box and click OK.



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