How to retouch a portrait.
We’re all aware that celebrities and models are retouched to within an inch of their lives but until I started using Photoshop I didn’t realise just how easy it is to entirely change someone’s features. Good retouching though is an art and a science and one that I’ve not yet mastered, but since I shoot primarily self-portraits I’d be crazy if I didn’t at least know how to pretty myself up a bit.
Everyone’s method for retouching is slightly different but here’s the workflow that currently works for me:
- A quick note on compositing and retouching before we get started. My image this week had fairly bad lighting. My neck has weird shadows and there is an eyelash shadow under my right eye. I could have retouched these areas but I thought it would be easier to find other photos from the shoot where these shadows were less of an issue and mask them over the problem areas in the main image. You can also try mirroring features as covered in last week’s tutorial.
- Make a copy of your background (Ctrl/Cmd J). If your portrait is made up of different layers as mine was, group the layers (Ctrl/Cmd G), make a copy of the group (Ctrl/Cmd J) and merge the layers together (Ctrl/Cmd E).
- Load your healing brush tool which we will use to fix blemishes and wrinkles just as you would with concealer. Hopefully you’ve used either this or the clone stamp tool before and are familiar with how they work, but if not, you need to sample a smooth area of skin that is a similar colour to your problem area by holding down Alt/Opt and clicking the clean spot. Then you paint over your problem spot. If the brush accidentally clones things you don’t want, just undo (Ctrl/Cmd Z) and try again. Paint over all your problem spots this way, remembering to resample often. Use discretion when removing scars and moles because they are part of someone’s appearance. Rename the layer you’ve been working on to ‘healing’.
- Now for frequency separation! Duplicate your healing layer twice. Rename the layer directly above it ‘colour’ and the one above that ‘texture’. Turn off the eyeball next to the texture layer and apply a blur to the colour layer using Filter>Blur>Surface Blur. Adjust the sliders just enough so that the detail starts to smooth out and lose clarity.
- Turn the texture layer back on and highlight it. Go to Image>Apply Image and in the layer drop down box choose the ‘Colour’ layer. Apply the settings from the image below. What this does is analyse the two layers and subtracts out what is different – which is the texture – so you’re left with a layer containing ONLY the texture from your image. When finished with the dialogue box change the blend mode of this layer to ‘linear light’.
- Now for the part I struggle with the most – applying foundation and contouring. Skin generally has blotchy colours so we need to even out the transition between these colours but also be mindful of the areas where the face has contour and enhance these. For example, in this image I want to soften the gradation of dark to light on my cheek, add more highlights to the ridge of my nose to even out the bump, take the redness out of my chest and just generally make the skin look more even. SO, with the colour layer selected choose a soft brush (b) and change the brush’s opacity to 10%. Sample a skin tone colour you wish to paint with (Alt/Opt click) and then paint over the area of colour variation to even it out. Don’t go overboard though because you want to keep the face’s natural shape and not make it look like a flat surface. It took me much experimenting to get this right so take your time with it and resample often. If you’re really struggling I’ve seen another method for this which is to lasso areas of skin, feather the selection A LOT and then add a small Gaussian Blur to smooth out the colour differences. The beauty of doing this technique on the colour layer is that because we have a texture layer, any changes you make to the colour layer only affect the colours and leave the textures intact.
- Add a curves layer and create a very soft S curve to put a little contrast into the skin and even out the skin tones further.
- If you’re noticing that the texture of the skin is still too pronounced (for example, if your subject has quite large pores) you can paint with the blur tool on a low setting to blur these areas a little more. Zoom right in while you do this to ensure that the blur isn’t too obvious.
- Decide if you need to reshape any of your subject’s features and if so head to Filter>Liquify. The main tools to use here are the ‘Forward Warp’ tool which allows you to very gently push and pull features around (good for things like minimising waist lines or smoothing flyaway hair). The bigger the brush size the broader (and more convincing) the change. The ‘Pucker’ tool makes things smaller so with a brush just big enough to cover the area you wish to reduce, tap a couple of times until you’re happy. I use this on my nose. The ‘Bloat’ tool does the opposite to the ‘Pucker’ tool and is good for areas like lips. You can use the undo shortcut in this dialogue box at any time if you go too far. I’m sure there are other useful Liquify tools but I’ve never used them. Press OK when you’re done.
- Make two new layers and label them ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’. Set the blend mode for both to overlay. Load a soft brush tool with white and change its opacity to 10%. Paint over any areas of light to make them even lighter. Areas to concentrate on are: the bridge of the nose, under the eyes and the top of the cheeks, the eyeballs and iris and the middle of the lips.
- On the burn layer change the brush to black and paint over dark areas to make them darker. Concentrate on the cheekbones, the sides of the nose, eyelashes and brows, pupils, on the neck under the chin and around the hairline.
The point of dodging and burning is to further contour the face and add contrast and sharpness. It’s similar to the contouring technique used by makeup artists because it flatters and enhances facial features. In this example photo I’ve used this technique to enhance my shoulder bones, painting black on dark areas and white on light areas to make them more pronounced. If you feel your dodge and burn is making your image look cartoonish lower the opacity of your layers a touch.
- If you wish to add makeup to your subject add a new layer and change the blend mode to colour. Select a colour and paint over the lips, the eyes or the cheeks. Reduce opacity if needed or add a hue/saturation layer to change the colour and intensity.
- If you didn’t capture any catch lights in the subject’s eyes you can add your own with a small, medium hardness, white brush. Just dot in a spot of light on each pupil. Heal any blood vessels on the eyeballs using the healing brush. You can then enhance brows and lashes by drawing in more hair with a very small hard brush if you need. And you’re done!
I had two goals for this week’s image: to try and recreate the look Paul Apal’kin uses in his portraits, and to create a scene similar to a print I bought a few year’s back off Etsy by TheNebulousKingdom.
I failed at both goals. I did a very rough mock up of Paul’s technique in Lightroom but when adding the animals I discovered that my stock were all shot at different angles in different light and I couldn’t work them into my hair successfully. Eventually I just started throwing images into Photoshop to see if something would stick. I hate this period of experimentation but I love it when an image begins to take shape. In this case I loaded a photo I shot out of the window of a moving train window and I liked the way the mountains followed the shape of her hair. So I started to bring in more shots from the same train journey, building up a mountainous scene and sprinkling some animals throughout for interest. The composited animals are way too large for the scene but when an image is this fanciful you tend to get away with a bit more thankfully!