Photoshop tutorial: modern portraits in 10 minutes

Change the tone and colour of your portrait photos in Photoshop for a modern finish. Read on to find out how to give your family and friends a magazine-style makeover…

Flick through any glossy magazine and you will be able to pick up on the latest fashion photography fads simply by looking at the adverts. One ‘look’ that’s become increasingly popular recently, especially with portraits, is characterised by muted colours and boosted contrast. We’re using a simple portrait taken in a home studio, but you can use these tricks on photos you take in much more basic set ups. In this tutorial we’ll show you how you can add this effect to your images using a cunning combination of Adjustment Layers, Blending Modes and Levels to gently subdue the colour and enhance the tones for an attractive, contemporary finish.

1. Enhance the tone

Open the image named CoolColour_before.dng from the download link above in Photoshop Elements. Go to Layer>NewAdjustmentLayer>Hue/Saturation and click OK in the window that appears. Reduce the Saturation slider to -100. This will remove all of the colour from the image, leaving you with a black and white shot.


2. Subdue the colour

Click on the Blending Modes drop-down menu at the top of the Layers palette and select Soft Light. You’ll see that some of the colour returns to the image, and you’ll also notice a slight increase in overall contrast. Changing the Blending Mode controls the way the layer blends with the layer below it. Try experimenting with different options.


3. Further adjustments

To further enhance the colour effect, click back onto the Background layer in the Layers palette, then create another Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. This time reduce the Saturation slider to -30 and leave the Blending Mode set to Normal. Click back onto the Background layer once again.


4. Make the whites white

To create a crisp white background, and give your shot a pro finish, make another Adjustment Layer – this time choosing Levels from the menu that appears. Move the right-hand Highlights slider from 255 (white) to about 200. Don’t worry that some parts of the model may look too light, as we’ll address this in the next step.


5. Using masks

When you create an Adjustment Layer, a Layer Mask automatically appears – the white box next to the Adjustment Layer thumbnail. Click on the Levels layer’s mask, then select the Brush tool and use the colour picker to choose a midtone grey as the foreground colour. Now paint back areas that are burnt out, such as the model’s arm.



6. Finishing the image

To sharpen the image, press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E. This will merge all of the layers in the Layers palette into a new layer at the top of the stack, but leave your working layers untouched. Go to Enhance>Adjust Sharpness and set Amount to 60% and Radius to 1.4. Keeping all your work on layers means you can go back and re-edit your work later.

Enjoyed this? Watch the

accompanying video

to be walked through the steps.

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