Photoshop Retouching: a really simple tutorial for making every portrait perfect

Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: a really simple technique for making every portrait perfect

When it comes to portraits, everyone wants to look their best. But with today’s high-resolution SLRs, every spot, blemish and flaw can appear in startling detail.

There are of course a few shooting techniques you can use to minimise these, such as bouncing light with reflectors to avoid strong shadows, and using off-camera flash to control the direction of the light to complement the model.

However, you don’t need to get bogged down with different techniques and equipment to get great portraits, because Elements has a range of tools specially designed for seamless Photoshop retouching.

Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: a really simple technique for making every portrait perfect

In this Photoshop retouching tutorial we’ll start by taking a look at how to make the most of a portrait’s colour and tone within Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), before moving onto Elements’ powerful retouching tools.

Our start image

Our start image

Taking a look at our start image, above, you can see that it has a cool colour cast, and while the overall exposure is good, the skin tones are a touch light and lacking in tonal detail. In the first few steps we’ll look at how to use Adobe Camera Raw to quickly remove this unattractive cold cast, warm the skin and adjust the exposure to create a more striking portrait with deeper skin tones and detail.

Once the raw adjustments have been made we’ll take a look at special Photoshop retouching tools in Elements and how they can be easily applied to instantly brighten eyes and teeth, as well as quickly remove unwanted spots and blemishes.

So with your portrait ready, let’s give it a go.

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Photoshop retouching made easy

Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 1

01 Correct colour casts
Open your start image, or download our photo. Open it in Photoshop and it will automatically open in the Adobe Camera Raw interface. To correct the slight cast, select the White Balance tool and click into the white of the left eye. The Temperature of the image will change to around 5100 and the Tint to -10.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 2

02 Recover shadow detail
The skin and background are looking bright now, but at the same time we want to lighten detail in the shadows. To recover some of the shadow detail, drag the Exposure slider to +0.25 and the Fill Light slider to +5. Next, to darken the image, reduce the Brightness slider to +25.

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Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 3

03 Improve tone and colour
The adjustments to the shadows have left the shot looking flat. To help increase the contrast while minimising the effect on the tones, drag the Clarity slider to +25. You’ll see how this increase improves 
the definition of the facial features. Finally, to enhance the skin colour, drag the Vibrance slider to +30.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 4

04 Open in Elements
Click Open Image in the bottom right of the ACR interface to open the file into Photoshop Elements. From the Layers menu, select Layer>DuplicateLayer and click OK, then zoom into the image (Ctrl and +) to 100%. You can check on the zoom level by looking at the bottom left, just above the Project Bin tab.

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Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 5

05 Remove spots
Hold down the space bar and left mouse-click to move the image so the forehead fills the screen. From the Tools palette, select the Spot Healing Brush and adjust its size so that it’s just larger than the spots. Click to remove each spot in turn. Once finished, move around the image to remove any other spots.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 6

06 Tackle blemishes
Moving around the image you’ll see there are a few blemishes that can’t be removed with the Spot Healing Brush. Click and hold on the Spot Healing Brush tool and select the Healing Brush instead. Hold down Alt and click just below the blemish to take a sample, then paint over the blemish to remove it.

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Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 7

07 Brighten tired eyes
Dark areas under eyes need to be lightened 
and smoothed. Go to Layer>New>Layer, select the Polygonal Lasso tool and select the area under the eye. Click Refine Edge, then set Smooth to 30 and Feather to 5. Select the Healing Brush tool and at the top of the screen select Sample All Layers.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 8

08 Remove dark patches
Make sure the new layer is selected in the Layers palette. Alt-click just below the selected area, then paint over the area, with the brush covering the dark patches. Once finished, repeat for the other eye and then lower the layer opacity to 65%. Hit Ctrl+E to flatten the layer onto the image.

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Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 9

09 Tidy the hair
The skin is looking better, but a few hairs need tidying. Select the Spot Healing Brush and move around the image, pinpointing stray hairs that fall across the face, plus a few in the background. To remove the grey hair that stands out from the rest, select the Healing Brush to get a better blend.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 10

10 Whiten eyes
Select the Polygonal Lasso tool and ensure you have Add to Selection clicked. Select the white areas of both eyes, then hit Refine Edge. Set Smooth to 30 and Feather to 2. Go to Layer>NewAdjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation and from the drop-down menu select Red and reduce Saturation to -60.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 11

11 Lighten the whites
Hold down Ctrl on your keyboard and click on the Hue/Saturation layer’s Layer Mask. You’ll see the selection you previously made reappear. Go to Layer>NewAdjustmentLayer>Levels and move the Highlights slider to the left so that its value reads 200, lightening the whites of the eyes.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 12

12 Brighten the teeth
Grab the Polygonal Lasso tool. Select the teeth, then Refine as before. Go to Layer>New AdjustmentLayer>Hue/Saturation. Select Yellow, then  set Saturation to -80 and Lightness to +15. Reselect the teeth as in step 11. Go to Layer>NewAdjustment Layer>Levels. Move the Highlights slider to 230.

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Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 13

13 Deepen the lip colour
Click back on the image layer, then select the Healing Brush. Reduce the brush size to 40px and set Opacity to 20%. Alt-click to pick a source area, then smooth out any dry areas. Pick the Sponge tool, set Mode to Saturate and Flow to 5%, then use it to deepen the colour. Select Layer>FlattenImage.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 14

14 Smooth the skin
Duplicate the Background layer. Go to Filter>Noise>Median and set Median to 20, then Filter>Blur>GaussianBlur and set Blur to 3. Create a Levels Adjustment Layer and drag it below the image layer. Press Alt, drag the cursor between the layers, then click when the cursor changes.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 15

15 Reveal detail
Select a black brush and click on the Levels layer’s mask. Use the brush on the background, hair, eyes and lips to remove the effect of the Median layer. Reduce the Opacity of the brush to 20% and carefully paint over the delicate facial features. Now reduce the layer’s Opacity to 30%.


Photoshop Retouching Made Easy: step 16

16 Sharpen detail
Select Layer>FlattenImage. Grab the Lasso tool and select Add to Selection. Draw around the eyes, eyebrows, teeth and the edge of the hair. Refine the edge by setting Smooth to 30 and Feather to 5. Go to Enhance>AdjustSharpness and set Radius to 1.2 and Amount to 60%. Click OK to finish.


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