Portrait Retouching: Brian & Kirsten

It’s been a very long time since I’ve featured some of my portrait retouching skills and techniques and I thought it was about time to get that ball up and rolling once again. Whether you are a client or another photographer just dipping your toes into the water, it’s important to understand the power of portrait retouching and how/when to use it properly. Here’s a breakdown of the simple edits I’ve done to this couples portrait of Brian and Kirsten from a few years ago.


Portrait Retouching - Kirsten & Brian (Original)

Kirsten & Brian (Original)

To start, I do a quick inventory of the image and make mental notes on things that could be “tightened up.” The key to a good portrait retouching is to keep it subtle.

Unlike those in the media who have recently come under fire for totally reshaping bodies and faces in Photoshop, I aim to bring out the best in my subjects without destroying that which makes them unique.

Right out of the gate, there really wasn’t all that much to this image to retouch. Here’s my quick list:

  • Minor blemishes
  • Hair over Kirsten’s forehead
  • Noticeable part in Kirsten’s hair
  • Eyes in shadow


After making the mental inventory, I dive right in. Here’s my usual order with the Photoshop tools used for

Portrait Retouching - Kirsten & Brian (Retouched)

Kirsten & Brian (Retouched)

each. For the sake of brevity, I’m leaving out some minor things I do with eyes, teeth, skin, etc., but here are the big strokes.

  1. Whiten teethhue/saturation layer
  2. Remove blemishes – healing brush and patch
  3. Remove hair from forehead – healing brush and patch
  4. “Darken” part in hair – Curves layer, set to Darker, Luminosity blend mode, opacity around 10-20% (may do this more than once to reduce even more)
  5. Brighten eyes – duplicate layer, Screen blend mode, opacity around 10-25%
  6. Smooth skin – duplicate layer, Gaussian Blur filter set to 25, opacity around 15-25%, and masked to those areas that need to be smooth; avoid eyes, nostrils, lips, and detail areas


Portrait Retouching - Kirsten & Brian (Before & After)

Kirsten & Brian (Before & After)

When the portrait retouching is all wrapped, I look at the overall product and ask myself, “Does this tell the ‘story’ I want to tell?” If I feel the story could be told even better with a little artistic polish or technique, then I go for it.

In this case, I felt that the background, while out of focus, could still distract the viewer from Kirsten and Brian. That’s why I used one of my favorite techniques to throw a subtle, but effective vignette around the edges (tutorial to come).

By darkening the colors in the background, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the brightest part of the photograph. In this case, that would be Kirsten and Brian’s faces and eyes… perfect!

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