Tag Archives: retouching

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!

3 Easy Steps to Whitening Teeth in Photoshop

Whitening Teeth (Original)

Whitening Teeth (Original)

I recently gave a presentation to the Peoria Camera Club about digital portrait retouching, a presentation cleverly titled “Reach Out and (re)Touch Someone.” I started the presentation with a quick rundown on the five things I do to every portrait I retouch, especially when I have a few minutes to edit before a deadline.

I never realized until I was planning the presentation that I did the same things over and over for a quick retouch, but when I saw what I saw, I was delighted to share this with my fellow camera club members.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to pass some of that knowledge on to all of you. Wait a minute, though, Mike… isn’t that giving away trade secrets? Well, kind of, I guess, but to be honest, there are so many techniques and tricks to portrait retouching out there, including ones that I will never divulge (unless there is bribery in the form of chocolate involved) that I’m not that worried about it. Plus, if I recall correctly, a wise man once said “what’s the point of knowledge if you don’t pass it on?” and I like that.

Whitening Teeth - Hue/Saturation Layer Settings

So, without further ado, here are my three simple steps to whitening teeth in Photoshop!

Step One
Once you have the image you want to edit open in Photoshop, add a Hue/Saturation layer. You may also choose to duplicate the layer (CTRL + J) and do a general hue/saturation adjustment, as outlined below, and then add in a mask, but you can kill all those birds with one stone by just hitting the Hue/Saturation layer button.

Step Two
Dial -50 saturation and +10 brightness for the yellow and red channels; this will kill off the majority of the yellow on the teeth and even add in a touch of brightness to them as well. Go ahead and dial in the same settings for the blue and master channels as well. Why don’t we go to -100 saturation you ask? Well, give it a whirl, but my experience is that removing all color gives the teeth an unnatural look or even another yellow cast on the reverse end.

Whitening Teeth (Retouched)

Whitening Teeth (Retouched)

Step Three
The image will look pretty weird at this point as the adjustment layer has been affecting the entire image. We’ll fix that by selecting the layer mask and inverting it (CTRL + I). This will hide the entire adjustment from the image. With your layer mask still selected, grab your paint brush, set your foreground color to white and make sure your brush is really soft. Zoom in on the teeth and paint the adjustment back in on the teeth only.

Voila! That’s all there is to it. As you can see from the before/after images, the model’s teeth are now pearly white without a stock investment in Crest Whitening Strips!

As an added bonus, this technique works wonderfully for the whites of the eyes as well!

Touching Beautiful Women… Retouching, That Is

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques Using Photoshop by Scott Kelby | Book Cover As a portrait photographer, I spend a lot of time shooting with models of all shapes and sizes. I also invest a lot of time into not only making great images of these men and women, but retouching those images so my subjects (clients included) look their very best.

Just to stay up to date on new techniques and methods of retouching, I spend a lot of time following different photography blogs, as you can see from my blogroll on the right, and reading a lot of actual books… you know… those things you can buy at Barnes & Noble.

One of my favorite authors is Mr. Photoshop himself, Scott Kelby. When I started diving into photography, he made my list of the top 3 photographers I wanted to meet (Annie Liebovitz and Joe McNally were the others), and, last year, I actually got to attend one of his seminars where the master was teaching himself and we got to meet, chat, and even talk guitars!

Well, I recently picked up his latest retouching book, “Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques Using Photoshop,” and once again, I was blown away. Every time I read or watch Kelby retouch, I completely redesign my workflow.

Since I’ve read that book and changed my retouching workflow over the past few months with other techniques, I thought I would share my first Kelby-fied retouch with all of you, plus a small breakdown of what I did to the image.

The Analysis

Kara (6/30/11) - Original

Kara (6/30/11) – Original

One of the first things that I do when I start a retouch is to take a minute or two to really look at the image, both zoomed out and close up. I mentally “outline” what I feel needs adjusted, whether it is removing blemishes, whitening teeth, removing strands of hair, boosting colors, or anything else. After looking at the Before image here, this is what I felt needed fixin’.

  1. The refrigerator in the background was distracting.
  2. There are spaces/gaps in her bangs.
  3. Eyes could be tweaked and there were very small lines under them to remove
  4. Whiten teeth, make mouth larger, darken her lips
  5. Colors on the shirt and her underwear could “pop” more
  6. Hair looks a little bland… maybe boost color and contrast
  7. Weird shadow “pocket” on her left armpit
  8. Veins on her right arm need removed
  9. Remove engagement ring
  10. Some funky lines on the skin of her legs

Now, let me just say this. Kara is a beautiful girl and a wonderful model. There is honestly very little to retouch on her, but no matter what the model may look like, a little bit of retouching can go a long way toward making a better image. You never know… even the Mona Lisa could have had a massive pimple, but Leonardo left it out!

The Retouch

Kara (6/30/11) - Retouched

Kara (6/30/11) – Retouched

Well, this list may not seem like much, but it took me about 15 to 20 minutes total to get through this one image. What did I do to address these problems? I’ll tell ya!

  1. Background – Using the Burn tool set to “Shadows,” I just “burnt” out the distracting elements in the background.
  2. Bangs – Used a technique I learned in Kelby’s book mentioned above. Made a selection of “good” hair, feathered the selection, then threw it on its own layer and adjusted shape, rotation, etc.
  3. Eyes – Healing Brush and Clone Stamp set to 40% Lighten to remove the dark circles. Merged Layer set to Screen to brighten the eyes and the catchlights.
  4. Teeth/Mouth/Lips – Hue/Saturation layer to whiten the teeth and a Curves Layer set to Medium Contrast at 50% opacity to darken the lips a bit. To make the mouth larger, I used Kelby’s technique of putting a Lasso around the whole area, applying a Feather to the selection, then using the Free Transform to increase the size by 10%.
  5. Clothes Colors – Merged Layer set to Multiply and masked over just the tank top and the underwear. Then I brought the opacity down to where it was bright, but didn’t look unrealistic.
  6. Hair – Curves Layer set to Medium Contrast and masked over the hair plus a Hue/Saturation layer to boost the color slightly.
  7. Armpit – Patch tool
  8. Veins on Arm – Patch tool with a little Healing Brush for backup
  9. Engagement Ring – Lasso around the ring to “lock down” my selection, then used the Clone Stamp tool
  10. Leg Lines – Patch tool and Healing Brush
  11. Miscellaneous – I applied some general skin smoothing and, of course, some of my personal “trade secrets” to the overall look of the image

As you can see, a good understanding of how layers and layer masks work as well as knowing when to use the Patch, Clone Stamp, and Healing Brush tools can really go a long way in any retouch.

Stay tuned for more retouches in the future!

P.S. Feel free to comment and critique the image, but please be kind to the model.

P.P.S. A special thanks to the awesome to Mr. Photoshop, Scott Kelby, for not only allowing me to “borrow” the image of his book above, but also tweeting his response back to me directly! You gotta love social media.