We show you how to apply creative lighting effects and retouches to your portrait photos in Photoshop
Retouching is a skill that we cover in Advanced Photoshop regularly, because no matter what kind of project you are working on, there will almost always be some retouching involved.
Here, we will be working on a typical model shot, straight from the camera. While the model looks great, her skin is blemished in places, there are a few wrinkles, especially on the hands, there are shiny patches and some of the amazing makeup work is cracked. Luckily, this is all fixable, but we don’t want to overdo it and make her look like an airbrushed Barbie doll. So, the key is in removing the main blemishes without losing skin texture. We also want to keep in things like freckles, as they add realism to the piece.
Once we have tidied up the skin, we will concentrate on boosting the eyes and teeth, and enhancing the makeup on the face. We will use Curves to tweak the overall dynamic range too.
As a finishing touch, we will add a gentle gold glow from one side, which warms up the image, but you could use any colour that you like for this depending on the look that you are going for.
Our image is a RAW file, so it will open in Adobe Camera Raw. It is pretty well balanced anyway, but it’s worth tweaking things like the Brightness and Contrast now so that the image is ready to start retouching when you open it in Photoshop. Make your adjustments and hit Open Image to begin.
Next we need to create a duplicate layer of the main image called Basic Retouch. Pick your Healing Brush tool and start to work over the key blemishes on the skin. Leave imperfections such as freckles and the like on the image, as these help to add overall realism. However, remove spots and smaller wrinkles to your preference.
We now need to move on to the slightly bigger areas of wrinkles. With the Patch tool selected, draw around an area that needs to be corrected. When the selection is complete, drag the whole area to a clean bit of skin to fix the wrinkles. We also use the Patch tool in the same way to remove shine, by dragging to a matte area of the skin. Tidy up any stray problems with the Healing Brush tool again.
Now we want to enhance the colourful makeup that our model is wearing. Create a new layer above the Basic Retouch layer and pick a vibrant yellow colour. Select a small, hard brush and paint over the lips and eye makeup to make it really sing. Fill in the areas where the makeup has cracked as you go. Repeat with a bright red colour on the other eye. When you’re done, set the whole layer to Soft Light.
We’re going to start whitening the teeth and eyes to make them pop. Add a Curves adjustment layer and in the Curves dialog, tweak the curve so that the whites of the eyes and the teeth are a nice shade. Don’t worry about how the rest of the image looks for now. On the layer mask, fill the whole layer with black to hide the Curves adjustment. Now, with a small hard white brush paint back in over the whites of the eyes and the teeth to make them sparkle.
We want to deepen the colour of the irises so that they help the eyes to really pop. Add another Curves adjustment layer. We will be following the same method as in the previous step. Tweak the curve so that the irises are a rich deep colour, then mask out the entire adjustment. Carefully paint back in just the irises to return the deep colour. You can tweak these two adjustment layers to get the eyes just right for your image.
We are now going to add a third Curves adjustment layer, but this time we want to tweak the overall contrast of the photo. In the Curves dialog box you’ll want to create a shallow S curve. For the image we’re using, this is enough to boost the shadows and highlights and give the whole image a better dynamic range, but some others will need a more obvious S to really make the effects come to life.
We’re going to add a wash of gold over the image to give this photo a lovely effect. Add a Gradient Fill adjustment layer. You’ll want to add a colour-to-transparent Linear gradient at an angle of around -40 degrees. The colour needs to be a soft gold for this particular piece, but you can add any colour lighting that you like. Draw the gradient from the top left corner to the bottom right so the light hits from the left-hand side.
When you are happy with the retouch up to this point, create a new merged-all layer (Cmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt+Shift+E) at the top of the Layers stack. Now go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. Set the Amount to 50% and the Radius to between 7 and 8 pixels. This should give your image just enough sharpening to still look realistic. And with that, you’re done. You can apply the same process used here to your own images. Experiment and have fun.