Home Restoration Tutorials Beauty/Fashion/Portrait-Retouch - The manual
Beauty/Fashion/Portrait-Retouch - The manual

Last update:  12-31-1969

Submitted by PatrickB

This tutorial is supposed to give you an overview on what to do to an image if you are aiming for the Beauty- or Fashion-look. In this tutorial I will NOT give you any special tips or instructions on the usage of tools or filters, but give you an overall impression about what needs to be done and how it should be done. It might be long and maybe seem a bit boring to read along without actually doing anything, but considering some of the points in this tutorial will sure help you to avoid common problems.

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Overall Recommendation





Expertise     7.5
Utility     8.2
Clarity     6
Relevance   5

Ok, we got our image and we want to retouch it. That's great. Now where do we start? First, we are gonna have a look at the canvas and by saying a look I don't mean look at it and then proceed, I mean real looking.

So let's start with the first look. Look at the picture from some distance, maybe two or three feet, maybe more, it's up to you. Just get an overall impression, step away from the desk as if you sit too close to the screen you won't be able to see all of the image, your eyes can't focus on such a wide range.

Try to look at it with the right side of your brain. Sounds dumb? Sure does, but this is some scientific fact I'll tell you. The human brain is  split up in two parts, the right and the left side. The left side is considered to be the logical part, it does all the mathematical stuff and such things. The right side is the creative one. The right side is also unable to talk or put things down in words, but it sure can pick up emotions and feelings. So switch your brain over to the right side and look at the image. What's the first thing that pops into your eyes? A blemish? Does the person you want to retouch look tired? Does the image give you some cold shivers? Well this is far more valuable information than you might think, it's the basic essence of retouching.

A photo is a snapshot, a still thing supposed to reflect a person, but it doesn't do that. You might be out in the sunlight with the one you love and take a photo of this person. You suppose this snapshot to be the best photo you got cause you are feeling so happy that day nothing could become better. One year later you look at the photo again and thing Oh my god, what's this? Bad colors, large blemishes all over the face, the bags under the eyes seem to be larger than the face itself and so on. Why is this? Because you have taken the photo with your heart. A person you feel in love with does not have blemishes or a bad hair-do, never looks tired. That's how it's supposed to be. But in an image, there is no information on his or her charakter, her aura, the sympathy you have for that person. So our technique is simple. We let our heart and feelings analyze the picture and the first thing that makes our feelings bad is the first thing to fix.

Are you done with the first look yet? Did you note down or well remembered the things to fix? Good, so let's take a second look. This time a little closer, focus on everything, little wrinkles, the bodyline, eyelashes etc. Focus on them, get closer to the photo, we have analyzed the overall perspective above so let's do the details. Done yet? Ok, next step.

Switch back to the left side of your brain, the logical one. We will lay our hands on the image for the first time. Start out with the color-correction in the image. When you looked at the image, was there anything wrong in the general atmosphere you felt? Yes? Well 90% of those feelings come from color. Blue casts make an image cold, red casts make it very warm. So adjust the color with curves, hue/saturation, levels, selective color, whatever too you like. Fix any unwanted casts in the picture, like a lawn casting some color on a person who is sitting there. I say unwanted, because sometimes a color cast is desired, e.g. in a picture taken at sunset you certainly want to keep the warmth of the day and the romantic atmosphere. On a cold winter night the blue casts is about the same. Now as you are done with your emotional color correction, use some numbers to check if you have made the right decisions, especially skin can be very deceiving when it comes to color-casts!

Now as you are done with the color, correct the lighting. Again, choose whatever tool you like, brightness/contrast, curves, levels. It doesn't matter what you use. Of course some tools might give you better results, but as long as you can't handle them, use the basic ones instead.

So, where are we now. We got a decent picture with good colors and great light and shadows. Now we concentrate on those things which distracted us and do them. Start out with the biggest ones and step further until you reach the tiny tiny bits which need to be done. Sometimes it can be a pain to spend much time on blemish removal or stray hair, but it's totally worth it!

In the forums you can read questions about smoothing skin almost daily. There are endless discussions on how to achieve a smooth skin and I keep reading about blur and filters and things which are just plain unnecessary. A beginners mistake, I gotta know cause I was making it myself, is to fix the giant blemishes first and then just using a sledgehammer blur to iron the smaller ones. Not good! This way you just create a big huge blob of skintone color splashed on the face with nothing that looks natural. Skin smoothing can be done very easily, all you need is time. Carefully remove every blemish in the face manually, no blur or such things. Use healing brush, clone stamp, dodge and burn, but only in tiny little steps. I cannot say this too often, be patient and learn to be even more patient. Pros spend hours and hours to do those tiny things and look on a magazine cover. Is it blurred? Certainly not.

As you are done with the blemish removal, look at the skin from some distance again. You'll notice some spots and color shifts. You fixed the blemishes but now those things become obvious, so let's fix them with some dodge and burn or whatever you like.

Finished with the skin? Ok then go for the other details. Paint in eyelashes, fix gaps in the eyebrows, do the lips, ears and whatever needs it, it's up to you. Take special care about the eyes, they are the first thing you look at so they need to be special.

In all those steps there is one thing you need to remember: Tiny little steps! Whitening eyewhites is good, making them look like an alien is a catastrophe! Painting in catchlights is good, but when the person starts to look like Vin Diesel in Pitchblack you've certainly gone too far.

So after all those steps you should have a good and decent portrait of a person. And now, after you have carefully made this image as it should be, you can start up with the creative part. Maybe you want to add some fog and give it a romantic atmosphere. Or make it rather dark to make it look creepy and frightening? It's up to you! From here you are left alone out in the dark, do whatever you want to the image, now it's yours ;)

I hope this will help you fellas to get some better results and progress in your work, I wrote this down to share some of the dirty lessons I had to experience in the process of learning. Don't worry about spending one or two days in a picture. You are not bad therefore, you are better than people doing a photo in 5 minutes with a result that has problems here and there and all over the place.

Patience is the key!