Portrait retouching manual and bonus links

It is not to easy to find lessons or tutorials how Pro prepare images of models for  magazines and advertising. I try to accumulate information what I  learn from different professional retouchers in this tutorial.

I do not pretend to “guru” status, you can correct me. I just want to learn how to do sublime retouching and post-production and share my knowledge with you.

This is an example of fast work-flow for a portrait retouching and post-production for print or web. If you like to learn this process in more details you can find a bonus links below.

Mouse Over to see Before and After

Portrait retouching and post-production lesson

Portrait retouching and post-production lesson

1 step. Clean Skin

Convert image from camera RAW, duplicate layer and start most important part of retouching using Healing Brush Tool. Holding ALT key (Option) pick up similar area of the skin and replace a problem area. Be sure the photo is open full size 100% or even more: 200%, 300%. More time you will spend on this part of work, best quality picture you will have at the end.

So, my suggestion is do not try to save time on this part of retouching, you can skip any later steps except this one. This is important.

I used these brush parameters:

Screen shot of healing brush parameters

Screen shot of healing brush parameters

The size of brush you can quickly change by using “[" and "]” keys

I spent about 40 minutes to achieve this result for a whole face. For the perfect result you may need to spend a whole day. Everything depends on how the image will be used:
For advertising print you need more time and better quality than for upload for web image.

Mouse Over to see Before and After

Portrait skin retouching close crop

Portrait skin retouching close crop

2 step. Even Skin

Now I want to make smoother skin under the eyes and nasolabial folds:

  • Duplicate last layer  and choose  Screen on blending option menu.
  • Add Layer Mask with holding Alt (Option) key.
  • Pick Brush Tool very soft, 15% Opacity and 25% Flow and brush dark circles under the eyes and all dark areas you like to be more lighter.
  • The same procedure (start from duplicate layer) we are going to do for darkening light areas, only difference is blending option make Multiply.
Screen shot for even skin

Screen shot for even skin

3 step. Soft Blur Skin

  • Duplicate layer/Filter/Blur/ Gaussinal Blur
    I select radius 30. Now you should link up your brain and eyes and play with the numbers:-). Sometimes you will need radius to be 20 (for full body) sometimes 60 for hi res close-up portrait.
  • Applying a noise. Create a new layer and full it with 50% Gray
    Filter/Texture/Grain(grain type – enlarged)
    For this image I’ve  used parameters Intensity 30% Contrast 30%
  • Image/Adjustments/Desaturate, blending options - Overlay
  • Layer/Create Clipping Mask
  • Change opacity of blurred layer 20-30% (my choice is 25%)
  • Add Layer Mask for blurred layer with holding Alt (Option)
  • And than paint over the skin with a very soft brush avoid eyes areas, eyebrow, lips, paint over only skin.

Screen shot blur skin

Screen shot blur skin

4 step. Glare and shadows for adding picture a radiance and voluminosity.

  • Duplicate layer, blending option Screen,
  • Add Layer Mask with Alt (Option) holding and paint glare where you like using very soft, almost transparent brush. I did it little bit on cheeks and the forehead.
  • For shadows repeat this part with blending option Multiply. I painted small shadows under cheeks to accentuate cheek-bone.

5 step Brightening eyes and teeth.

Duplicate layer, apply blending option ScreenAdd Layer Mask with Alt (Option) holding…(looks very similar to previous step, isn’t?:-). There are many methods to retouch photographs, different combinations and using tools, but these steps basically the same. Now I choose to do it  using layer masks and blending options, somebody use masks and curves, somebody use dodge and  burn tools, and somebody plug-ins. This is up to you:-)

OK, paint eyes and teeth and move opacity slider to 20-30%.

Portrait retouching eye teeth brightening

Portrait retouching eye teeth brightening

6 step. Adding contrast to image

Duplicate layer/Image/Adjustments/Curves

Screen shot curves

Screen shot curves

In some cases we can add shine to hair using this step and apply mask only for hair, now I will skip this part.

7 step. Sharpening

- If you prepare the image for printing I recommend  use High Pass Filter.

Duplicate Layer/Filter/Other/High Pass

I apply radius 2.4 and blending SoftLight (you can try Overlay and see, if you like the result). Play with Opacity if you like.

- If your photo for web the best way to use Smart Sharpen

Resize the Image/Filter/Sharpen/Smart Sharpen…

My options for this image – Amount 500, Radius  0.2

And this is the final image:

Portrait retouching lesson

Portrait retouching lesson

More photos with this retouching you can see in my another post: Studio portrait photography with color gels

Thank you for reading. I hope this lesson will helpful for YOU. Any feedback and suggestions are very welcome!

Atlanta  photographer Alex Koloskov

And bonus links about skin and hair retouching:

DVD Video Lessons:

Free tutorials:

The best retouching forum RetouchPRO

6 comments to Portrait retouching manual and bonus links

  • [...] Re: i need a workflow for softening skin This is my tutorial. Hope it will helpful: http://www.perfectphotoblog.com/port…ng-manual/974/ [...]

  • [...] Smart sharp portrait retouching [...]

  • Thank you for mentioning my tutorial on your web site:-)

  • I quoted for retouching job recently for a Couture Fashion firm, all they did was send a very general email to me and some low res samples. What they didn’t say however was how they were going to be used or if the files they sent were for just a quick proof of skill, what format they were going to be printed therefore It was impossible to quote on this job. Its very important in this industry to know this, you can then quote accordingly. There no point in spending the whole day retouching an image it its only going to be used in an A5 catalogue. So good point in step 1. So far ive not heard from them again, when asked the above questions.

  • Good basic workflow you describe here.

    One suggestion: An Adjustment Layer (eg Curves) with no adjustments made and then set to use a Blending Mode works exactly like merging a copy of the layers together and then setting that merged layer to the Blending Mode. The advantages of using an Adjustment Layer instead of merging the layers into a new layer are: 1) file size is smaller, and 2) greater flexibility in case you need to go back and tweak the underlying layers.



  • Thank you, Dennis. I’ll try it.

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