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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Basic Portrait Polishing

Simple retouching steps help the client concentrate on the concept of the shot instead of the odd insignificant blemish

Basic Portrait PolishingWhen I finish a portrait photo shoot, all of the images are in a state that I consider not ready for sharing. At this stage, I'm only willing to show thumbnails to the client for reviewing composition and the general look. Before a full-sized image goes out for review, I give the photo some basic polish, or toning. Below are the few simple steps I take in Photoshop to finish each of my selected images. Once the client has made a selection, I almost always apply even more polish so that I deliver at least as good a photograph as the client expects.

I retouch all of my images myself and am happy to do so. Not only are more and more art directors asking me to deliver images this way, but it also gives me a chance to have complete control over the final look of my work and the ability to put my best foot forward.


Even with makeup and soft lighting, shiny highlights and uneven tones can show up in skin. I don't just look at the face, but the arms and legs as well. To track the work, I create a new layer from the background, label it Skin and grab the Stamp tool.

On a low opacity of about 20, I start clicking—I try to be careful with the shadow areas as I don't want to take them away while still toning down the shiny highlights. I've discovered that using the Stamp tool on a low opacity with a soft brush is better for this task. Burning down a highlight on skin can lead to dark marks instead of a natural, softer look.

This can take a while if you're working on the entire body. I sometimes shift the opacity around while I work as there are parts of the skin that need just a little work and having the stamp at a high opacity and a brush with a harder edge can be too heavy-handed.

Click the skin layer on and off to see the work you've done. If you feel that it looks too plastic, you can take down the opacity of the layer so it blends with the original image. I do this a lot because it helps the subject look more natural.

When I feel satisfied with the stamping work, I grab the Blur tool, also set at a low opacity, to begin more blending of the skin. Using the Blur tool with a soft brush at a low opacity simply helps to blend any blotchiness and make the skin look smoother. Again, after I compare that version to the original, I may take down the opacity of the layer a bit more, blending the two files together to get closer to a real but perfect look.

All of this optimization can take a bit of time and requires a “slight of hand” movement.


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