Behind The Retouching | John Ross
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Running Time: 28 minutes
I’m here to walk you through what goes on in an actual beauty retouching session. For those who want to see my thought process as I go through my images, you’ve come to the right place. This short but highly informative session will give you valuable insights and professional tips and tricks that you won’t learn by simply watch a how-to video. This is less about the how, and much more about the why.
In this image for Advanced Photoshop Magazine #132, I will be taking you through an in-depth look at how I work and why I do what I do. Because summarizing my techniques into a few pointers for an article just won’t do, I’m going to break down every detail of my workflow so that you can see how I came up with my final photo.
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For those who want to see my thought process as I go through my images, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the core fundamentals on how I came up with this final photo:
- Camera Raw is your friend. When you need to make fast, basic, overall adjustments to your color and tone, simply adjusting the sliders in Camera Raw will get the job done. You can open up the Shadows, adjust the Blacks, manipulate the Saturation of your image, or whatever it is that you want your image to look like.
- Know the technical specs of your image. Inside Camera Raw, the blue text beneath the photo will let you adjust the Adobe RGB Color Space and the 16-bit Bit Depth of the image, as well as set the Resize to Fit to 125% and the Resolution to 300 pixels per inch. This will give me a nice close-up of the image without any unwanted banding.
- Adjust your base image alignment when necessary. To make sure that the model is in the right position, I used guides pulled from the rulers in order to create a grid for the model. This helps me rotate and align the image the way I want to in order to prepare for a close-up of the image. I can also make sure that the eyes, nose, lips and eyebrows are leveled.
- Take care of the technical issues on the front end before you start retouching. In this case, the so-called “white” background isn’t actually pure white because this image comes straight from the studio. I needed to cut out the model and replace the background with my own pure white background, which is where selections and masking come in.
- Masking is your friend, too. There are many ways to select areas in your image. You can use the Magic Wand or Quick Selection to select the background. My own prefered method is to click on Quick Mask, and use the Paintbrush to paint in the remaining areas until you get a full selection of the background. Go to Select-Inverse to select the model instead of the background. With Select – Modify – Expand, you can push the selection away from her skin by a certain number of pixels—in this case, 25. Then, you can click on your Layer Mask and create a layer of the model without the excess background.
- The Info palette can help you check your color values. After making a Layer Mask of the model, I then added a new layer with my pure white background. Under Window – Info, you can check the RGB and CMYK values of the background to see if it’s truly pure white. The RGB values should all be 255 while the CMYK values should be all zeroes.
- Don’t be afraid to go back into Camera Raw. At this point, I usually evaluate the image and see whether or not I want to make more changes to the raw file. Using Open as Image will open the pixel background, but if you hold down the shift key, it will open the image as a Smart Object still attached to Camera Raw. This lets you go back to your raw image and make changes any time you want to, you can work non-destructively and keep making adjustments to your raw file until you’re satisfied with your results.
- Layer Order matters. Because Photoshop layers work top-down, by creating a Curves layer at the very top, I added more contrast by whitening the whites and darkening the darks. Photoshop applied these adjustments from my Curves layer to everything below it.
- Create your Layers in a linear fashion. This will allow you to group your layers in pieces that won’t overlap with each other.
- Smart Objects help you work non-destructively. Smart Objects mean that I don’t have to create copy after copy of my background image. All of the filters that I create are applied directly on to the Smart Object itself, and I can turn them on and off whenever I want to without damaging the rest of my photo. You can check out more in-depth videos on Smart Objects over at www.TheArtofRetouching.com.
- Smart Filters work from the bottom-up. As opposed to Layers, Smart Filters first apply the adjustments that are at the bottommost before applying what’s on top. For instance, the Smart Sharpen filter that I applied at the bottom is the first adjustment that’s reflected in the Smart Object before anything else. By double-clicking on this Smart Sharpen filter, I can adjust the different settings any time I want to without affecting the rest of the photo.
- Imagenomic Portraiture may or may not make life easier for you, but it sure does for me. Portraiture helps smooth out the skin and remove blemishes, as long as you use it under a controlled situation without going overboard with your effects. The same is true with Liquify. It can help you make subtle adjustments to your image such as adjusting a model’s ears and shoulders as long as you don’t go crazy with it. Remember, subtle is always better.
- The Blur Gallery can help give your image a little depth of field. By blurring the back of the model’s head a bit, I was able to make it look more realistic without the model looking like she was cut out from the background.
- When it comes to Cloning the skin, a simple Healing Brush works best. The Healing Brush matches the color and the tone from the source area with the target area.
- Don’t forget the purpose of your work. It’s easy to get lost in the retouching when you’re right in the middle of it, but always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. In this case, the model had two birth marks on her face that I otherwise would have left alone if this were a simple studio piece. But since this is for a beauty shoot, I had to remove the two birth marks on her face so that she can better represent the average woman.
- Sometimes, you just need to go pixel per pixel. While Photoshop has a number of tools that make life easier for you as a retoucher, there are just some instances where shortcuts do not work. Because the model in this image had dark skin shadows under her eyes, I had to use a Clone Stamp, reduce my brush size to about 2, zoom in, and just go per pixel. Using the Alt key or the Cmd key, I selected a lighter source area and used the Clone stamp tool over the darker areas bit by bit until the skin began to match the lighter skin smoothly. This subtle and painstaking technique might take some time, but it beats leaving the image with horrible, unnatural smudges all over her face. It’s just the professional way to go.
- Selective Color, when used with Masks, can help you make easy color adjustments to target areas non-destructively. Because I wanted to reduce the shine of the model’s nose, I created a mask over the shiny part of her nose and selected the Whites in Selective Color. This helped me add a little bit of tone into that area so that it blends better as opposed to graying it all up with Curves.
- Be mindful of where your photo came from. Because this a studio shot, the light coming from behind the model made her ears a bit too red. By choosing the Reds in Selective Color, I was able to pull out the reddish hue from the ears.
- When I was working on the lips of this model, I enhanced them in such a way that made her lips blend better with the rest of her face, as well as highlight the lips. I also used different images of lips with varying opacity, distortions, and blend modes to create the perfect set of lips. A few final adjustments to the lips: I evened out the lip outline with Cloning, and changed the lip color with Colorize in Hue/Saturation.
- The eyes are the windows to the soul. I usually do the eyes first, but in this case, I took my time and adjusted them last. It’s important to do what you can to make those eyes pop because that’s where you want your audience to focus on. You can choose to fill in the eyebrows and eyelashes with a paintbrush, as well as enhance the irises with some custom brushes. Normally, that would be enough, but in this case, the model’s eyes had a shine that came from the reflectors and it’s quite difficult to simply fix. What I did instead was to use a different image of an eye, enhanced it, and replaced this model’s irises altogether.
- Keep the communication lines between you and your client open. What happened with this original image was that the model seemed to be advertising a soap ad but in contrast, she had on some bright lipstick. To balance it all out, I added some Hue/Saturation in order to give her some eyeshadow. It’s important to have a little back-and-forth between you and your client so that you can avoid do-overs when the image is complete.
- Again, Smart Objects help you work non-destructively. Even when you’re almost done with your image and you need to make overall changes to every single layer, never go for the “Flatten Image” option. Instead, select all your layers, right click, and select “Convert to Smart Object”. What this does is create a new Smart Object layer which, when double-clicked, allows you to go back to all of the different layers that you originally had inside in order to make changes as needed. This means that you retain all of the original adjustments and information in your new Smart Object layer, which is truly the ultimate non-destructive workflow. It allows you to move forward while working on everything at once.
- Feedback matters. The reason I did all this was to add some overall changes to the image based on third-party feedback. With this new self-contained Smart Object layer, I cropped the image and created a mask that will only affect her head (white reveals while black conceals). With Liquify, I brought down her hairline to reduce her forehead size, as well as adjust her lips and jawline. Finally, I used Smart Sharpen to add a bit more punch to her eyes and lashes.
Thank you for taking the time to watch how I work behind the scenes. I hope that I was able to shed some light into what goes on when working on an image non-destructively. And if you’re eager for more of these in-depth lessons on how to master the Art of Retouching, you can head on over to my website and check out Emergency Retouching for Beginners, as well as the Portraits, Camera Raw, and Smart Objects for the more advanced users.
There are also loads more other incredibly awesome tutorial videos on the right sidebar, where you can learn about Cloning, Masking, Photoshop Tools and Palettes, and so much more in my full Photoshop Basic 1, Photoshop Basic 2, and Photoshop Intermediate Courses.
Until then, keep the creative passions burning and I hope to see more of you as we work together on your path to becoming a better photo retoucher.