Behind The Retouching | John Ross
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Running Time: 26 minutes
For Photoshop Creative Magazine #125, they wanted me to show what Portrait Retouching is all about. There are many different styles for portraits. Depending on what you’re working on—Studio, Beauty, or Fashion pieces—you can apply darker shades, be more gritty, use bright and soft edges, or go to town with more creative approaches. Basically, your style depends on the effect that you want your final image to have. In this photo, we’re going for a Beauty Portrait tutorial, which means that I have to make the image model look flawless, but realistic.
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Welcome to Behind the Retouching, an in-depth tutorial where I walk you through the whole process of an actual retouching session. My name is John Ross, and if you’ve always wondered how the final product of a retouched photo is made, then I have all the answers to your questions right here. In this comprehensive session, I will take you through my thought processes as we go step-by-step in taking an image from raw file to finished product. I won’t spare any detail, so strap yourselves in and let’s begin.
- Know the end goal, before starting. The first thing you need to do before you even begin retouching is to know what your client is actually asking from you. Taking your client specifications to heart will not only help you keep your job, but it will also save you from endless back-and-forths with your client and countless wasted drafts. In this case, they asked for portrait retouching, but that was being vague. I asked them to specify what type of portrait they wanted me to write about; beauty, studio, creative, etc. They said to do a Beauty piece for portrait retouching, and once that’s settled with the client, then we’re good to go.
- Be a Camera Raw fanatic. Dragging and dropping a raw image onto Photoshop opens it up inside Camera Raw. This powerful tool helps you make fast and basic adjustments—either global or targeted—to your image. Many times, I find that Camera Raw is best to use for simply balancing out the Exposure in a raw image. You can’t control what the photographer does in an actual shoot, but as the retoucher, you can control the final output. Most often, I will use the sliders of exposure, highlights, shadows, and blacks for tonal adjustments. I avoid the white slider because it will either blowout the whites, or make them grey.
- Go subtle with the sliders. Just because you can adjust a variety of sliders in Camera Raw doesn’t mean you have to go overboard. To make sure that the bright areas of this image aren’t too bright, try pulling back the Exposure. Then, to compensate for darkening the image, slide up the Shadows to brighten up the dark portions of the image. Afterwards, reduce the Blacks to add back the contrast into the image. Once you’ve manipulated these sliders to your liking, hold down the Shift key and click on “Open Object” to open up the image as a Smart Object into Photoshop.
- Smart Objects all the way. Why do we need to open up our raw file as a Smart Object in Photoshop? This is because a Smart Object lets you work non-destructively. Now that your raw image is a Smart Object, you can always double-click on it and it will take you back to the original raw file inside Camera Raw in case you need to make any changes to the raw image. This is something that a flat, pixel-based, “Background” image won’t allow you to do. Smart Objects also retain the original image name as well as let you attach Smart Filters to your Smart Objects.
- Smart Filters all the way, too. Smart Filters attached to Smart Objects allow you to retain the filter settings and let you go back and forth between your applied effects and your original image. This saves you from hours and hours of redoing your work in case you need to change an adjustment. It’s just the professional way to go. If you would like to learn more, you can check out a more detailed tutorial on Smart Objects and Smart Filters.
- Sometimes, it’s okay to get a little third-party plug-in help. Imagenomic Portraiture may or may not work for you as some retouchers think that it damages the skin. For me, though, the only reason a tool damages a photo is because a retoucher can’t control it. So, using Portraiture under a controlled situation where you really know what you’re doing, will of course improve your image. Personally, I like to set my Portraiture effects as soft and subtle. It’s basically just to take the edge off a photo, and it’s always better to accomplish that in thirty seconds as opposed to three hours, right? If you would like to learn more, I have an Imagenomic Portraiture Tutorial that is under 5 minutes, that shows you the best settings for using the plugin.
- There’s such a thing as too much detail, and this is where Masking comes in. Normally, you can adjust the aperture in a camera so that it creates a depth of field. This creates a good focus on your model’s features and lets the background drop out of focus. The issue with studio shoots, is that the strobe lights would make an image too bright and they would overexpose your photo. This forces the photographer to adjust the aperture to adapt to the bright lights. The drawback to doing that, is that it leaves the overall image too sharp.
As a retoucher, you can correct those imbalances by softening the skin and the hair so that every single skin tone, pore, and hair strand isn’t captured. Applying a Portraiture effect to soften those features saves the audience from too much visual information on an image. The benefit of using Portraiture, rather tha straight blur, is it’s ability to soften, while still retaining some ofthe sharper details. Of course, you can’t apply the Portraiture effect to the whole image, so the best thing to do is to use Masking to select the areas where you want the soft Portraiture effect applied.
- The Blur Gallery can help you make more dramatic softening effects. Applying an Iris Blur of 15 pixels lets me create an oval around the model’s face that helps me target the areas I want to sharpen and soften. Everything outside of the oval around her face is softened, while the area inside the oval is sharpened. There is also a good gradient vignette between 0 to 15 pixels around the oval. This effect highlights the focal point even further, which is her face. The goal is the same as the previous step on Portraiture, softening the unimportantant details so the viewer can focus on the important areas of the photograph.
- Be mindful of the purpose of your piece. If your photo is going up on a website somewhere, there’s a completely different way of dealing with colors than if it were going to be printed in a magazine. Because this photo is for Photoshop Creative Magazine, the RGB colors that we see on screen are going to be converted into CMYK for printing. This means that your colors are forcibly going to be converted from RGB to the much smaller color mode of CMYK, so any bright colors like orange will end up looking much duller. Once identified, you should adjust the colors yourself so that you have control over how far you want the Desaturation to go, as opposed to just having the printer decide that for us.
- Non-destructive is always best. At this point, we need to apply a global adjustment to the whole image. While most retouchers flatten the image or merge the layers, I would much rather go with a method that will allow me to come back to my original file in case I need to make any changes. I can do this by selecting all the layers, right-clicking, and selecting “Convert to Smart Object”. This creates a single Smart Object for all the layers, but it retains all the settings and information that I originally applied. I can now work on a single Smart Object without losing any of the information in my original file. I can even go all the way back to my raw photo if I want to, which is again another reason why Smart Objects rock.
- There is still a place for sharpening in a soft Beauty piece. I know that we just did everything we could to soften the image, but we still need to retain all of the fine details on the model’s skin. To do this, we can apply an Unsharp Mask filter to the skin of image. You can always go back by double-clicking this Smart Filter and opening up this dialog box to adjust it further if you don’t like the results.
- Don’t be afraid of Skin Grafting. When a model has troublesome skin, you can always refer to a cleaner skin area of the same image, a similar image, or a completely different image. Skin Grafting is useful for when there’s just too much to work on, and the time it takes to clean out your model’s skin will take you forever. Other times it can be used to remove thick wrinkles in a twisted neck. So, feel free to grab a completely different photo, rotate it, adjust it, and line it up to your image so that everything fits nicely. Afterwards, apply a mask over the foreign image to make sure that only the areas you want to graft on are seen.
- Selective Color can help you make easy adjustments to target areas non-destructively. Obviously, because of the Skin Grafting, there’s a discoloration going on in the model’s face. By using Selective Color, you can target the problematic areas and add a bit of color into the skin.
- Curves can work magic into the tone of your image, and then clean it all up with the Healing Brush tool. To make the new skin blend even better into the model, you can use Curves to better match the grafted area. You can then clean it up by removing the blemishes with Cloning. The Healing Brush tool lets you choose a source and then match the color and the tone of that source to your target area. Small brush strokes work better because they’re more precise, so take your time—it’ll be worth it.
- There’s more to the Blur Gallery then you’d expect. Again, the sharpness of the details can be too much for the audience’s eye. To soften the lips of the model, I applied a Gaussian blur, a high pass to add back some of the lost detail, and a glistening effect to make those lips more irresistible. With lips, it’s about retaining the shape and alure, without too much detail.
- Liquify can work wonders if you know how to keep it subtle. You don’t always need to make the subject loose 50lbs. A small move on the nose from uneven lighting may be all it needs. Ssubtle change that no one will ever notice can sometimes make the image look so much better.
- Make the most of your Light Sculpting to add some drama. Adjusting the skin tones can be quite a challenge. Use two different Curves. One for darken and one for lighten. Then, with masking, you can hide or reveal certain parts of the image. To keep the Curves from altering color, change the blend mode of the Curves layers to Luminosity. By adjusting the light in certain parts of the image accordingly, we were able to add some drama to the image as well as brighten up the right areas of the face.
- Let those eyes pack a punch. With all of that light sculpting, the brightness of the eyes can suffer a little bit. Used Curves to even out the brightness of the eyes and the face. To add beauty to the eyes, use a Wacom tablet with a Brush tool to added those eyelashes piece by piece. Keep in mind that you can always use grey and white-colored “eyelashes” in case adding black lashes darkens the eye area too much.
- Lastly, zoom out and look at the big picture. When you’re making all these changes to your photo, it’s easy to get lost in the small details and miss the overall effect that your adjustments have made. So, always give your image a good rundown and a final check while zooming out before you rush on over to your client with a job well done.
And there you go. Thank you for joining me on this behind-the-scenes look at how to retouch a beauty piece. But before you call it a day, you can check out a whole bunch of very thorough video tutorials on my website at www.TheArtofRetouching.com, where you can find more Behind the Retouching videos, Emergency Retouching for Beginners, as well as 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.
And that’s it for now! You can learn more in my Basic I Photoshop Course to help you master the Art of Retouching.