Behind The Retouching | John Ross – Natural Beauty – Advanced Photoshop Magazine #138
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Running Time: 33 minutes
My name is John Ross, and welcome back to Behind the Retouching! It’s been quite a while, and it is my absolute pleasure to lead you into another in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes in an actual photo retouching session. For issue 138 of Advanced Photoshop Magazine, we’re celebrating natural beauty and all the imperfections that go along with it.
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We hit a few bumps on the road for the last project I did, so I’m quite ecstatic to be given this opportunity to redeem myself—and on something that very aptly matches my style at that. I’ve always been a fan of subtle over excessive retouching, so being on the cover for this particular issue is a humble victory I’d like to share with you. To help you understand how to achieve authentic beauty in a subtly retouched piece, I’m here to show you just how to bring out the splendor in any model on his or her best day, flaws and all.
- Psych yourself up. A client’s requests can be extremely overwhelming, especially when it involves creating actual elements in an image such as filling in huge chunks of hair or fixing an oddly shaped lip. I’ve had my fair share of projects over the last 20 years of being in this industry, and believe me when I say that I still get the jitters every now and then. Still, however daunting a task at hand may seem at first, it’s important to tell yourself that you’re going to get the job done, and that you’re going to get it done exceptionally. Begin with that positive way of thinking—there’s really no point in getting yourself down, right?
- Be smart with Smart Objects. If you’ve been diligently following my work at www.TheArtofRetouching.com and you’re a fan (in which case, I’d like to thank you for that), then you’d know by now that I am a champion of the Smart Objects cause. The very first thing you need to do in an image is to right-click on the base layer and select “Convert to Smart Object”. This way, whatever adjustments that you do on this layer will be added as a Smart Filter that will allow you to go back and forth between revisions and changes. This kind of flexibility will especially come in handy when you go deeper and deeper into your retouching. It’s simply a non-destructive way to work, and this process will save the day more often than you’d expect when you find yourself changing your mind about adjustments you make.
- Start with the technical aspects first. My clients had already provided me with a base image, but the usual issue with stock photos is that they can be quite messy from the start. In most cases, you will likely encounter images that are crooked, so pull down guides from the rulers in order to properly align the photo and find your model’s center point. You can also rotate whatever needs to be straightened in order to get your model’s face squared up on the page. (If you’re going along this article with the video on my website, don’t be confused by the different files that you’re seeing. I unfortunately lost a lot of file information as I was actually doing this project back then, so what I’m currently using are backup files for this Behind the Retouching video. You will still see the layer structures that I’m using though, so please bear with me.)
- Don’t go too soft on your image. Just because this is a beauty piece doesn’t mean everything has to be too soft. Particularly around the eyes and on some parts of the hair, sharpening up some elements will help your photo pop. Go to Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen to bring attention to them, which you can also do for nostrils, the nose, and the lips if needed. You can also create additional layers of sharpening if you want to, and in my case, I added two layers of sharpening around the eyes for some extra drama.
- Sometimes, you don’t need to complicate everything. I knew I needed to add some extra hair on the sides, and when that happens, you’d think you’d need to get down and dirty with your Cloning skills. In this case, however, all I had to do was move the image over to the side so that I can get that extra hair that I wanted. You can apply the same concept with your piece, and just remember that sometimes, the solution to the problem is as simple as nudging things around.
- Don’t be afraid of skin grafting. When it comes to stray hair that’s just all over the place, compositing is really the best way to go. A model’s neck may be unpleasantly obscured because of flyaway hair, so in order to clean that up while retaining the model’s original skin tone, you can take an existing image elsewhere and superimpose it onto your photo. You can blend the layers together, create a mask, and effectively clean up the neck as well as create a little bit of texture. You can also do the same thing if you’re trying to add fuller eyebrows to your model. The issue here is that sometimes, eyebrows can look too manicured and can come out as inauthentic, which is why superimposing a more natural-looking set of brows can help make your image look more realistic. The same is true with cheeks, foreheads, and other areas of the face that may look too blown-out and devoid of texture. It’s important to keep things authentic, so blending a different model’s textured skin onto your image with an Opacity of about 27% should do the trick. Note that we’re not trying to remove her blemishes—those are naturally beautiful as they are. We’re just trying to add a little something into areas that otherwise would look completely flat.
- Try working with dual files. Because there are so many images now and things can start getting confusing, it’s important to take all those layers and combine them into another Smart Object. This might slow down your computer and increase your file size, so you can create a Linked Smart Object. This means that instead of embedding Smart Objects into Smart Objects that bloat up your file, you can go to Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Linked. It will take all of the layers inside of this Smart Object and save it into a separate PSB file, effectively reducing file size and slow saving issues.
- Use controlled Liquify sparingly to adjust inconsistencies. Now that you’re done with all the technical difficulties, you actually have a good base image to start with. With Liquify, you can reduce too-bright reflections in the eyes as those can be distracting, as well as reduce noses, hairlines, and lips for a more appropriate proportion. Puffy clothing, bushy hair, and other elements that make a subject look bloated can be easily rectified with the Liquify tool as long as you use it with precise control.
- Clean with Cloning. Things like extra clumps of eyelashes and stray strands of hair can be cleaned up with some good Cloning. For areas that are tight (like irises of the eyes), you can use the Spot Healing Brush—just be wary of the smudged effect it gives when it comes to larger areas. Normally, you should use the Clone Stamp Tool or the Healing Brush with an Opacity of 20%. Just remember to be as deliberate as you can when clearing up blemishes lest you end up looking like you went trigger-happy on the Clone Stamp Tool. Do a general clean-up, but don’t completely remove all imperfections. Just get rid of the most glaring ones—after all, flaws are part of natural beauty.
- Pucker those lips. While I don’t usually go into detail when it comes to the lips, what you should generally know is that you always have to make those lips look irresistible. You can soften lips with the Healing brush and remove the chapped cracks. You can even graft a new set of lips onto your current one and blend them to create a lustrous shine. Be careful not to completely replace the lips from a different model as that will make everything look off. Just blend the layers properly and retain the original lips, only with more enhancements.
- Lash ‘em up. If you’re curious to see how I add and create eyelashes in a model, you can sign up for the highly informative Basic 2 Course on my website at www.TheArtofRetouching.com to see how to make eyes pop in great detail. For now, just remember that it’s important to emphasize the eyes as that’s where you viewer’s attention is going to go. You can play with light and shadows with some Dodge and Burn techniques to avoid making the eyes look too flat. Then, you can use Curves to darken areas that help accentuate the sphere of the eyes, and the same type of shadows can be done for cheeks as well as areas under the hairline to add more depth to the image.
- Balance out your color and tone. There can be a lot of hair in a model’s beauty piece, so balancing out those hair colors is crucial. You can use Hue/Saturation with the Colorize checkbox ticked in order to match an area of the hair that you like and apply it to the rest of the hair. You can also use Curves to darken around your model to add depth. I tend to get paranoid when it comes to images looking too dark or too bright, because I know what goes on behind printing and sometimes, the press needs to yellow up or darken down a piece. As frustrating as this can be, just do what you can to make your image look absolutely stunning, and hope for the best.
- When things get tough, use plugins. Photoshop has a lot of tools in its arsenal, but sometimes, the right plugin can make your life easier. I often use Noise Ninja to clear out noise but this was actually discontinued. Since I had to work on some daunting hair extensions, I had to rely on some third-party plugin help. When you’re extending the hair of your model, you can composite images together, where you can use Liquify to move the lines of the hair in order to better match the strands on your original image.
- It’s okay to take your own photos. Even if you think you’re not a photographer, it pays to attend certain events and snap away to your heart’s content. As a retoucher, I still like to attend annual parades and the like in order to do photography. While they’re commonly used for my pieces on the website, I can occasionally reference them when I need to graft something together. It does come in handy to have my own set of stock photography.
- Be prepared for print discrepancies. In my case, I had the misfortune of creating something that took a huge amount of effort and time with the hair extensions and they ended up being cut from the front cover of the magazine anyway. The thing with designers is that they tend to resize your image to better fit magazine layouts, so don’t Hulk out or get hurt when things don’t print exactly as planned.
- Lock down. Finally, I grabbed all the separate layers and combined them into one, then locked it down. Afterwards, I applied a Blur Gallery Smart Filter onto it. If you try to do the same thing, you can effectively emphasize the sharp eyes while letting other areas like those down below your model’s hair drift off. This will help direct your viewer’s attention to where you want it to be. You can also create your own aperture effect within Photoshop in this manner.
And there you go! Thank you for joining me on this behind-the-scenes look at how to retouch natural beauty with subtle yet efficient techniques. You can check out www.TheArtofRetouching.com, where you can find more Behind the Retouching videos, , Emergency Retouching for Beginners, as well as the Portraits, Camera Raw, and Smart Objects for the more advanced users.
There are also loads more tutorial videos on the right sidebar, where you can learn about Cloning, Masking, and so much more in my full Photoshop Basic 1, Photoshop Basic 2, and Photoshop Intermediate Courses. I hope to see more of you as we work together on your path to becoming a better photo retoucher.