6 quick portrait retouching tips

The best portrait retouching should go almost unnoticed – a spot masked out here, a lift to the face there – while still retaining the character of the subject. We all have insecurities about how we look, however, so most subjects will want you to go to town on them.

And there are times, as with this shot, when the image straight out of camera is almost there, but not quite. When a person is moving the hair and the pose can create a lovely sense of motion, but it can be hard for them to keep a relaxed, composed expression; the jaw tightens, or the mouth clenches, or hairs fly out of place.

These little flaws are all easy to fix, though, and we can take things even further to create a flawless, stylised portrait. Here we’ll show you a complete retouching workflow.

It helps to break the face down into different areas, so we’ll start by removing spots, then we’ll subtly boost the colour in the eyes before adding a touch of blur to leave skin tones looking silky smooth.

01 Spot removal
Open the start image, create a new layer and rename it ‘Spot’. Take the Spot Healing Brush from the Tools panel, check ‘Sample All Layers’ in the Tool Options panel, then simply click on small spots and blemishes on the face, or paint over larger ones, to remove them.

02 Bin bags
Next, select the Clone Stamp tool, choose All Layers from the Sample menu, and press 2 on your keyboard to set the tool opacity to 20%. Alt-click to sample a clean area of skin on the cheek below the eye, then carefully paint over the bags under the eyes to soften them.

03 Secret smile
The mouth looks a little strained, so press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E to create a new merged layer, then go to Filter>Liquify. Select the Forward Warp tool, and nudge the corners of the mouth up to form more of a smile. Push the right arm in slightly to make a tighter body shape too.

04 Perfect blend
Create another merged layer, then open the blending mode menu at the top of the Layers panel and choose Linear Light. Press Ctrl+I to invert the image, then reduce the layer opacity to 50%. At this point the image will appear completely grey.

05 Silky smooth
Go to Filter>Other>High Pass, and enter 9px to blur the detail. Next go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and set Radius to 3. Alt-click the Add Layer Mask button to add a black mask that hides this layer, then paint with a white brush over the skin to reveal the blur effect.

06 Bright eyes
Add a Curves adjustment layer, plot a shallow S-curve to boost the contrast, then select Red from the menu and drag down to add cyan. Add another Curves layer with a more pronounced S-curve. Invert the mask (Cmd/Ctrl+I), and paint white over the eyes to reveal this contrast boost.