How To: Retouching Tips for Perfect Portraits

Bring new life to the people in your pictures without going overboard.

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This is a lovely portrait of a lovely woman who, frankly, needs no retouching. Still, occasinally it's nice to see a slightly more idealized or slightly younger version of yourself. And sometimes you portrait subjects request a little sweetening. So here are instructions to help you subtly brighten eyes, whiten teeth, and minimized wrinkles and flaws in skin. Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Don't go too far! The trick to doing beauty retouching, especially on your friends and loved ones, is making them look like a slightly better version of themselves--which doesn't mean making them look the way they did years ago. These steps are for Adobe Photoshop CS2 and newer versions.
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STEP 1
In a portraid, the eyes are often the most important feature, so make them stand out. Duplicate the Background layer, and name it "Eyes-Whites." Grab the Dodge tool, set it to midtones and leave your Exposure set to 50%. Zoom in close, and dodge the white parts of the eyes until they are a bit brighter. If there are any red lines, use the Clone Stamp to remove them. If your subject has a lot of redness on the rims, switch to the Sponge tool, set to Desaturate at 45%, uncheck Vibrance, and take the red down.
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STEP 2 Duplicate your Eyes-Whites layer and name the new layer "Eyes-Color." Now we'll work on the pupils and the irises. Get the Burn tool, set it to Shadows, and turn the Exposure down to 20%. Shrink your brush, and paint around the edge of the iris to slightly darken the outer edge. Switch to the Sponge tool. This time, set it to Saturate and check the box for Vibrance. Up the Flow to about 70% and paint the irises to bring out their color.
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STEP 3
Duplicate the Eyes Color layer and name it "Teeth." Double-click on the color swatches in the toolbar to get the Color Picker. Use the dropper to select one of the whitest tones on the new teeth as the foreground color. Create a new blank layer and change its Blend Mode to screen.
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STEP 4 Switch to the Brush tool, and paint the teeth with a small brush until they are white and bright. Chances are they will be far too bright, so bring the layer's opacity down until they look realistic. When you like it, go to Layer>Merge Down to blend your whitened teeth layer with the Teeth Layer that you created in Step 3.
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STEP 5
This portrait subject has near-perfect skin, but we can remove her few flaws using the Healing Brush. Make a new blank layer, and call it "Blemishes." Grab the Spot Healing Brush, and check the box for Sample All Layers. If youhave CS5, choose Content Aware. Then, zoomed in at 100%, paint over any blemishes to remove them.
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FINAL STEP
Make another new blank layer, "Wrinkles." Switch to the regular Healing Brush and set it to Sample Current and Below. Sample a spot with smooth skin, then paint over the wrinkle to erase it. Remove wrinkles from the outside in, since lines get longer as we age. If your work looks overly smooth, fade it by going to Edit>Fade, and turn down the effect until it looks natural.