Portrait Photo Retouching in Photoshop: Basics, Tools, and Hacks

Portrait retouching in photoshop

Portrait Photo retouching is not only about removing facial imperfections and cleaning the background. Paradoxically, retouching helps to improve the composition of the photo, to focus the viewer’s attention.

A person is not distracted by the wires hanging over the beautiful architecture, does not count the cigarette butts around the model that you photographed from a favorable angle, and does not look at random hairs that have fallen on the face, wool on clothes or pimples at the moment when, as planned, he should enjoy the beauty of a person and interesting light. In life, these little things do not prevent us from noticing a charismatic person or admiring the city – we perceive the world as a moving picture, in dynamics. Photography is static, everything is different with it – we can look at a still frame for hours, cling to flaws. That is why it is important to remove all unnecessary.

We tell you how to do basic face retouching in Photoshop, how a stamp differs from a healing brush and a spot healing brush, how to use them and which tool is preferable in each case.

Portrait Retouching in photoshop

Basic skin retouching in Photoshop

Basic retouching or technical retouching is when a photo is brought to the most accurate and presentable appearance, eliminating obvious flaws. The same wires that line the sky of the city or wires of studio light sticking out within the frames of the frame, debris when shooting a landscape, an occasional coffee stain on the model’s clothes – all this can be attributed to objects that should be removed during basic retouching.

Basic skin retouching is the removal of visible imperfections on the model’s face or body, which do not emphasize her individuality in any way and will draw the attention of the viewer in vain. Crumbling mascara, unaesthetically covering the face of broken hairs, smeared lipstick, pimples – all this can be attributed to imperfections that need to be corrected in the first place. Naturally, any of these elements can work to reveal the image of the model and the idea of ​​shooting – always analyze what and why is present in your frame. 

On the other hand, freckles, scars, moles can be attributed to elements that emphasize individuality and which do not need to be removed for retouching. Except when the client himself asks to remove them.

Skin Retouching Tools in Photoshop

Basic retouching will make the photo clean and tidy, helping to direct the viewer’s attention to the model. In this case, you will not get plastic skin, as if photographing a cyborg, not a person. It turns out that basic retouching is suitable to achieve the most natural result.  

For basic face retouching in Photoshop, the most commonly used:

  • Stamp
  • Spot Healing Brush
  • Healing brush

Important: we are focusing on skin retouching, but once you understand how the tools work, you can retouch everything else – clothes, background, objects.

Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop

Stamp / Clone Stamp Tool – the simplest tool of the four in terms of how it works. A simple device gives great opportunities for retouching. It helps when all other tools don’t work properly, leaving dirt behind. But there is also a minus – in the instrument you often have to change the settings for the situation and the right time to adapt and “feel” it.

Clone Stamp Tool


How a Stamp Works in Photoshop

The principle of operation of the stamp is simple. There is an object on the model’s face that you don’t like. For example, a pimple. But also nearby you can find with clean skin, on which there are no problems. With the help of a stamp, you can take an area with clean skin (donor area) and close the problem area with it. Due to this, retouching occurs.

How to use a stamp in Photoshop:

  1.  Grab the Clone Stamp Tool. 
  2.  Find a clean area of ​​skin to sample from for the problem area. 
  3. To specify what exactly to consider as a donor area, press Alt, and then the left mouse button. So the program will remember that this place is the starting point from where it will take the material.
  4. Hover your mouse over the area you want to cover up.
  5. Hold down the left mouse button and draw the problem area.retouching in Photoshop


The most important stamp settings

The stamp takes the area and with the parameters that you set. This gives great opportunities for flexible use. Consider the most important stamp settings.

  • Size How big the payoff will be. It is adjusted using the slider, using the keys [ ( “]”) and ] ( “[” in the layout) or in the menu that appears when you right-click on the area with the image. Try to match the size of the stamp to the size of the defect. For example, if you need to remove a hair, take a small stamp, a little more than a hair thick.
  • Rigidity / Hardness. Soft or hard stamp borders. It is adjusted using the slider or in the menu called by right-clicking on the area with the photo.Clone Stamp tool Settings
  • Opacity / Opacity. Adjusts the pressing force of the Stamp. Press / Flow has similar properties. In order not to get confused in several sliders, Leave the Pressure unchanged and adjust only the Opacity.
  • Alignment / Aligned. The place where the payment comes from. If the button is not pressed, Stamp always takes the patch from the same place. It is better to press it – this way the same patches will not multiply, and the retouching will be more natural. Sample/Simple. From which layer the Stamp takes material for the patch. Often beginners think that the tool does not work because they forget about this setting.
  •  If you are retouching on a transparent, empty layer, put Current & Below / Current layer and below. Then the patch will be taken from the empty layer and the layers below it. If you are working on a copy of the original layer, set Current Layer / Current Layer so that the patch is taken only from the layer on which you are standing.

    Healing Brush Tool in Photoshop

    The Healing Brush Tool works like a Stamp, but additionally protects the user by trying to match the color of the patch. It turns out that you select the donor texture, and the Healing Brush picks up the color.

How to use the Healing Brush in Photoshop:

  1. Grab the Healing Brush Tool. You can quickly call it with the hot key J.
  2. Find the donor area, press Alt and then the left mouse button. So the program will remember the patch.
  3. Sketch the problem area by pressing the left mouse button.

The tool is great for skin retouching. Problems can arise when you approach contrasting edges – areas with differences in brightness and color. For example, lip contour, nostrils, eyebrows, facial outline, hair contour. In such areas, the Healing Brush often smears. This is because the tool is trying to match the color by mixing the arithmetic mean. Everything is like in life – if you try to mix black and white paint, you get gray.

Healing Brush in Photoshop

The Healing Brush settings are similar to the Stamp settings. But, since the tool is semi-automatic, you only need to monitor the Size of the brush / Size and the number of layers that the tool takes into account when it takes a patch – Sample / Sample. Everything is the same as with the Stamp – when working on an empty layer, select Current & Below / Current layer and below, and when working on a duplicate – Current layer / Current Layer.

Spot Healing Brush / Spot Healing Brush Tool in Photoshop

The Spot Healing Brush Tool is a cross between a stamp and a Healing Brush. She also takes the donor area and replaces it with the area to be hidden. But the Spot Healing Brush itself finds areas to patch, compiling them from nearby pixels and adjusting the color at the same time.

It sounds convenient – to start retouching, you just need to “smear” over the area that you don’t like with the mouse. For example, on a pimple, a wrinkle, a broken hair. The minus is in the same place as the plus – often the repair brush takes unsuitable random areas as a sample for patching, and also spoils the texture by blurring it.

Due to the nature of the work, the repair brush is not always suitable for skin, but it works great for retouching smooth surfaces. For example, a solid studio background, smooth texture less objects or fabrics. It also makes it easy to remove stray hairs.

It is impossible to say exactly how well the brush will work at this particular moment. Always try – in the end, if successful, it will save a little time.

basic face retouching in Photoshop

What is the best tool to use when?

Each of the tools has its own characteristics, advantages and limitations. It cannot be said that some of them are preferable, and the rest are not needed. Retouching will go the fastest if you use them in conjunction with each other.

  • The Healing Brush is ideal for retouching skin. It insures the user by creating an arithmetic mean for the color. Most face retouching can be done with this tool.
  • The Healing Brush “smudges” and makes muddy color when working on contrasting borders.
  • The stamp is a versatile tool. In general, they alone can make a full-fledged technical retouching, but in order to work with it quickly, you need to adapt, since you need to take into account a lot of settings. To speed up retouching, use a Healing or Spot Healing brush.
  • The stamp is indispensable when the work goes on contrasting borders. For example, correct the contour of the eyebrows or lips, remove hair in the nose and along the contour of the face, remove protruding eyelashes.
  • The Spot Healing Brush is the easiest to use. But, since this is the most automated tool, it often gives unpredictable results. Use it to clean backgrounds and other smooth, texture less surfaces. You can try on the skin, but there is a high probability that it will become washed out – it will become too smooth and unnatural.

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