There are so many ways to go about this, but this is my school of hard knocks method of portrait editing. Learned and adjusted over the last decade, hopefully this will kickstart youre editing journey. Big thanks to my friend Diana Yalif for providing the example image! If you want to follow along using this image, click HERE to download.
I always start the process with a quick evaluation on what I need to fix. To keep things organized we’ll make a list.
1. Make it pop (I have a mostly standard process for this that I’ll show you)
2. Sharpen and brighten the models eyes (The focus was on the right eye, and the left one is a smidge out of focus as a result)
3. Light skin retouching (The model has fantastic complexion but this was shot on the beastly Nikon Z7 and nobody escapes that crazy 45 megapixel resolution)
My method takes the cameras output and turns it into a dry sponge so to speak. When we add out effects to it, its like adding water to the sponge. The image soaks up the color and contrast you add and doesn’t look overdone as long as the sponge (image) isn’t saturated. If you added these effects to the image out of camera it would be like pouring water on a saturated sponge. IE, look over edited. Lets get started and hopefully that analogy will make more sense.
Once you have the image open we’ll need to get to the camera raw editor. If you are working with a raw file (.NEF .ARW .CR2 etc) then photoshop will bring you to this automatically when you open the file with photoshop. If you are working with a JPEG you’ll need to open the camera raw filter. You can find this under the “filter” menu and select “camera raw filter” or with the keyboard shortcut, CTRL SHIFT A.
In the camera raw editor, were going to make the image into the “dry sponge”. Simply drag the highlighted sliders, as shown in the image above. Once you’re done click OK at the bottom or open image if you are using a RAW file.
Next up well add the instant pop! Click on the color lookup adjustment circled in red. Then select filmstock_50. Now this is going to be a bit heavy of an effect so well need to dumb it down a little. Click on the layer opacity and bring it down to around 75%
Now because of the super warm tones, we need to fix that. This “filter” or color lookup has a tendency to exacerbate the warm tones in an image. Its simple to fix! Right click on your background layer and then click duplicate layer. Click OK ok the prompt that follows. Then go back to the camera raw filter (CTRL SHIFT A). Were going to use the camera raw adjustments a lot!
Take the temperature slider and bring in back to around -10, then click ok
Noticeable improvement! Now lets light up our model! Make a new layer, then make sure its under the color lookup layer and above the background copy layer. Then select the brush tool, and set the color to white. A quick keyboard shortcut for this is “D” for default color (black and white) and then “x” to switch the colors. Youll use this a lot.
Lastly right click on the image and the tool adjustment will come up. Set the hardness to 0% and the size to around 1700 pixels. Then paint over your subject.
Now set the layer blend mode to overlay and the opacity to about %25
Now we’re going to desaturate it a bit using another adjustment layer. Click the gradient adjustment and then select the black and white gradient. Then set the opacity to around 10-15%. Whatever looks good to you!
Time to add the unifying color theme! This is mostly applied to the shadows via a solid color layer set to screen. It can be whatever you like but for this image i’m going to use a nice purple. Make a new layer on top of all the others. Then set the color to purple. Click the paint bucket tool, and then click on the image to fill the layer with purple.
Then set the blending mode to screen and set the layer opacity to something low, typically less than 5%. Looks great!
If you look at her eyes, you can see that the right eye is in focus and the left eye is not. We cant make it perfect but we can certainly sharpen it up a bit! We need to merge the two background layers now, by selecting them both, (hold CTRL and click on them) then right click on them and select merge layers. Then, Duplicate your background layer again and then go into the RAW adjustment filter (CTRL SHIFT A).
There will be two adjustment pages with this one. The first is shown above. Drag the sliders as shown. Then click on the sharpen page.
Move the sliders as shown then click OK.
Now to select how much of this we’re going to use, click on the layer mask tool. Then hit CTRL I. This will turn off the layer. Then select the brush tool and set the color to white and the brush size to something small about the size of her eye and the hardness to zero.
Now paint where her eyes are and any where else you might want some detail.
Set the layer opacity around 65%. Much better! Now lastly we just have a bit of smoothing to do!
Our model already has fantastic complexion but the massive sensor on the Nikon Z7 is a borderline magnifying glass. So we just want to make it a bit more flattering. Start by merging all the layers together. (CTRL SHIFT E). Then make a new layer, and select the brush tool again. Set the brush to something small and 0% hardness. And lastly set the flow to 4%.
Now the artistic part. Painting skin tones, holding ALT while clicking will select the color you click on. And then paint smooth tones all around her face.
When youre done it should look like this. It takes a bit of practice to get this down so if it takes you a few tries, don’t worry it gets easier with practice. Now set the opacity of that layer to around 35% and then merge the layers together (CTRL SHIFT E).
Now one last step just a few swipes of the patch tool and were almost there.
Final step I promise! This is the make it look matte trick. Make a levels adjustment layer, set the output levels as shown in the image above. Now merge the layers and save! Its seems like a crazy lengthy process but when you do it a lot it should only take about 10 minutes per picture. Check out the sweet before and after below!