Back to the Basics: Basic Photo Retouching Tips & Tricks

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Understanding photography is only half of the battle to taking a successful picture. Understanding Photoshop and how it can help to enhance your photo is the other half. In today’s blog I will briefly go into some very basic and simple editing tools that can help take your photo to the next level.

(Example based on PC version of CS4)

To help demonstrate these tools I will take this already dashing gentleman and make him even more dashing (to avoid his fan club and stalkers, because let’s face it, he’s a pretty big deal) and I will refer to him simply as “Ronaldo”:

Levels: The very first thing, regardless of how perfectly you set up your lighting, you will want to adjust the levels of your image. This will help to enhance the dark and light areas of your photo and make it more balanced if done correctly. To find the levels panel in Photoshop simply go to Image > Adjustments > Levels or ctrl  + L. When editing levels play with the two outer arrows (remember: the one to the left will adjust your shadows or blacks and the one to the right will adjust your light or highlights) to find a good balance; I generally go by feel and keep adjusting until I am satisfied. The main thing to keep in mind is if you stray too far from the original point the picture will end up looking blown out and lose an immense amount of quality.

Here is Ronaldo after we played with his levels:

You will notice the stronger bits of contrast, and how the lighting seems to make the photo visually warmer and more balanced.

Imperfections on the Body: Whether it’s a blemish or a smudge, or maybe some pen ink; the easiest way to get rid of the imperfections on a photo is by using the healing brush. To access the healing brush look for the Band-Aid icon on the left toolbar or press the letter “J” on the keyboard. The healing brush works by first using the “alt” key to select the area where you would like to sample from, then clicking on the area in which you want to replace. So if you have a freckle that needs to be removed, you would take a sample of the face with a similar skin tone and put it over the freckle. When utilizing the healing brush for blemishes always remember to use a soft small brush, about the size of the blemish and avoid dragging; only click on the area. If you drag you will lose quality of the image and pixels will get mushed up.

Let’s take a look at our very own Ronaldo after his blemishes (very minor and ineffectual) get removed:

As you will notice, I’ve removed some freckles.

Color Alterations: To change the colors of eyes and hair, whiten teeth, and brighten shirts use the hue & saturation tool. To access the hue & saturation tool look at the bottom of the layers menu for the small black and white circle, click on it then look for “hue & saturation”. In order for the the hue & saturation tool to work you will need to create a path first around the area that you wish to change. This path needs to be selected for the hue & saturation tool to work properly. Once you have clicked on the the hue & saturation tool it will do two things, it will create a layer and bring up a new toolbar in which you will be able to play with colors. This may look overwhelming at first, but after a few times you will get the hang of the things.

And here is the final; take a look at this stud (whistles) after he’s been hue & saturated (among some other tricks):

You will notice his teeth are perfectly white, his shirt is dark and his eyes are bluer.

In an effort to not overwhelm you, I will stop there for the day, but please know these are the very, very basics of retouching. There is a never ending list of things I could teach you; if you have any questions please feel free to ask. Also, in later days look for posts with advanced tips and tricks for retouching.

Disclaimer: The higher quality of image you have the easier it will be to retouch. This was taken with a Nikon D200, 17-55mm lens

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