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Basic Photoshop Retouch Tutorial


Basic Photoshop Retouch Tutorial Title PostBeauty enhancement and retouching in Photoshop is an artform in itself; a field of expertise that can take years to master. Fortunately, due to the power of the tools available you can achieve very decent results with limited experience. The following tutorial is a basic introduction to Photoshop retouching techniques, which you can then expand upon as your skillset develops.


The Stock

For the example piece, I have used Roses by Mihaela-VStock (DeviantArt) [link]. This image was selected as the pose is engaging and has good tonal range, sharpness and size. There isn’t a great deal that needs to be done, the steps taken will merely be enhancing an already strong image.

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Blemish Removal

Open up your source image in Photoshop – duplicate the Background Layer (right-click layer, select ‘duplicate’), so you have two copies of your source image. Rename the new layer ‘Base Layer’, this is the layer we’re going to be working with. It’s always handy to make a copy – so you can check back to the original and see your progress.

With your Base Layer selected, use the Spot Healing Brush Tool (J) to remove any moles / spots. To do this, simply click on the imperfections with the Spot Healing Brush, ensuring your brush size is just a little bigger than the blemish itself. You can control the brush size quickly using the square bracket keys on the keyboard ‘[ ]‘, the dialog below shows the Spot Healing Brush settings used in the example piece. Nice and easy!

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As you can see from the image above, there are a few small spots here and there which can be easily removed using the Spot Healing Brush. Sometimes results aren’t perfect, so try undoing and try brushing from a different direction or clicking on a different point.


Even the Skin

This step basically levels out the skin details, smoothing out the surface texture a little. The trick here is to be subtle; if you go overboard with this technique the results are usually plastic, synthetic or doll-like. To retain the natural beauty of this girl, we’ll exercise some restraint!

Duplicate the Base Layer (right-click, select duplicate) and rename it ‘Surface Blur’. With the Surface Blur layer selected, go Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. If you are using the example image, you may want to use the settings shown below – if not, experiment a little until it feels right.

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Surface Blur is a great little function, but we have to do a bit of work so the skin levelling effect is only applied to the areas it’s needed.

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To do this, apply a Layer Mask to the Surface Blur layer and invert the mask to black (Ctrl / Cmd + I) – this hides the layer, allowing us to selectively paint back in the details. Using a Soft Edged Brush (B) set to white, paint over the areas where you would like the Surface Blur effect to be reappear. When painting in the Surface Blur effect, try and leave out any creases, lines or elements such as the nostrils and eyes – this ensures the details don’t get ‘lost’ in the suface blur effect.

Sometimes it’s tricky seeing on-screen where the effect is applied, so a helpful little tip is to temporarily change the Surface Blur layer mode to Multiply. In the example, you’ll see that Ive left out the edges of the nose, nostrils, hair, hand details, chin line and a few other bits. These are basically elements that I’d like to keep sharp / defined.

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Once your happy, change the Surface Blur layer mode back to Normal. Add a little noise to the layer (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) to bring out some subtle texture so the the effect isn’t too plastic or ‘flat’. Here are the settings used for the example piece:

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You may want to reduce the Opacity of your Surface Blur layer to control the intensity. In the example, the Surface Blur layer was taken down to 70% and doesn’t look too obtrusive. A little before and after pic showing the original and the currrent progress:

Basic Photoshop Retouch Tutorial

Brighten the Eyes

This step instills a little more punch into the eyes and brightens up the iris’ a notch. Create a new layer above the Surface Blur layer and name it ‘Dodge and Burn’, fill this new layer with 50% gray (Edit > Fill > 50% gray). Change the Layer Mode to Soft Light, see below:

Basic Photoshop Retouch TutorialWith the Dodge and Burn layer selected, use the Dodge Tool (O) to carefully brighten the whites of the eyes as well as the irises – leave the pupils though, we’d like them to remain sharp and black. The Dodge Tool settings used on the example piece were Range: Midtones, Exposure: 70%. This is another step that can be easily ‘overdone’, so try a few gentle strokes and brighten the areas incrementally.

By using a new layer to apply these adjustments we have a lot more control and the process is non-destructive, meaning we are not distorting the pixel data of the original image. If things go wrong, simply use a Brush (B) set to 50% gray (# 808080) to paint out any errors.


Detail Punch

For this step we are adding a little bit more kapow to the areas we would like to be a little more defined. With the Dodge and Blur layer still selected, use the Burn Tool (O) and go over the pupils, eye lashes and eye brows until they appear to be more defined. Restraint is key – when overdone, things can start to look fake, so exercise caution once again. The Burn Tool settings used were Range: Midtones, Exposure: 30%, sometimes I took the exposure down a little so the effect was less intense where needed.

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I burned the edges of the lips a bit as well to bring some extra definition; the overall changes being subtle but noticeable in the general scheme of things.


The Finisher

My favourite part of a piece is applying the ‘finisher’ – basically an overall sharpen effect that really brings an image to life. This technique is often used in film posters to pull out all the lovely details, and is a straightforward effect to achieve..

Select all (Ctrl / Cmd + A) and copy merged (Edit > Copy Merged or the shortcut: Shift + Ctrl / Cmd + C), and select paste (Edit > Paste or Ctrl / Cmd + V). This creates a copy of your merged layers. On this new layer, apply Unsharp Mask (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask) – the example piece used the following settings:

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In addition to to the Unsharp Mask effect, I applied a colour tweak using a Curves Adjustment Layer and boosted the Levels a bit with a Levels Adjustment Layer – but these steps aren’t essential for this walkthrough ;)


The Result:

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Even great stock images can be enhanced with a little pizazz; you can achieve a great haute couture aesthetic with a few simple steps:

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The above walkthrough just covers the tip of the iceberg in terms of beauty retouching techniques in Photoshop. Once confident with the above, why not try some of the professional retouch methods, which often involve extensive use of Curve and Channel adjustments for more refined results.

I hope you found the tut useful, feel free to share your own techniques and tips in the comment section below.

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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13 Responses to “Basic Photoshop Retouch Tutorial”

  1. rEyeD33 says:

    Excellent tut !
    The end result is maybe a bit to bright for my taste, but like you said that can easily be fixed with the curves ;)
    I think the best tip here is the 50% gray layer for the Dodge/Burn tool. I often thought of it to be very destructive, but not when you use it this way, thanks a lot for that :D

  2. Kiren says:

    Great tutorial, trying to get better at this type of thing :)

  3. Mark says:

    Another great one filled with cool tips! good one Conzz

  4. Hey dude, nice tut ! I was wondering… when is the next cyborg tut coming out? I check back every week to see if its been released yet :)

  5. Hello…

    I like this weblog so a lot, saved to my bookmarks ….

  6. jorge ramirez says:


  7. M10tje says:

    Thanks dear. xxx

  8. Karen says:

    I am a newbie & as I read through your tutorial you explained it so I could understand & actually see what you were saying. This is a difficult thing to do for me ( I have TBI) Thank You so very much!!

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