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Effective Portrait Photo Retouching in Photoshop

In this step by step tutorial, we will see how to achieve realistic and impressive portraits in Adobe Photoshop. First, we will see how to remove blemishes and soften skin. Enhance the portrait, re-sharp the image, and fix color tones. The key is to achieve realistic portraits.

1. Remove Blemishes and other unwanted pores.
2. Soften the skin and enhance the portrait.
3. Fix color tones.
4. Final touches.

Tutorial Details

Difficulty: Intermediate
Apps Used: Adobe Photoshop
Estimated Completion Time: 20-35′ Minutes
Resources: Girl with fur by catalin82

Step 1 > Open the Image

Open the portrait you want to retouch in Photoshop.

photo retouching step 1

Step 2 > Clean the face

Before we start by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer to duplicate the first layer. In your toolbar pick the Spot Healing Brush Tool (J) with a small-sized brush, 50% hardness, and Content-Aware type. Paint over the blemishes and Photoshop will automatically remove them for you. Remove everything unwanted before we process to the next step.

photo retouching step 2

photo retouching step 2b

Step 3 > Soften skin

Duplicate your layer again by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Next, go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur and add 25 Radius, 20 Threshold, and press OK. To add a layer mask go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Finally, pick a soft Brush (B) with 0 hardness, 120px size, and 40% Opacity. Paint over the face but leave eyes, nose edges, and lips.

Go to Filter > Blur Surface Blur.

photo retouching step 3a


Add 25 Radius and 20 Threshold.

photo retouching step 3b


Create layer mask.

photo retouching step 4c


Pick a soft brush and paint over the face.

photo retouching step 3d

photo retouching step 3final

Step 4 > Merge layers

Merge all the layers except the first by using the old method (Ctrl + E) or while pressing (Alt + Ctrl + Shift) go to the layers tab options and press Merge Visible. This will create a new merged layer but will leave all the rest.

photo retouching step 4

Step 5 > Face shape

To improve the shape of the face and lips go to Filter > Liquify. Pick Forward Warp Tool with tool option: Brush size > 350, Brush density > 51, Brush pressure 68. Push the lips up to make them look smiling. Push the face to look thinner and when you like the result press OK. Ignore this step if you don’t want to change the face shape.

a) Go to Filter > Liquify.

photo retouching step 5a


b) Use Brush size 350, Brush density 51, and Brush pressure 68.

photo retouching step 5b


c) Push under the face and lips to change their shape.

photo retouching step 5c

photo retouching photoshop tutorial step 5d

Step 6 > Improve exposure

In your toolbox use Dodge and Burn to improve the portrait exposure. Use Dodge Tool to add light in specific parts and Burn Tool to darken parts of the image. Dodge and Burn will give the flat face a more 3D look. Try to follow the natural light conditions by adding more light in bright areas like eyes and highlights and darkening the parts where the light is less like eyebrows or under the face.

photo retouching step 6

Step 7 > Fix color tones

To fix color tones and add contrast go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and add the following settings:

RGB Channel: Input 67, Output 62, or make it look similar to my s shape.

photo retouching step 7a


Red Channel: Input 185, Output 191, or make it look similar to my s shape.

photo retouching step 7b


Blue Channel: Input 58, Output 62 or make it look similar to my s shape.

photo retouching step 7c

Step 9 > Face light

To add a nice face light, create a new layer and pick the Brush Tool (B). With a soft large brush paint over the face. Change the blending mode to Soft Light and lower the opacity to 60%.

photo retouching step 9

Step 10 > Image sharpening

To sharpen the image we need to merge all the layers. A better technique is to press (Alt + Ctrl + Shift) and at the same time in the layers options menu press “Merge Visible”. This will create a new merged layer but will leave untouched all the rest. We used this technique in step 4. Next, duplicate the layer and go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Use 2 Radius and press OK. Finally, change the blending mode to Soft Light.

photo retouching step 4

photo retouching step 10


To make the portrait photo retouching look realistic you need to avoid adding too much contrast or surface blur. To sharpen the image you can use other tools other than high pass. Change color toning based on your image colors or preferences.

photo retouching tutorial


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