Step-by-Step Guide: Master Photoshop Portrait Retouching
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Prepare the image
  2. Correct skin tones
  3. Remove blemishes and wrinkles
  4. Smooth skin texture
  5. Enhance eyes and lips
  6. Improve hair detail
  7. Add depth and dimension
  8. Finalize with color grading

Are you ready to take your portrait photography to the next level? If you've ever wondered how professional photographers turn good portraits into great ones, the secret lies in mastering photoshop photo retouching for portraits. Today, we'll walk you through a step-by-step guide that makes this process as easy as tying your shoelaces. No need for fancy jargon or complicated techniques — just simple, straightforward instructions that you can follow. So, let's jump straight in, shall we?

Prepare the Image

The first step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits involves preparing the image. This initial step is a lot like prepping a canvas before painting — it ensures your work will shine.

Open the Image in Photoshop: Launch Adobe Photoshop and open your portrait. Here, we're focusing on high-resolution images, as they provide the best results.

Make a Duplicate Layer: This is your safety net. By working on a duplicate layer, you can always revert to the original if you make a mistake. Go to the layers panel, right-click on the background layer, and select "Duplicate Layer".

Zoom in: You want to see all the fine details of the portrait. Use the zoom tool or press "Ctrl" or "Command" plus "+" to zoom in.

Clean Up the Image: Now, it's time to clean up your image. Use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to remove any unwanted spots or stray hairs. Remember, the goal isn't to create perfection, but to enhance the natural beauty of the portrait.

Save Your Work: It's a good habit to save your work often. You don't want to lose all your progress due to an unexpected shutdown or error. Simply go to "File" then "Save As", and choose a location on your computer. Make sure to save the file as a Photoshop (.PSD) file to maintain the layers.

And there you have it! Your image is now ready for the fun part — the actual photoshop photo retouching for portraits. Let's move on to the next step, shall we?

Correct Skin Tones

Now that your image is ready, let's talk about skin tones. This step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits is a bit like a makeup artist choosing the right foundation for their client. We're aiming to create a natural, balanced look.

Create a New Adjustment Layer: Go to the bottom of the layers panel and click on the icon that looks like a half-filled circle. From the menu, select "Curves". This adjustment layer will allow us to make changes without affecting the original image.

Adjust the Color Balance: In the Curves adjustment panel, you'll see a dropdown menu labeled "RGB". Click on it and select "Red". Now, subtly adjust the curve to add or reduce red tones. Repeat the process for "Green" and "Blue". Remember, small adjustments make a big difference. You're not trying to give your subject a tan or make them look like a smurf!

Use the Skin Tone Line for Guidance: There's a diagonal line in the middle of the graph. This is the skin tone line, and it's your best friend in this process. It guides you to keep skin tones natural and realistic.

Blend if Needed: If the skin tone changes are too harsh or if they affect areas you didn't intend to change, don't worry. Photoshop has a solution for that. Go to the layer panel, right-click on the Curves layer, and select "Blending Options". Under the "Blend If" section, you can use the sliders to blend your adjustments with the original image.

And voila! You've corrected the skin tones. This step was all about enhancing your subject's natural skin color, not changing it. So, how did it go? Ready for the next step in our photoshop photo retouching for portraits guide? Onwards and upwards, my friends!

Remove Blemishes and Wrinkles

Removing blemishes and wrinkles in Photoshop is a bit like playing whack-a-mole on your computer. Only this time, you're not rapidly hitting moles on the head; you're gently erasing minor imperfections from a human face. So let's get started on this part of the photoshop photo retouching for portraits process.

Select the Healing Brush Tool: It's easy to find this tool. Just look for the band-aid symbol in your toolbar. Once you've found it, right-click and select the 'Healing Brush Tool'. This tool will become your magic wand, trust me.

Choose a Good Sample: To make a blemish disappear, you need to take a sample of clear skin from your subject. Hold down the Alt key and click on an area of clear skin that you want to use as your reference.

Click on the Blemish: After you've chosen your sample, release the Alt key and click on the blemish. Photoshop will blend the sampled area with the blemish, making it disappear. It's like magic, isn't it?

Repeat the Process: Continue this process for all visible blemishes. Remember, the goal is not to create a plastic-looking face, but to enhance the natural beauty of your subject.

Smooth Out Wrinkles: For wrinkles, we're going to do something similar, but we want to avoid completely removing them, as they add character and realism to a face. Instead, reduce their visibility by using the same Healing Brush Tool. Just make sure to lower the opacity to around 50% to keep it looking natural.

Congratulations! You've successfully navigated the second step of photoshop photo retouching for portraits. Ready for the next? Let's keep going!

Smooth Skin Texture

Now that you've taken care of any blemishes and wrinkles, let's move on to smoothing the skin texture. This is a key step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits, and it's going to add that professional touch to your image.

Create a New Layer: Start by creating a new layer and naming it 'Smooth Skin'. This way, you're not working directly on the original image. It's always good to have a safety net, right?

Duplicate the Layer: Next, you'll want to duplicate the 'Smooth Skin' layer. Having two layers will allow us to retain the natural texture of the skin while smoothing it out.

Apply a Surface Blur: Now here's where the magic happens. Select the duplicated layer, go to 'Filter', then 'Blur', and finally 'Surface Blur'. This will blur the layer, which sounds like the opposite of what we want to do, but hang in there!

Adjust the Radius and Threshold: Play around with the 'Radius' and 'Threshold' settings in the Surface Blur window. The goal is to smooth out the skin while retaining the details. A little trial and error can go a long way.

Use a Layer Mask: Now apply a 'Layer Mask' to the blurred layer and invert it. This will hide the blur. But don't worry, we're about to reveal it in just the right places.

Paint the Mask: Choose a soft brush, set the foreground color to white, and start painting over the areas where you want to smooth the skin. Avoid areas with high detail like eyes and lips.

And voila! You've smoothed the skin texture without losing the natural look. It's an important part of photoshop photo retouching for portraits, and you've just nailed it.

Enhance Eyes and Lips

Alright, your portrait is coming along nicely! Now let's add some sparkle to those eyes and a pop of color to the lips. This step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits is like adding the cherry on top of a sundae. It makes a good image great.

Focus on the Eyes: Start by creating a new layer and name it 'Enhance Eyes'. This is where we'll make those eyes shine. Select the 'Dodge Tool', set the range to 'Highlights', and the exposure to around 20%. Now gently brush over the irises. You'll notice them starting to brighten up.

Add Some Sparkle: To add a little extra sparkle, choose the 'Brush Tool', set the color to white, lower the opacity, and add a small dot on the iris where the light would naturally hit. See how that makes the eyes come alive?

Enhance the Lips: Now let's move on to the lips. Start a new layer and name it 'Enhance Lips'. Using the 'Burn Tool', set the range to 'Midtones' and the exposure to about 20%. Gently brush over the lips to deepen their natural color.

Add Some Shine: The final touch is adding a bit of shine. Choose the 'Brush Tool', set the color to white, lower the opacity, and add a small line following the curve of the lower lip. This will give the illusion of a light reflecting off a glossy lip.

Isn't it amazing how these small tweaks can make such a big difference? It's all part of mastering photoshop photo retouching for portraits. You're doing a great job!

Improve Hair Detail

Now, let's get to the crowning glory of any portrait – the hair! Improving hair detail is a crucial step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits, and it can really make your image stand out.

Boost the Contrast: Start by creating a new layer and name it 'Hair Contrast'. Select the 'Burn Tool' and the 'Dodge Tool' to darken and lighten specific areas of the hair, respectively. This will add depth and make the hair look more voluminous. Remember to keep the exposure low and build up slowly. You don't want to overdo it!

Enhance the Highlights: Next, create another layer and name it 'Hair Highlights'. Use the 'Brush Tool' set to a small, soft brush with low opacity. Choose a color that matches the highlights in the hair, and gently paint over those areas. This will give the hair a healthy, shiny appearance.

Add Some Strands: For an extra touch of realism, you can add individual hair strands. Create a new layer named 'Hair Strands', select the 'Brush Tool', and choose a hard, small brush. Pick a color from the hair, and start drawing strands. Make sure to follow the hair's natural direction and flow.

And there you have it – hair that would make a shampoo commercial jealous! Now you're one step closer to mastering photoshop photo retouching for portraits. Keep going, you're doing fantastic!

Add Depth and Dimension

Alright, the next step in photoshop photo retouching for portraits is to add depth and dimension to your image. This is what gives your portrait that three-dimensional look, making it pop off the screen.

Dodge and Burn: This is a classic technique used by portrait photographers and retouchers alike. Create two new layers named 'Dodge' and 'Burn'. Set the blend mode to 'Soft Light', and fill them with 50% grey. Use a soft, white brush on the 'Dodge' layer to brighten up areas that light naturally hits. Then, use a soft, black brush on the 'Burn' layer to darken the shadows. This will add depth and contour to the face.

Enhance the Details: To make your portrait more lifelike, it's important to bring out the details. Create a new layer named 'Details'. Use the 'High Pass' filter to bring out the texture of the skin, the fabric of the clothes, and other fine details. Adjust the opacity to achieve a natural look.

Use Shadows and Highlights: Lastly, go to 'Image' > 'Adjustments' > 'Shadows/Highlights', and play around with the sliders. This tool can help you bring out the details in the darker and lighter areas of your image, adding more dimension.

And voila! Your portrait now has depth and dimension, making it more visually appealing. Keep practicing these techniques, and you'll be a pro at photoshop photo retouching for portraits in no time.

Finalize with Color Grading

Now that you've added depth and dimension to your portrait, it's time to put the finishing touches with color grading. This is where you can really let your creative juices flow and give your image a unique mood or feel.

Selective Color: One of the most powerful tools for color grading in Photoshop is the 'Selective Color' adjustment layer. This layer allows you to adjust the colors in your image individually. For example, you can make the reds more vibrant or tone down the blues. Play around with the sliders to achieve the look that you desire.

Color Balance: Another handy tool is the 'Color Balance' adjustment layer. This tool allows you to adjust the tones in your shadows, midtones, and highlights. It's a great way to add a warm or cool tone to your image.

Gradient Map: Finally, try using a 'Gradient Map' adjustment layer. This allows you to map different colors to the shadows and highlights of your image, which can result in some really creative effects.

Remember, the key to successful color grading is subtlety. You want to enhance your image, not overpower it. And there you have it! With these techniques, you're well on your way to mastering photoshop photo retouching for portraits.

If you enjoyed this step-by-step guide on mastering Photoshop portrait retouching and want to learn even more, don't miss the workshop 'Working On Creative Campaigns: Retouching' by lolilaboureau. This workshop will give you an in-depth look at the process of retouching for creative campaigns, helping you hone your skills and become a master of Photoshop portrait retouching.