Digital Focus: Touch Up Portraits, Part 2

Feature: Touch Up Portraits, Part 2

Last week we loaded a fairly ordinary portrait into an image editor and realized that while it was okay as family photos go, there was a lot we could do to present our subjects in a more flattering light.

Our first tasks were to smooth wrinkles and remove the red-eye effect. This week, let's pick up where we left off.

Remove Unsightly Blemishes

Thanks to the smoothing we did last week with the Gaussian Blur filter, we have removed some of the harshness that came across in the original. Grandma's skin now does a better job of fitting our mental image. If you saved your project last week, open it now. If you didn't, you can start with this picture, which includes all the changes we made last week.

Now it's time to remove skin blemishes--and you won't need a degree in medicine. I find the reddish blemish just above the bridge of Grandma's nose a bit distracting, for instance. We can erase it by dabbing it a bit with some her natural skin color.

Here's how: Click on the Dropper tool (in the sixth cubby from the top of the toolbar) and click on some part of her face that has an even, natural look. You've just assigned that as the primary "painting" color. Next, click on the Paint Brush (in the cubby right under the Dropper). In the Tool Options palette, set the Size to about a dozen pixels and--this part is really important--set Opacity to about 30 percent. This lets us paint over the picture without totally obscuring the image and textures underneath. Now click the brush on the blemish above Grandma's nose. Just dab at it, clicking around the region no more than four or five times to eliminate the reddish tone. While you're in the neighborhood, you might want to work on the red mark under her right eye (on your left as you look at the image).

Here's my version of the photo looks like after a little blemish removal.

It Dices, Slices, and Moisturizes, Too

Dabbing with the brush set to a low opacity does a lot more than just eliminate blemishes. Notice the dry skin above Grandma's lips, for instance. Try dabbing that area lightly with the brush. If you increase the size to about 18 pixels, you can improve that part of the portrait with just a few clicks.

And then there are the hot spots from the flash. Both faces in this picture have some unsightly reflections, so work them slightly with the brush as well. I found that keeping the brush set around 18 pixels was an ideal size for this work, but I had to use the Dropper occasionally to sample different regions of the face for the most realistic color. In this picture, the single most important spots to get are the tips of both noses--it's like applying a bit of makeup to an actor's nose to absorb reflections from the studio lights.

Finally, the paint brush can even help eliminate a little of the reflection in the eyeglasses. First use the Dropper to sample a nearby region that has the same skin tone as around the eyes. Then zoom in far enough that you can easily see the problem area. Reduce the size of the brush to about 8 pixels, then dab gently to take the edge off the reflection. Don't go overboard here, though, because there are important details around the eye that you don't want to accidentally paint over. Here's what the portrait looks like now.

Whiten the Teeth

We're almost done--I just want to try one more thing to improve the two faces. Let's whiten the teeth just a bit.

It's really hard to get good, realistic, whiter teeth in a photo, but a small amount of the Dodge brush often gets the job done. First, zoom in and carefully select just the teeth using whatever selection tool you prefer. In this portrait, I think the Freehand brush set to Edge Seeker mode works best?just click around your selection and double-click to finish. Then select Dodge (in the ninth cubby from the top) and set the size pretty small--about 8 pixels, so the brush is no bigger than the teeth. Set the Opacity quite low, say 15, and dab the brush at the teeth to brighten them just a bit. You should end up with something like this.

Blur the Background

Our portrait is dramatically better than it started, but I'm still bothered by the picture's deep depth of field. The background is in sharp focus, distracting the viewer from the people in the foreground. So to put our finishing touches on this scene, use the selection tool of your choice (again, mine is the Freehand tool in Edge Seeker mode) to trace around the subjects. When the selection is complete, choose Selections, Invert from the menu to reverse the selection. Now the background is in our crosshairs, not the subjects.

Choose Adjust, Blur, Gaussian Blur, and set the Radius to 3. Click OK, and you're done.

Try this technique on a few of your family portraits, and you'll become the family's favorite portrait photographer--kind of like a modern-day Rembrandt.

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