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.

Dave's Favorites: Share Your Photos With Flickr

It seems like there's a human compulsion--driven perhaps at the genetic level--to share pictures we've taken. Whether the pictures are of your pet, European vacation, grandkids, or car--there's nothing quite as satisfying as showing them to someone else. That's where photo sharing Web sites come in. You can upload your pictures to a public forum where friends and strangers alike can flip through your virtual photo albums.

Flickr works a bit differently than most sharing sites; it feels more like a true community of photo fans than most other services I've tried. Its most compelling feature is the way it lets you tag pictures with keywords. You can tag your pictures, and other people's photos as well, and then quickly browse all the photos at Flickr with specific tags.

You can add people with photos you like to your contacts list, leave comments for other photographers, and converse in Flickr's forums. And believe it or not, all that is just scratching the surface: The site also offers some simple photo editing tools; the ability to organize your photos into albums; and a slew of other group sharing features.

Flickr is free, but for about $40 per year you can subscribe to get more features, like unlimited photo storage and no advertisements. If you are an online photo junkie, this is one site you really need to check out.

Q&A: How Do I Transfer My Pictures to a New PC?

I have several hundred digital photos currently stored on my hard drive. I am planning to buy a new computer. What is the best way to transfer my digital photo collection to my next computer? Should I buy an external hard drive?

--Harvey Kantor, Columbus, Ohio

This is a great question, Harvey: It's a problem almost everyone will face eventually. There are a lot of ways to transfer your photo collection to a new PC; it's just a matter of picking the solution that seems easiest or most convenient to you.

If you have a lot of files, I suggest using Windows' Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. It's a Windows XP utility (you can find it in Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools) that lets you copy all sort of stuff to a new computer, including system settings, e-mail files, and your documents, music, and pictures. If your old computer is a Windows XP machine, start the wizard there first and follow its directions. If your old computer predates Windows XP, then run the wizard on the new XP system first, and it will help you copy the wizard to the old computer to complete the transfer. The wizard can transfer data via a serial connection cable, removable memory cards, a CD-R, or a home network.

If you don't want to use the wizard built into Windows, don't worry; there are other strategies to try:

  • My favorite way to copy data is to connect the computers to a network and just drag and drop folders between them.
  • If your old computer has a CD-R drive, you've undoubtedly been using it to back up your photos in 650MB to 700MB increments. You can use those backups to move your photos (along with data files you may have backed up) to the new system, although it will not be as easy as using a network connection.
  • As a last resort, you can install the hard drive from your old computer as a temporary addition to the new PC; it will show up as another logical volume with its own drive letter. From there, just drag and drop your files to the new drive's My Pictures folder, then remove the old hard disk when you're done transferring files. Of course, you must handle the drive with care during the process; thumps and bumps have sent more hard drives to the data graveyard than any other mishap.

Whatever method you choose, you can probably avoid the expense of an external hard drive just to copy some files to a new PC. Good luck!

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Winter Rose," by Ken Runyan, Willits, California

What instantly struck me about this photo is the way the background looks, at a glance, like a studio backdrop--but it's really just the sky, captured in an amazingly beautiful state. Here's what Ken has to say about his picture:

"I took this picture after it had been raining. I shot various angles of the rose, but for this particular picture, I crouched down under the rose, shooting up towards a darkened, cloudy sky. I used a Kodak DX6490 on its macro setting. The water droplets are pointing down, towards the camera. I used IPhoto Plus to enhance the contrast and saturation slightly."

I want your feedback! Send your comments, questions, and suggestions about Digital Focus to comments@bydavejohnson.com. If you have a question that you'd like to see answered in the weekly Q&A, send it to question@bydavejohnson.com. And be sure to sign up to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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