Touch Up Your Portraits Without Makeup

For many years, professional portrait photographers had a monopoly on delivering photos of you and your family that generally improved on reality. That's my wife has always insisted on hiring a photographer to take my kids' yearbook photos; only they could eliminate red eye, whiten teeth, and erase zits from their cheeks. Well, these days, you can do those sorts of things yourself. Last week, I talked about how to improve your photos by adopting a digital workflow and I mentioned that you should save your "local improvements" for the end of the workflow, after the photo is straightened, cropped, and color corrected. Well, this week I describe how to handle some of the most common local corrections you'll want to make: removing red eye, whitening teeth, and making blemishes disappear.

Remove Red Eye

Removing red eye from your photos is not only one of the most common things you might want to do, it's also among the easiest. As you probably know, red eye strikes in low light, when your subject's eyes naturally dilate to let in as much light as possible. When you fire your camera flash, the light passes through the open pupils and bounces off the back of the eye, looking red.

To minimize the possibility of red eye take your picture outdoors, or inside near a window where there's natural lighting. At night, brighten the room by turning on all the lights you can.

But sometimes red eye is unavoidable. If your subject has evil red spots where the eyes should be, you can get the red out in a single step with Adobe Photoshop Elements by choosing Enhance, Auto Red Eye Fix. Most of the time, this works amazingly well.

Sometimes, your pets can suffer from red eye as well. I love Corel Paint Shop Pro for this sort of job: There's a powerful red eye tool built in (Adjust, Red Eye Removal) that has templates for animal eyes as well as human.

Whiten Teeth

After the eyes, teeth are what viewers are most drawn to when looking at portraits of people. For the best possible presentation, you might want to brighten them up a bit.

There's no one-click tool to whiten teeth, but it's not hard to do with the tools found in most photo editors. In Photoshop Elements, zoom in on the teeth and then choose the Sponge tool (which you can find in the cubby just above the color tool at the bottom of the toolbar).

In the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, set the size of the Sponge so that you can paint on individual teeth easily. Also, make sure that the Mode is set to Desaturate. Now look for the yellow parts of each tooth and use the sponge to paint it. You should see the tooth turn a bit gray. To whiten the gray teeth, go back to the cubby where you found the Sponge and select the Dodge tool. Set the Range to Midtones and make sure the Exposure is about 10 percent. Now just paint the Dodge tool over the teeth to change the gray to white. Compare this whitened set of teeth to the less pearly originals. (For more detailed instructions, read "Whiten the Teeth in Your Portraits."

Clean Up the Blemishes

Finally, no portrait is complete without minimizing any blemishes you find on your subject's skin (or at least, that's what my mom believed when I got my high school yearbook pictures taken). You can do this easily with a few tools built into most photo editors.

Two or three years ago, the easiest way to clean up blemishes was using the Clone tool, which lets you paint one part of a photo with a section from elsewhere in the image. If that's all you have at your disposal, it still works, and it can work quite nicely. (Check out "Clone Away Your Problems" for details on how to use the Clone tool in Photoshop Elements.)

Rather than using the Clone tool, though, I'd suggest using a Healing brush, which is also available in most modern photo editors. In Photoshop Elements, you can find it 14 cubbies from the top of the toolbar. It works a lot like the Clone tool, but it doesn't just paste in a new section of photo; instead it smooths and blends the pasted pixels in a way that makes the healed part of the photo look much more natural. To use it, right-click the photo to open the Healing tool's options. Set the diameter of the tool to match the approximate size of the pimple or other blemish you want to erase, and then choose a nearby part of the photo to use as the source material (Alt-Click to set the source location). Then click on the blemish, and it should disappear.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 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: "Autumn Leaves" by Henry Harrison, Claremore, Oklahoma

Henry writes: "I took this picture of a maple tree in my front yard. I used a Canon 60D. I now use this picture on my desktop; I liked the way the sunlight shines on this one group of leaves."

This week's runner-up: "Rainbow" by Tom B. Ettlinger, University Park, Florida

Tom writes: "We were in Palma Mallorca and visited the Duomo. For a few magical minutes, light came through the stained glass window and reflected a rainbow on the organ pipes. I captured the image on my Canon 40D. I got the best result using ISO 1000 at 1/49th of a second."

To see last month's winners, visit our December Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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