Portrait retouching

Last night I had a get together with a number of photographer friends, and we got talking about retouching shine on skin.

I came across this method somewhere on the internet and created an action. I apologize for not remembering the person who told me…

The download below contains a couple of useful actions, but the colour-detail split is most useful for removing glare on detailed surfaces like skin or wood.

The action flattens the image, then creates a number of new layers:

  • The colour layer by itself looks (and in fact is) a blurry version of the original image. I have set the blur layer for my camera[1]
  • The detail layer will probably not need to be touched.
  • The retouch layer is a handy layer for burning and dodging. The advantage of this layer is fine tuning and “undoability”.

How to Use:

First do any cloning or healing that needs to be done, such as birthmarks, cold sores, etc. While these can be removed after splitting, it is generally easier beforehand. Of course judgement and experience will teach you what items are better removed with the clone tool,  which need the colour (or detail) layers, and which like the retouch layer.

run the action

To retouch a shine area, for example, choose the colour layer. You can also use the eyedropper tool to select a colour close to the shine area, but it is probably faster to choose the brush tool (b) and “alt+click”[2] on the area you want to choose. Use a low opacity (between 10% and 50%) and slowly paint in colour. Remember, you are just adjusting colour, so you don’t have to exactly stay inside the lines… Turning the colour layer visibility on or off will give you an idea of before and after[3]

You can do burning and dodging without affecting colour by painting with black or white on the retouch layer[4] Again, using a low opacity and building up the effect is a bit more controllable and is less obvious. for example, you can paint out individual freckles, or even varicose veins by painting with white on this retouch layer.

give it a try and let me know what you think…

Link to download

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Nikon D600 full frame at 24 MP. The blur colour level should be fine for most cameras between 18 and 36 MP, but of course you can change the level if needed.
  2. I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts. Some people find it a bit harder to learn this way, but it is much faster once you get it.
  3. the contrast will increase a little bit when you turn off the colour layer. You can get a more accurate before and after by alt+clicking on the eyeball on the background layer. This background layer is the image before you applied the colour split. Alt+clicking turns all the other layers off or back on again
  4. the “d” key will set your colours to default, black foreground and white background. “x” will exchange the colours. So select the retouch layer, press b (to choose the brush) then d. You can darken areas. press x and you can lighten.

2 thoughts on “Portrait retouching

  1. Ken Johnston says:

    Alan, thanks for the technique and explanation. I’m not familiar with the following:
    1.Nikon D600 full frame at 24 MP. The blur level should be fine for most cameras between 18 and 36 MP, but of course you can change the level if needed.?
    Could you please tell me what you mean by ‘set the blur layer for the camera’.
    Cheers!! .. Ken

    1. Alan says:

      I use a Nikon D6oo, so I have set up the action for my camera.
      I should have called the blur level the colour level, as this is what it is called in the action. Basically this layer is a very blurred copy of the image. In other words, all detail has been smudged out. If you were to use a very low megapixel camera, the blur level might be too much, but I have not tested this. I think it should be fine for most decent cameras though.


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