Portrait Retouching with Carolyn Coffey

Portrait Retouching with Carolyn Coffey

The Austin SMUG group held its September meeting on Thursday, September 27 at the Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin.   This time around we were treated to a demonstration of portrait retouching by Carolyn Coffey.  Carolyn is an Adobe Certified Photoshop Instructor and a professor of Photographic Retouching at Austin Community College.  She recently completed a book on Photoshop CS6, which will be available through iTunes soon.  

Carolyn started by talking about her preferred tools in Photoshop.  Layers are key to her process.  All retouching is done on separate layers.  When it comes to making corrections to an image, she prefers to use the Healing Brush Tool because it does a better job at preserving details and textures.  It is important to keep the Healing Brush at a hardness of 100%.  The Clone Tool can be useful as well and she advised that it should be softer, typically around 60-80% in hardness.  She recommended keeping brush flow at 100% and using opacity adjustments to change the brush strength.  It is best to start low on opacity and build up as necessary.  Curves Adjustment Layers are very useful for adjusting tones and colors.  A handy tip to remember when working with Curves is that you can "clip" the layer so that it only applies to the layer immediately below.  The various selection tools, such as the Lasso Tool, are also extremely useful.   

The "Before" Image

The "Before" Image

After going over the basics of Photoshop tools, Carolyn dove right in with a portrait retouching example and walked the group through her typical process.The first task she tackled was removing stray or fly-away hairs.  The Healing Brush is very useful for this task.  Frequent resampling of a source area near the area you are retouching will help make a seamless repair.  For large areas, you can sometimes save time by selecting an area of background near the area you are correcting and you use it to patch the area containing the stray hairs.  She did this by making a selection, copying the selection to a new layer (Command/Control - Shift - V is a keyboard shortcut for this) and then moving the selection into place.  You can feather edges of your selection to blend it in smoothly.  

In addition to removing problem hair, we were shown how to add hair to fill in missing hair as needed.  In her example, Carolyn used a selection tool to copy hair from an adjacent location to cover up a model's ear.  She showed us how to blend the replacement in so that it looked perfectly natural.   

Eyes are critical in portraiture and Carolyn had some tips for making them stand out.  An empty layer set to a soft light blend mode can be used with a mask and blended in to lighten the iris and make it stand out better.  You can also enhance the lighting in the eye by adding a bit of "escape light" to the opposite side of the iris from the catch light.  Basically, you brighten up a small area where the light would exit.  We were also shown how to use the Brush Tool to enhance or add eye lashes.

Skin softening and blemish removal is perhaps the most important part of portrait retouching, especially for female models.  Carolyn showed us how to use the Color Picker to take samples that could be used with brushes on a separate layer to touch up makeup or add a rouge effect to cheeks.  She used the Healing Brush tool to touch up blemishes, sampling skin areas frequently as she made the repairs on a separate layer.  While she is not real big on third party Photoshop plug-ins, Carolyn does swear by Nik Color Efex.  She uses the Dynamic Skin Softener filter to smooth out skin.  Nik creates a new layer with the corrections that you can blend in to taste.

Finally, Carolyn demonstrated how to use the Liquify tool to alter the shape faces and hair.  This is a powerful tool that should be used carefully.  A tip for working with Liquify is to push, rather than pull modifications into place.  This produces more realistic results.

The "After" Image

The "After" Image

Portrait retouching may sound like a daunting and time consuming task.  With practice, it can go fairly quickly.  Carolyn said that she can typically retouch a portrait in 15 minutes or less.