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Photoshop Retouching for Beginners

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Wondering how to retouch skin in Photoshop? Learn all about Frequency Separation in Photoshop and how to use this and more techniques to retouch skin and hair in this Photoshop retouching course.

Watch the Full Photoshop Retouching for Beginners Course

What You'll Learn

  • What are the most common Photoshop retouching techniques?
  • What are some retouching tools in Photoshop?
  • What is frequency separation in Photoshop?
  • How to do frequency separation in Photoshop
  • How to dodge and burn in Photoshop
  • How to retouch skin in Photoshop
  • How to retouch hair in Photoshop
  • How to retouch makeup in Photoshop

About Your Instructor

Abbey EsparzaAbbey EsparzaAbbey Esparza

Introduction to the Course

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

Photo retouching in Photoshop has a lot of applications, and it's definitely not limited to high-fashion photography. I'll teach you how to use retouching tools in Photoshop like Frequency Separation, Dodge and Burn and more to enhance all types of images. Let's go!

1. How to Retouch Skin in Photoshop

We'll cover two main skin retouching Photoshop techniques: Frequency Separation and Dodge and Burn. I'll explain everything in detail further on, but here's what you need to keep in mind about them:

Use Frequency Separation for larger features on the skin which you may wish to alter or remove.
Dodge and Burn is better for smaller features you wish to diminish.

1.1 What Is Frequency Separation in Photoshop?

Watch video lesson (4 mins)

The first technique to learn photo retouching in Photoshop is Frequency Separation. But what exactly is this?

Frequency Separation in Photoshop is a technique to retouch the subject's skin without compromising its texture. Separating the low and high frequency information onto their own layers means that you can edit one without affecting the other.

Let's learn how to do frequency separation in Photoshop by first separating the subject into layers. At the same time, we'll be recording an action to instantly reapply the process to other images.

Separate subject into layers an record and actionSeparate subject into layers an record and actionSeparate subject into layers an record and action
We'll separate the subject into layers and record an action for the next time we need it.

Watch the full Photoshop skin retouching lesson to follow the steps. If you need a detailed tutorial on how to create a frequency separation action, this tutorial is for you:

1.2 How to Use Frequency Separation in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (6 mins) ↗

Now that we've set up the Frequency Separation layer group, it's time to do skin retouching in Photoshop. I usually start with the high frequency layer, but there's no set order, and we'll also be jumping back and forth between the layers.

Quick recap: the high frequency layer contains the subject's skin texture like pores, wrinkles, pimples, and blemishes. The low frequency layer is ideal for editing and evening out skin tone and removing dark spots.
We'll start working on the high frequency layerWe'll start working on the high frequency layerWe'll start working on the high frequency layer
We'll start working on the high frequency layer in this example.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the advantages and disadvantages of retouching tools in Photoshop like the Spot Healing Brush, the Clone Stamp Tool, the Mixer Brush, and more.

1.3 How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (6 mins) ↗

Next up, we'll move on to another popular and useful Photoshop skin retouching technique: Dodge and Burn. What exactly does this mean?

Dodge and Burn is a retouching technique that targets imperfection and tonal changes on a micro level: all the small highlights and shadows that are caused by the skin texture.

To learn this Photoshop skin retouching technique, first we'll amplify the highlights and shadows on the subject. This way, we'll be able to Dodge the overly dark patches and Burn the overly light patches using Curve Adjustments Layers and a brush.

Here we're amplifying the highlights and shadows on the subject in a curve adjustment layer.Here we're amplifying the highlights and shadows on the subject in a curve adjustment layer.Here we're amplifying the highlights and shadows on the subject in a curve adjustment layer.
Here we're amplifying the subject's highlights and shadows in a curve adjustment layer.

2. How to Retouch Hair in Photoshop

Now that we've covered the basics of skin retouching in Photoshop, we'll move on to hair. We'll use the techniques and tools we covered in the skin retouching Photoshop lesson, and I'll teach you how to apply them to hair, starting with the pesky flyaway hairs.

2.1 How to Clean Up Hair in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (4 mins) ↗

To tidy up hair, I use two main retouching tools in Photoshop:

  1. The Spot Healing Brush does an amazing job with stray hairs. However, my tip here is to not try to erase a single hair in a single stroke as this will create odd pixels—instead, do this process slowly. 
  2. The second tool I use is the Clone Stamp Tool, which works great on areas with lots of close-together hair strands.
Here we're using a spot healing brush to remove a stray hair.Here we're using a spot healing brush to remove a stray hair.Here we're using a spot healing brush to remove a stray hair.
Here we're using a spot healing brush to remove a stray hair.
My main tip in retouching hair is to make sure it makes sense. Be careful while you edit both the small hair strands and the larger areas. Doing one step without the other will make the hair look fake or obviously edited.

To remove hair strands from the face, use the Frequency Separation technique the same way you'd remove a wrinkle.

You can use the clone stamp tool and the frequency separation technique to remove hair strands from the face.You can use the clone stamp tool and the frequency separation technique to remove hair strands from the face.You can use the clone stamp tool and the frequency separation technique to remove hair strands from the face.
You can use the clone stamp tool and the frequency separation technique to remove hair strands from the face.

2.2 How to Retouch Facial Hair in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

Now, we'll move on to hair on the face, such as beards and mustaches. While there are a few techniques to retouch it, I recommend looking at the facial hair as a whole, particularly around the cheeks.

Frequency Separation for extra dark and long hairsFrequency Separation for extra dark and long hairsFrequency Separation for extra dark and long hairs

3 Quick Tips on Retouching Facial Hair

1

To clean up facial hair, I like to use the Spot Healing Brush the same way I'd clean flyaway hairs; we just need to zoom in closer. 

2

Use Frequency Separation for extra dark and long hairs, choosing the Clone Stamp on the high frequency layer to treat that hair as a blemish.

3

To make a beard look fuller, we'll use the Dodge and Burn technique.

2.3 How to Add Shine to Hair in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (4 mins) ↗

The next step for retouching hair in Photoshop is adding a nice, healthy shine to it using a hair brush that we'll create from scratch. Then, we'll create two curve layers, one to brighten and the other to darken, and we'll adjust the layers with Blend If settings.

Here we're adjusting the settings of the Blend If function.Here we're adjusting the settings of the Blend If function.Here we're adjusting the settings of the Blend If function.
Here we're adjusting the settings of the Blend If function.
When using Blend If, we're telling Photoshop to blend if the underlying layer is a certain brightness value.

Once we finish setting up Blend If, all that's left is to do is paint on the highlights using the Dodge layer masks and paint the shadows using the Burn layer.

Use the brush we created to naturally add shine to the subject's hair.Use the brush we created to naturally add shine to the subject's hair.Use the brush we created to naturally add shine to the subject's hair.
Use the brush we created to naturally add shine to the subject's hair.

2.4 How to Change the Hair Color in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (5 mins) ↗

The final lesson on retouching hair in Photoshop is how to adjust the color. We'll go over two methods to change the hair color: one that requires us to extract hair and one that doesn't. 

The hair extraction method works best for studio shots or creative compositing. This method is ideal when you need a drastic color change.

To extract hair, first we'll duplicate the subject and then we'll focus on extracting the hair on the duplicate layer. I recommend the Refine Edge tool for extracting hair. The end result should look like a wig.

This is what the subject's hair should look like after the extraction.This is what the subject's hair should look like after the extraction.This is what the subject's hair should look like after the extraction.
This is what the subject's hair should look like after the extraction.

Next up, we'll create and clip a hue saturation layer into the wig layer. The hue layer lets you easily choose another color for the hair. And if you need to refine some areas, you can use the hair brush we've made to refine the mask.

Grab the brush, set it to white and refine the areas that Refine Edge may have missed.Grab the brush, set it to white and refine the areas that Refine Edge may have missed.Grab the brush, set it to white and refine the areas that Refine Edge may have missed.
Grab the brush, set it to white, and refine the areas that Refine Edge may have missed.
The second method will teach you to retouch hair if you don't want to mess with a layer mask and you're looking for a subtle result.

We'll just use layer modes and a soft touch. First, create a new layer and set it to color. Choose the color you'd like to use and use a soft brush set to a flow rate of 10%. Now just brush over the hair, slowly building up the color.

See how subtle and natural this hair color change looks using the second method.See how subtle and natural this hair color change looks using the second method.See how subtle and natural this hair color change looks using the second method.
See how subtle and natural this hair color change looks using the second method.

If you'd like to learn more about working with hair in Photoshop, here are a couple of useful videos:

3. How to Retouch Makeup in Photoshop

We've learned how to retouch skin and hair. Let's continue with photo retouching in Photoshop and move on to makeup, the last part of this photo retouching course.

3.1 How to Sharpen and Clean Up Makeup in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

We'll start by learning to create clean, sharp eye makeup with the two tools we've used the most: the Spot Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp.

Cleaning up red veins in the area surrounding the pupil.Cleaning up red veins in the area surrounding the pupil.Cleaning up red veins in the area surrounding the pupil.

3 Quick Tips on Cleaning Up and Sharpening the Eye Area

1

To clean up the eyebrows, use the spot healing brush to remove any single strands of hair. Additionally, you can use the clone stamp clean the edge of the brow.

2

For eye makeup, you can use the clone stamp as we just did to clean up and sharpen the eyeliner.

3

If you find some red veins in the eye and you want to clean them up, the healing brush is your best tool.

Golden Tip: Always remember to do the spot healing and clone stamping on their own separate layers for each of the areas you're retouching. This way, you can erase without affecting your main image.

3.2 How to Add Intensity and Shine in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (6 mins) ↗

Intensity

Now we're going to look at how to intensify makeup and facial features, since makeup usually photographs a little dull and can lack a visual punch!

For this, we'll use the Dodge and Burn technique to intensify the eyebrow area. Let's create the curve layers, one dark and one light. We'll use a soft brush to fill thin areas of the eyebrow in the Burn layer. You can also create a sharper eyebrow by slightly dodging its edges and lightening the area in the Dodge layer.

Here's how the subject's eyebrow look after intensifying it.Here's how the subject's eyebrow look after intensifying it.Here's how the subject's eyebrow look after intensifying it.
Here's how the subject's eyebrows look after intensifying.

The lip retouching works in the same way. We'll dodge the edges to give them clean, sharp edges, while burning the color to make it darker and more prominent.

Shine

To add shine to the eyes, first we'll whiten the area surrounding the iris to make it clearer and brighter. We'll do this with a vibrance adjustment layer and a soft brush.

Next up, we'll move on to the iris, and we'll need new Dodge and Burn curve layers. This time, we'll change the Burn curve to a color Burn, and the Dodge curve to a color Dodge. This way, we can Burn the dark spots of the eyes and then Dodge the highlights using the layer masks of each curve.

See how the pupils pop out when you add shine to them.See how the pupils pop out when you add shine to them.See how the pupils pop out when you add shine to them.
See how the iris pops out when you add shine to it.
If you find the dodge is too bright or the burn is too dark, you can always lower the opacity of the layer. 

Makeup 

To enhance the eye makeup, we'll create two more dodge and burn layers in their own group and then dodge the highlights and burn the shadows of the makeup.

The inner eye, the top middle of the lid, and the highest point of the eyebrow are great places to add light. You can also add a touch of dodge in the waterline to brighten the eye.
The lash line, the eyelid crease, and the corners are good spots to add shadow. If there's eyeliner, you'll want to darken it with burn.
We're working in all the areas of the eye to make the makeup pop out.We're working in all the areas of the eye to make the makeup pop out.We're working in all the areas of the eye to make the makeup pop out.
We're working in all the areas of the eye to make the makeup pop out.

3.3 How to Enhance Contour and Blush in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (4 mins) ↗

Contouring

Once you've done some skin retouching, you can always go back with one final pass of dodging and burning, but this will be specifically for contouring the face.

As always, we'll first set up a new and separate group of dodge and burn layers. We'll use a soft brush set to a flow rate of 1% to bring out the highlights and deepen the shadows.

Shadows: hit the areas right below the lip and nose, as well as the hollows of the cheeks. Hitting the lip area will make the lips appear fuller. Deepening the hollows of the face will bring out a person's cheekbones.
Highlights: hit the top of the cheeks, the nose bridge, and its tip. Focus on the Cupid's bow area (above the lips and below the nose) and a little bit of the forehead as well. 
Here we're contouring the subject's face by first focusing on the shadows.Here we're contouring the subject's face by first focusing on the shadows.Here we're contouring the subject's face by first focusing on the shadows.
Here, we're contouring the subject's face by first focusing on the shadows.

3 Tips to Keep in Mind While Contouring in Photoshop

  1. Use a large brush size for general contouring and shrink the brush size to hit precise highlights and shadows. Using overly large brushes can result in removing the structure of the face, making everything formless.
  2. Also, candid pictures won't need too much contouring retouching. On the other hand, a high-fashion studio shot can take more contouring if you're after a dramatic effect.
  3. Always retain the subject's original skin tone and be careful to not lighten or darken it too much.

Blushing

Blush is the secret to healthy-looking skin, so don't be afraid to add some life to the portrait. And it's really easy to add blush!

We'll create a new layer and set it to Multiply, and then we'll pick a blush color. Choose a color that's not too saturated, as the multiply layer will darken and saturate any color placed on it.

With a soft brush on a 1% flow, we'll paint some blush on the cheeks and temples, and if you wish, add a touch on the nose and chin as well.

We're applying some blush to the subject's cheeks and temples.We're applying some blush to the subject's cheeks and temples.We're applying some blush to the subject's cheeks and temples.
We're applying some blush to the subject's cheeks and temples.

To make your blush look more natural and less flat, here's what you need to do. Double-click on the blush layer to open the Layer Style settings. We'll shift the left half of the left toggle in Blend If inwards.

Go to Blend If settings to make the blush look more natural and dewy.Go to Blend If settings to make the blush look more natural and dewy.Go to Blend If settings to make the blush look more natural and dewy.
Go to the Blend If settings to make the blush look more natural and dewy.

This removes the blush from the highest highlights of the face, making it look dewy and natural. However, the Blend If settings will always vary depending on your subject's photo.

3.4 How to Enhance Backgrounds in Photoshop

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

For the last lesson of the course, we'll look at how to enhance and add texture to a studio background.

One of my favorite things to add to a plain studio background is a grungy concrete texture, but you can play with any type of background. Once you've chosen your image, we'll place the texture and set the layer mode to soft light and adjust the saturation level using the hue saturation.

When you're happy with the saturation, we'll duplicate the texture and change the layer mode to overlay to intensify the texture. Then, we'll group the two layers together and mask out the subject using a soft round brush or the Select Subject tool. And that's all you need to easily enhance a studio background!

Here's our masked subject after we've applied the texture background.Here's our masked subject after we've applied the texture background.Here's our masked subject after we've applied the texture background.
Here's our masked subject after we've created the texture background.
Optional tip: depending on the depth and focus of the image, you can add a slight gaussian blur to your layers.

4. Let's Wrap It Up!

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

I hope you enjoyed this photo retouching course. To wrap it up, here's a recap of what we learned. Thanks for watching!

conclusionconclusionconclusion

Photoshop Retouching Course Recap:

1

Frequency Separation

Frequency Separation separates an image into a high frequency layer containing details and a low frequency layer containing values and color. This technique is ideal for larger blemishes and for evening out skin tone.

2

Dodge and Burn

Dodge and Burn is a technique that lights overly dark areas and shadows overly light areas, creating a perfectly smooth transition of values. So this is ideal for smoothing out skin.

3

Less Is More

Always remember to go light on skin retouching, as going too far will suck the life out of a face. Less is more when doing skin retouching.

4

Hair and Makeup Cleanup

To remove hair strands, your best tool is the Spot Healing tool. And if you want to knock out outer frizz, go with the Clone Stamp tool. These two tools also work wonderfully for cleaning up makeup and facial hair.

5

Hair Shine

Dodge and Burn isn't only for the skin, as it can also be used to add shine to hair.

6

Enhance Backgrounds

If you want to quickly enhance a studio background, try adding a texture background using a mix of layers set to overlay and soft light.

Remember, practice makes the master. So if you're looking for the best source of images to practice these new skills, the best place to go is Envato Elements, the subscription-based service that gives you unlimited downloads.

Learn More About Adobe Photoshop

If you want to learn more about Photoshop, from beginner to expert level, here are some great videos from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel you'll love:

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