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Headshot / Photo Editing Tips in Photoshop

Detailed Guide on Headshot in Photoshop in Easy Steps!

By Photos Editing servicesPublished 5 months ago 9 min read

A headshot photo serves many purposes – from passport sized photographs for resumes and school applications to large photos of celebrities to the unusual whims of photography enthusiasts. Whatever the reason, portrait retouching is a must not only for a professional look but also for playing around with the various editing modes to obtain your desired results.

Retouch the Eyes

Eyes are the window to the soul. There is no reason for not touching them up in portrait editing.

If there are both eyes in the frame and in focus, do the enhancements on one and then duplicate everything for the other. Zoom in to get a close-up of the eye.

  • Enhancing the texture of the iris (Dodge and Burn layers)

When you zoom in, the bland texture of the iris does not look good at all. Hence, improve this texture.

  1. Create a duplicate layer through “Ctrl+J”.
  2. Go to the “Adjustment Layer” icon present at the bottom hand right corner and select “Curves”. Name this layer “Dodge”.
  3. In its dialogue box, drag the histogram graph up to brighten the overall iris area, as needed.
  4. Press “Ctrl/Cmd+I” to invert the layer mask from white to black.
  5. Again go to the “Adjustment Layer” icon and select “Curves”. Name this layer “Burn”.
  6. Drag its histogram graph down to darken the image.
  7. Press “Ctrl/Cmd+I” to invert the layer mask from white to black.
  8. Select your “Dodge” layer mask. Make sure that the foreground color in the “Color Picker” is white and select the “Brush tool”. In the properties at the top, ensure that “Mode: Normal”, “Opacity: 100%” and “Flow: 10%” are selected.
  9. Select a small and very soft brush; put its “Hardness” at “0%” and the “Pixel Radius” at “10%”.
  10. Now, draw strokes in the iris (from the inner edge to the outer edge of the iris).
  11. Once done, do the same in the “Burn” layer mask, keeping all properties the same.
  12. Draw the same strokes, but focus more on the upper part of the iris where the shadow of the lashes fall.
  13. Check your result by hiding and un-hiding the “Background” Layer. The texture of the iris will have improved beautifully.

Removing discoloration of the sclera

Discoloration (e.g. yellowish-ness) or a great number of blood vessels in the eye need to be rectified.

  1. Go to the “Adjustment Layer” icon and select “Black & White”. This will turn the image to a black and white picture.
  2. In the side panel, drop the “Opacity” to what feels a natural skin color, perhaps around “35%”. This will regain the colors.
  3. Invert this layer mask through “Ctrl/Cmd+I”.
  4. In the properties at the top, increase the “Flow” to “100%”.
  5. Select a relatively larger brush to paint over the sclera. Increase the “Opacity” to “100%” to better see the area to be painted.
  6. Roughly cover the whole of the sclera.
  7. Reduce the “Opacity” to “0%” and then slowly increase it to find the right point where the other colors are reduced as required.

Brightening the eyes

The following steps add a contrast between the outer darker layer of the iris and its middle part (what we are brightening).

  1. Create another duplicate layer of the original.
  2. Select the “Brush Tool”, a soft brush.
  3. In the “Color Picker (Foreground Color)”, choose complete white.
  4. Reduce the “Flow” to around “50%”.
  5. Paint the lower half of the iris in a half moon shape.
  6. It, as it is, looks fake so change the “Blending Mode: Normal” to “Blending Mode: Overlay”. Then lower the “Opacity” as required to give the iris a natural feel.

Removal of Eye Bags

Eye bags are completely natural, but in pictures, they can be extremely off-putting. Portrait retouching, hence, calls for their erasure for a satisfactory outcome.

  1. Create a duplicate layer (Ctrl/Cmd+J). This is automatically named “Layer 1”.
  2. Select the “Background” layer and hit the “New Layer” icon at the bottom of the right-side panel. It will create a new layer between the “Background” and the “Layer 1” created prior. This is automatically named “Layer 2”.
  3. Select “Layer 1” and go to “Filter” menu – “Convert for Smart Filters”. Hit “OK”.
  4. Again, go to “Filter” menu – “Other” – “High Pass”. It creates a “Smart Filter” layer.
  5. In its dialogue box, first reduce the “Pixels” value to zero, then increase it steadily to achieve a point where the dark circles are visible. Hit “OK”.
  6. Change the “Blend Mode: Normal” to “Blend Mode: Overlay”.
  7. Hold the “Alt/Option” key and click the line between the “Smart Filter” and “Layer 2” layers.
  8. Select the “Layer 2”. Make sure the “Sample: Current and Below”, the “Sample Size: 5 by 5 Average” and the “Flow: 5%” are selected.
  9. Select the “Brush Tool”. Zoom in to the eye bag.
  10. Hold “Alt/Option” (it samples the surrounding color), sample a replacement area from a nearby brighter area and paint on the darker area until the dark circles are neatly removed.

Skin Smoothening

Skin smoothening is, no doubt, one of the most important aspect of headshot retouching. What is a portrait without the face, and what is a face without skin.

  • Removal of Blemishes
  • Make a duplicate layer. Name it “Blemishes Removal”.
  • In the left hand side toolbar, select the “Spot Healing Brush” tool.
  • Select an appropriate brush size, one that is slightly bigger than the spot to be removed. The brush size can be handled through the bracket keys on the keyboard – the right bracket key to make it big, while the left one to make it small.
  • Click on the blemish and Photoshop will automatically select a replacement from the surrounding area to replace the blemish.
  • Skin Refinement
  • Removal of blemishes and eye bags removal must be done before skin smoothening.

    1. Make a copy (Ctrl/Cmd+J) of the “Blemish Removal” layer.
    2. Invert this layer (Ctrl/Cmd+I).
    3. Change the “Blend Mode: Normal” to “Blend Mode: Vivid Light”.
    4. Next, go to “Filter” menu – “Other” – “High Pass”. The “High Pass” filter accentuates the ‘edges’ (areas with a striking color contrast), e.g. the spots along the hair, eyes and mouth. These areas are highlighted to soften everything except them.
    5. In its dialogue box, set the “Radius: 24 pixels”, which is just right for portraits.
    6. Now, go to “Filter” menu – “Blur” – “Gaussian Blur”.
    7. In its dialogue box, set the “Pixels” value to such a number that it accentuated the skin pores and texture generally. A great value of around “6” brings out the wrinkles (if not erased before) so a low figure of “3-4” is good. Though if the removal of blemishes, wrinkles and eye bags is done beforehand, the “Gaussian Blur” pixel value should be one-third (i.e. “8”) of the “High Pass” pixel value (which is “24”).
    8. Press “Alt/Option” on your keyboard and click the “Mask” icon present at the bottom of the sidebar. This creates a negative mask.
    9. Select the “Brush Tool” from the left hand side tool bar. Keep “Flow: 100%”.
    10. Alter the size of the brush as needed, and paint over the skin to smoothen it. Don’t paint over the sharp points or the highlights (e.g. the philtrum) to retain the genuineness of the person’s face.

    Hotspot removal

    Though highlight is good, too much of a thing can have the opposite effect. An excessive amount of light concentrated on one spot can insinuate sweat or an oily skin. This must be removed during portrait retouching.

    1. Create a new layer.
    2. Zoom in to locate the hotspots.
    3. Select the “Patch Tool”. Make sure it is “Patch: Normal” in the properties at the top.
    4. Select the hotspot by drawing tracing around it; marching ants will appear along the tracing. Replace it with a surrounding area.
    5. Go to “Edit” menu – “Fade Patch Selection”. Or click “Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+F”.
    6. In its dialogue box, lower the “Opacity” as needed. At “0”, there is no effect of the “Patch Tool” at all, while at “100”, it is excessively in effect. So, a value around “50” works best.
    7. If the marching ants are proving disturbing, press “Ctrl/Cmd+H” to hide it. Clicking it again will make them reappear.

    Sharpening an Image

    The following headshot retouching steps will increase the contrast along the edges i.e. areas of differing colors, a crucial stage to call attention to the main subject.

    1. Create a duplicate layer.
    2. Go to the “Filter” menu – “Sharpen” – Unsharp Mask”.
    3. Adjust the settings in its dialogue box to allow this filter to recognize the edges.
    4. Amount – it sets the value of contrast of the pixels around the edges. Taking it right will increase the color contrast between the subject and the background.
    5. Radius – represents the number of pixels around the edges which affect the sharpening. Taking it right will highlight the borderlines of the subject to make them stand out from the surroundings.
    6. Threshold – taking it right ensures that only the pixels of the edges are sharpened and not those of the whole picture.
    7. Once done, hit “OK”.

    Stray hair removal

    Wandering hair strands can truly destroy the aesthetic appeal of an impeccable portrait. Headshot retouching, therefore, must include the following process to achieve a flawless look.

    1. Create a new layer.
    2. For stray hairs falling on the subject’s face, use the “Spot Healing Brush Tool”.
    3. Alter the size of the brush as needed and paint over the stray hairs.
    4. For hairs flowing in the background frame, use the “Clone Stamp Tool”.
    5. Hold the “Alt/Option” key, keep “Flow” around “30” as required and paint over the flying hair strands, effectively erasing them.
    6. Where the stray hairs are only slightly messy, go for the “Paint Brush”.
    7. Reduce the “Hardness” to zero for a soft brush and have an appropriate brush size. Keep the “Flow: 5%” and click “Alt/Option” to have the right color.
    8. Then, paint over the requisite areas to soften those hairs. Removing them completely is unnatural so softening them is better.

    Brightness and Contrast

    Last but not least, portrait retouching cannot be completed without adjusting the overall brightness of the picture.

    1. Go to “Image” menu – “Adjustments” – “Brightness/Contrast”.
    2. Move the sliders of “Brightness” and “Contrast” to the colors you require.
    3. Brightness – handles the overall colors in the image. Increase or decrease it to brighten a dull photo or darken an overly bright visual. respectively.
    4. Contrast – it accentuates the difference between the dark and lights parts of an image. Increasing it will highlight the color differences while decreasing it will lessen the impact.
    5. Once done, hit “OK”.

    As much as portrait retouching is demanding, it is just as rewarding when you achieve your desired, final look. So don’t be shy and experiment to your heart’s content. If you need more perfection you can visit the video tutorial portrait retouching service to do it for you.


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