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Portrait Retouching

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Accentuating the Eyes

We look into a person's eyes to see their soul, to see if they are speaking the truth, and to make one-on-one contact. The eyes are the most important aspect of most portraits and require special care. Accentuating a person's eyes can make the portrait more intriguing, and by increasing contrast, color, and detail in a person's eyes you also draw the viewer's eye away from less interesting aspects of the portrait. I use a variety of methods to retouch a person's eyes. In the following examples, we'll work with layers and the Dodge and Burn and painting tools to bring out the very best in a person's eyes.

Eyeball Fundamentals

Our eyes are spheres and you should avoid over-working them with over-zealous cloning or lightening of the whites or darkening of the iris. Being heavy-handed in the eyes will flatten them out and make them appear lifeless. Before you retouch a person's eyes, take a moment to study the light origin so that you can work with the light and not against it. Figure 9.41 shows that the lightest part of the eye whites are in the lower half of the eyeball and that the lightest part of the iris is always opposite the primary light source. To keep the eyes lively and interesting, it is essential to maintain moisture and highlights and to keep the red tones in the corners by the tear ducts.

Figure 9.41Figure 9.41 Our eyes are round and translucent and light plays off and through them.

Accentuating Contrast with the Dodge and Burn Tools

The skin tone of the black and white portrait we worked with earlier has been improved significantly (see Figure 9.42). The next step is to accentuate this subject's beautiful eyes by lightening the eye whites and carefully darkening the eyelids—just as if we were applying eyeliner or mascara to her eyes (see Figure 9.43).

Whenever you lighten or darken an aspect of a person's features, you can strengthen the effect by using the opposite tone in the adjacent area. For example, if you lighten the eye whites, you should also darken the iris (as described in the example after this one) or accentuate the eyelashes with a bit of digital mascara to contrast the lighter eye areas.


  1. Activate the layer that has eye information for you to accentuate. In this example, I had to select the original Background layer. Generously select the eyes with the Marquee tool as seen in Figure 9.44.

  2. Figure 9.42Figure 9.42 Before


    Figure 9.43Figure 9.43 After


    Figure 9.1Figure 9.44 Select the eyes with the Marquee tool.

  3. Select Layer > New > Layer via Copy to place the eyes onto their own layer.

  4. Select the Dodge tool and set the exposure to 5% and Range to Highlights.

  5. Zoom in on the eyes and carefully lighten the eye whites. As you can see in Figure 9.45, the left eye is already brighter and more interesting to look at than the right eye that hasn't been retouched yet. Don't over lighten or take out every bit of tonality to avoid the frozen in the headlights look, as seen in Figure 9.46.

  6. Figure 9.45 Working on the eye layer, use the Dodge tool to carefully lighten the eye whites. In this example the eye on the left has been enhanced and the eye on the right is still in its original state.

    Figure 9.46Figure 9.46 Being heavy-handed with either lightening or darkening will make the eyes look lifeless and dull.

  7. Use the Dodge tool on the other eye to balance out the eye whitening effect.

  8. TIP

    When using the Dodge and Burn tools, use a very low exposure (5%–10%) and build up the effect slowly. The default setting of 50% is like trying to retouch with a sledgehammer.

  9. Working on the same eye layer, select the Burn tool and set it to Shadows and 10%.

  10. Use a brush that is the same size as the edge of the eyes you are going to apply eyeliner to and carefully trace the edges of the eye, as seen on the left eye in Figure 9.47.

  11. Figure 9.47Figure 9.47 Use the Burn tool to gently outline the eyes.

  12. Carefully apply similar darkening to the other eye.

  13. If the retouch is too strong, you can erase overdone areas and reapply the digital eye-whitening or eyeliner, or better yet, reduce the opacity of the eye layer to create the desired effect.

Careful clean-up

The Dodge and Burn tools as previously described can also be used on color portraits. If the eyes need more aggressive clean up, use a combination of the painting and Clone Stamp tools as described here. In the color portrait by Eddie Tapp, the woman's eyes are blood-shot and her contacts are too apparent, as seen in Figure 9.48. With careful cloning and a bit of painting you can clean up a person's eye whites and enrich the natural color without making the eyes look artificial, as seen in Figure 9.49.

Figure 9.48Figure 9.48 Before


Figure 9.49Figure 9.49 After

  1. Select the eyes with the Marquee tool and select Layer > New > Layer via Copy to place the eyes on their own layer.

  2. Zoom in on the eye so that you can see every detail. I usually work at 200%–400% view when retouching eyes.

  3. Retouching a person's eyes impacts the entire portrait. To see the progress and impact of the eye retouch on the entire face, use a second view as seen in Figure 9.50 to monitor your progress. Select View > New View to create another view of the same file that you can watch as you retouch.

  4. Figure 9.50Figure 9.50 Use a second view to see how working on the eyes is impacting the portrait.

  5. Set the Clone Stamp tool to Lighten and 80% Opacity and carefully clone over the blood lines in the eye. Don't try to make the eye whites perfect—eyes have shape, contour, and some texture. Making eye whites too perfect will make the person look like a B-movie alien.

  6. To accentuate the color of the iris, use the Sponge tool set to Saturate with a 10% Pressure and carefully brush over the iris. This will intensify the color, as seen in Figure 9.51.


Keep highlights and single catchlights in the eyes—they make the person look lively and upbeat. Eyes without the highlights caused by natural moisture and reflections are flat and unappealing.

Figure 9.51Figure 9.51 Saturating the iris with the Sponge tool adds a hint of depth and interest to the eye.

Painterly Accentuation

The final method I use to accentuate eyes takes a painterly approach that emphasizes the play of lights, shadows, and colors. The best aspect of this technique is that all of the enhancements are built up on separate layers, giving you tremendous control over the intensity of the retouch. As you can see in Figure 9.52, the original eyes are attractive, while the enhanced ones in Figure 9.53 have a romantic painterly quality to them. With the following technique you will lighten the eye whites and rim and enhance the iris, fine-tune the catchlights, darken the eyelashes, and warm the eyes to draw the viewer's eye in.


  1. Zoom in to 200% on the eye to be retouched, create and position a new view, and make sure the Layers palette is visible, as shown in Figure 9.54.

  2. Figure 9.52Figure 9.52 Before


    Figure 9.53Figure 9.53 After

  3. Add a new layer.

  4. Set the Airbrush tool to work at 10% Pressure and make sure that the foreground color is set to white. The brush should be almost as large as the individual eye whites.

  5. Puff in a hint of white on to the eye whites to the left and right of the iris (see Figure 9.55). Don't worry about staying "inside the lines" because you can use the Eraser tool to clean up any overspray.

  6. Figure 9.54Figure 9.54 Take a moment to set up the new view and arrange your working area.


    Figure 9.55Figure 9.55 By adding a hint of white to either side of the iris, her eyes become lighter and clearer.

  7. Add another new layer and use the Airbrush tool with black paint and a small brush to carefully trace the rim of the iris, as seen in Figure 9.56.

  8. Figure 9.56Figure 9.56 On a designated layer, trace the rim of the iris with the Airbrush tool set to 10% Pressure.


    Naming the layers will help you to identify a layer that might need further refinement. It only takes a split second to name the layer but it saves you minutes of frustration as you hide and reveal layers to track down the layer with the problems.

  9. Add a new layer. Use the Clone Stamp tool set to Use All Layers to remove any bothersome catchlights. In this example, the small catchlight in the woman's pupil is distracting.

  10. On the same layer, paint in a soft light that mimics the larger catchlight in the upper-left side of the iris (Figure 9.57)

  11. Figure 9.57Figure 9.57 Simplify the eyes by removing any harsh and distracting catchlights.


    Eyes are translucent spheres and light travels through them. Adding a touch of white on the opposite side of the primary light source accentuates the roundness and liveliness of the eye.

  12. As shown in Figure 9.58, use a very small white Brush set to 20% Opacity to add a hint of the highlight on the iris opposite the catchlight. I often soften these lines with a touch of the Smudge or Blur tools.

  13. Figure 9.58Figure 9.58 Opposite the main catchlight, draw in hints of light and use the Blur or Smudge tools to soften them.

  14. To accentuate the natural color of the eyes, sample the color of the iris, open the Color palette and switch the palette to HSB mode. Boost the Saturation by 30%–50% and the Brightness by 15%–25%. HSB is a very useful color mode to work in to strengthen colors without shifting them.

  15. Add a new layer and paint over the iris with the Airbrush tool set to 10% Pressure with a large soft brush. Change the Blending Mode of the iris color layer to Color to make the color translucent and natural (see Figure 9.59). Use the Eraser tool to clean up any color spill.

  16. Figure 9.59Figure 9.59 Brighten the eyes by painting with a more saturated and brighter version of the original color.

  1. Not all portraits will need to have the eyelashes accentuated, but in many cases framing the eye with darker eyelashes adds a heightened contrast in relationship to the eye whites.

  2. Add a new layer and name it eyelashes. Use a 10% opacity, soft, black Airbrush to swoop around the entire eye.

  3. Use a smaller Eraser to erase any spill in the eyes and to separate the lashes. Lower the opacity of the eyelash layer to your liking for results like those shown in Figure 9.60.

  4. NOTE

    For more realistic eyes, warm the tear ducts with a touch of red. As Jane Connor-ziser, a classically trained painter and retoucher who has been working digitally for over a decade, explains, "In some cases, retouching the eye can make the image too cool and unfriendly. You can offset this by dabbing just a touch of red into the tear duct area."

    Figure 9.60Figure 9.60 Use the Airbrush and Eraser tools on new layer to make the eyelashes darker and thicker.

  5. Add a new layer and name it tear ducts.

  6. Choose a bright red from the swatch window. Jane likes the default warm red in the upper-left corner of the Swatches palette, as shown in Figure 9.62.

  7. Use the Brush tool to daub a hint of the red over the tear ducts and in the outside corners of the eyes. Clean up any overspill with the Eraser tool and reduce the opacity of the layer if need be, as shown in Figure 9.61.

  8. Figure 9.61Figure 9.61 Adding a touch of red to the small corners of the eye adds warmth to the eye and the portrait.

  9. Finally, look away from the portrait for a few moments to clear up your visual memory and to refresh your eyes. Look at the portrait again and check your work with contrast, color, and detail in mind.


Get a second opinion. After working on a portrait, you become very familiar with it and might not even notice problems or areas that are overworked or don't look right. Ask someone to take a look at the portrait and tell you what he or she notices or thinks about the image.

Removing Reflections in Glasses

Removing reflections in glasses can be as straightforward as simply reducing them with a bit of burning and cloning as Joel Becker did in the portrait of the judge (see Figure 9.22). Or it can be as intensive as using good information from one part of the face to hide the reflections. In the example in Figure 9.62, the photographer's softbox is much too apparent in the man's eyeglasses. In Figure 9.63, I covered the reflections by duplicating and cloning good forehead information over the bothersome reflections.

  1. Start by studying the image—notice where the light is coming from and where there is information you can take advantage of to hide the reflections.

  2. TIP

    Portrait photographers take more than one exposure. Ask your client for these additional exposures—they might contain information you can use to rebuild the image.

  3. To keep the cloning, pasting, and painting inside of the glasses, I made a selection for the inside of each lens. Because eyeglasses are so smooth, I prefer to use the Pen tool to outline the inside of each lens (see Figure 9.64).

  4. Figure 9.62Figure 9.62 Before


    Figure 9.63Figure 9.63 After


    Figure 9.64Figure 9.64 Use the Pen tool to outline the individual lens.

  5. I turned the path into a selection and used the Marquee tool to move the active selection to select good information, as shown in Figure 9.65.

  6. Figure 9.65Figure 9.65 Turn the path into a selection and use it to select good image information.

  7. After copying this information, I activated the original lens selection by making the path into a selection, and selected Edit > Paste Into to paste the borrowed information into the lens. The overlapping information can look rather bizarre (see Figure 9.66).

  8. Figure 9.66Figure 9.66 The Paste Into command keeps your copied information within the selected lens, but covers up the original image entirely.

  9. Photoshop automatically creates a layer mask based on the active selection. Painting with black on the mask hides the extra eyebrow and the skin that is covering the man's eye, as shown in Figure 9.67.

  10. Figure 9.67Figure 9.67 Paint on the layer mask to hide and reveal the replacement information.


    Lowering the just-pasted layer's Opacity to 50% is a great aid when painting on the mask to see where to hide or reveal image information because you can see through it to know where to paint. When you're done modifying the mask, pull the layer's Opacity back up to 100%.

  11. I added a new layer and used the Clone Stamp tool set to Use All Layers to clone over any stray reflections.

  12. I zoomed out and inspected the work in progress to double-check the contrast, color, and detail.

  13. I added a hint of white to the eyes to make them more lively and interesting. I added a new layer and used the Airbrush tool set to 20% Pressure to dab a few highlights into the eye whites (see Figure 9.68).

  14. Figure 9.68Figure 9.68 Add a bit of white to lighten up the eyes.

  15. In Photoshop 6, layer sets allow you to manage your layers. To create a layer set, link all layers you would like in a set and then select New Set from Linked from the Layers palette menu, as shown in Figure 9.69.

  16. Figure 9.69Figure 9.69 Group layers that are used for a particular retouching task into one layer set to manage the layers palette.

  17. Working on the man's left eye is similar to the process used for the right one. I borrowed good information from just above his eye and made sure to include some hair and background, as seen in Figure 9.70, because those areas will be visible through the lens.

  18. Figure 9.70Figure 9.70 Using good information for the left eye includes taking some hair and background.

  19. As the Layers palette in Figure 9.71 shows, I masked, cloned, and used shading as previously described to build up a believable eye.

  20. Figure 9.71Figure 9.71 The layer set for the left eye reflection reduction.


Taking out reflections is similar to repairing damaged photographs as described in Chapter 6, "Damage Control and Repair." It involves begging, borrowing, and stealing information from other parts of the person's face, the image background, and in some cases, other images.

Removing Redeye... or Becoming a Digital Exorcist

Redeye occurs when the flash bounces off the back of the eyeball. Redeye makes people and pets look as if they are possessed by Linda Blair demons. Redeye has a higher chance of occurring if the flash is on the camera or very close to the lens. This is the case for most consumer point-and-shoot or low-end digital cameras. It is also more likely to be a problem if the subject is in a dark room and the pupils are wide open. Taking it out is one of the most common retouching jobs.

Need SB Head

To avoid redeye from occurring, use the any or all of following photographic techniques:

  • Move the flash off the camera or use a secondary flash with a sync cable.

  • Move the subject into a better-lit position—that way you might not need the flash at all, and the pupils will shrink, reducing the possibility of redeye.

  • If your camera offers a redeye reduction mode, use it to have the flash prefire, which closes the pupils and then fires another flash to take the picture. Personally I'm not a huge fan of this preflash because, when used, people think that you've just taken the picture and have a tendency to look away.

As every Photoshop user knows, a number of different ways are often available to accomplish the same thing. The following text outlines three different techniques to remove redeye. Though the results are similar, I offer all three techniques so you can pick the one that works the best for you. Experiment with combining these techniques to save the world from red-eyed aliens.

Figure 9.72 shows Maija, daughter of Myke and Vivienne Ninness, looking like a true dragon child; a little Photoshopping, and the demonic redeye is removed in Figure 9.73.

Figure 9.72Figure 9.72 Before


Figure 9.73Figure 9.73 After

Select and Desaturate

This method quickly removes the offending redeye. I'm often asked when to use each method and as you can imagine there are no hard and fast rules. Experiment with each one and I'm sure you'll develop techniques of your own that work well for each image scenario.


  1. Zoom in on the eyes and press Q to enter Quick Mask mode.

  2. Use the Airbrush tool with black paint and a brush that is a bit smaller than the pupil. Hold the Airbrush over the pupil. Because the Airbrush keeps pumping out paint you'll see that the black circle enlarges toward the edges of the pupil. Repeat on second pupil (see Figure 9.74).

  3. Figure 9.74Figure 9.74 Working in Quick Mask mode, use a black Airbrush to paint over the redeye.

  4. Press Q to activate the selection and inverse (Select > Inverse) the selection.

  5. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

  6. Move the Saturation slider all the way to the left, to draw out all of the color (see Figure 9.75). In many cases this will at least look better, but the pupils may now look washed out. By changing the Blending Mode of the Adjustment Layer to Multiply, Photoshop will darken the desaturated layer to a rich, dark tone.

  7. Figure 9.75Figure 9.75 Desaturate the redeye with a Hue/Saturation layer set to -100 saturation.

  8. Adjust the opacity to taste, to the point that the pupils are enhanced without looking unnatural.

Painting on Individual Channels

Photoshop builds RGB color images by combining three black-and-white channels. Wherever a channel is light, more color shines through. In the case of redeye, the Red channel will be very light (in the pupils), which lets the red shine through. By painting with black directly on the Red channel in the pupil area, you can offset the lightness in the channel and block out the red.

  1. Zoom in on the eyes. Open the Channels palette and make the Red channel active. Press ~ so you are working on the Red channel but viewing the composite.

  2. Use the Brush tool with black paint set to 100% Opacity to paint directly over the pupil in the Red channel, as shown in Figure 7.76.

  3. Figure 9.76Figure 9.76 With the Red channel active, turn on the view column to see the effect on the composite image.

  4. If the pupil is discolored or looks greenish or bluish, make the Green channel active and paint the same pupil area. Repeat the painting on the Blue channel, as seen in Figure 9.77.

  5. Figure 9.77Figure 9.77 Paint out the redeye on the Green and Blue channels.

  6. One problem with this technique is that it also paints out the catchlight that makes the eyes lively. To offset this, add a new layer, and use a small white brush to dab in the catchlight (see Figure 9.78).

  7. Figure 9.78Figure 9.78 Add in a new catchlight to maintain liveliness in the eye.

Select and Substitute

The following method takes a bit more work but I think it is the best because it maintains both pupil texture and catchlights.

  1. Open the Channels palette and go to the channel with the best (the darkest) pupil. It will most likely be the Green channel—it will definitely not be the Red channel.

  2. Use the Elliptical Marquee tool to select one of the pupils. Hold down the Shift key to select the second pupil, as seen in Figure 9.79.

  3. Figure 9.79Figure 9.79 Find the channel with the best information and select both pupils.

  4. Choose Select > Feather and use a setting of 1 to slightly soften the edge of the selection.

  5. TIP

    Saving the selection (by clicking the Save Selection icon on the Channels palette) will save the selection to an alpha channel. You can then activate the selection at any time.

  6. Copy the selected pupils. With the selection active, click the Red channel and choose Edit > Paste Into. This will paste the good green pupil into the bad red pupil.

  7. Make the Blue channel active and repeat the Paste Into command as seen in Figure 9.80.

  8. Figure 9.80Figure 9.80 Repeat the Paste Into the Blue channel.

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