Home > Articles

Portrait Retouching

This chapter is from the book

Polishing a Portrait with Light

Faces are defined by the contours of light and shadow. Retouchers can model a person's face with subtle placement of light to add sparkle and liveliness to a portrait. Jane Conner-ziser says, "By contouring the edges of the lighting, the skin is smoothed and polished. If an area looks flat, by identifying what light is missing or causing the problem you've identified what light needs to be refined."

As Jane explains, "The Five Lights of Nature are always in relationship to one another":

  • Specular Highlights: Brightest points of light, found in the catchlights in the eyes, the forehead, cheekbones, nose, and chin. The sharpness of the edges of this light indicates how shiny the surface is.

  • Diffuse Highlight: Mid-tone area of the face. This base tone area tells you the correct color and texture of the object. If you match it in the highlights and shaded sides, you will leave the subjects with their characteristic pore structure.

  • Shaded side: Appears opposite of the specular highlights. They need to be handled gently so the person's face doesn't look dirty or muddy. Painting with the brush set to Color with a very transparent red will warm the complexion and make the subject appear healthy.

  • Refracted Light: Kicked-in fill light used to open up shadows or reduce contrast. Rims the edges of the shades side and adds dimension.

  • Shadows: Cast by objects and provides information as to where the objects are in relation to the surrounding areas. For instance, the nose casts a shadow on the face. The shape of the shadow follows the contour of the upper-lip area if that's how the lighting is set up. Photographers frequently use nose shadows to identify the type of lighting they are using, such as butterfly, short lighting, or loop lighting.

When I studied photography and studio lighting, I learned that light-skinned faces are defined by shadows and dark-skinned faces are defined by highlights. Either way, faces without highlights or shadows are flat and uninteresting. In Figure 9.81, you see the original portrait of a young man, and Figure 9.82 shows the final retouched version in which the subtle addition of highlights invites your eye to look at his face.

Figure 9.81Figure 9.81 Before


Figure 9.82Figure 9.82 After

Lighting with an Overlay Neutral Layer

Sculpting a portrait with light and shadow can give depth and drama to a flat image. By working on Overlay neutral layer you can experiment freely, and if you overdo any lighting additions it's easy just to throw away the offending Overlay neutral layer and start over.


  1. To add a hint of light to a portrait, start by adding an Overlay neutral layer. (Option + click)[Alt + click] the New Layer icon on the Layers palette. Set the Mode to Overlay and click Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray).

  2. Set the foreground color to white and use the Airbrush tool with a large soft brush set to 2% Pressure on this neutral layer to add highlights to the subject's face, as seen in Figure 9.83.

  3. Figure 9.83Figure 9.83 Working with a very subtle white brush to lighten up the highlights of the face.

  4. Adjust the Opacity of the Overlay layer to refine the effect.

The additional retouching on this portrait was achieved by using the Clone Stamp tool on empty layers and retouching the eyes with the Dodge and Burn tools as described earlier.

Painterly Light

Noses, cheekbones, chins, and foreheads are our prominent features, and they catch more light. Accentuating these five protruding areas with light adds a painterly quality to a portrait. In Figure 9.84, you see a portrait by Rick Billings that has been retouched to take out a few minor blemishes. Figure 9.85 shows how Rick used painterly techniques as described previously to accentuate the contrast, color, and detail of the eyes and lips. Painting with white on the prominent spots on the woman's face on a new layer creates area of light that enhances the portrait.


Figure 9.84Figure 9.84 Before


Figure 9.85Figure 9.85 After

Shaping the Hair with Light

After retouching a subject's face, take a few minutes to shape the hair by adding highlights and shadow to the natural form of the hair. Figure 9.86 is yours truly at the end of a long conference day, and Figure 9.87 shows me with improved skin, eyes, and hair with sparkle and life to it.

Enhancing highlights and shadows adds dimension and liveliness to hair. This technique is called wedging, and you can use it to add tonal depth to hair or a person's clothing. It only takes a few seconds, but makes the final portrait look richer.

Figure 9.86Figure 9.86 Before


Figure 9.87Figure 9.87 After


  1. To accentuate highlights, add a Color Dodge neutral layer by (Option + clicking)[Alt + clicking] the New Layer icon on the Layers palette. Select the Color Dodge Mode and check Fill with Color-Dodge-neutral color (black).

  2. Because you want to work very subtly and build up the contouring, use the Airbrush tool with a large soft brush with white paint set to 2%–5% Pressure to trace the contours of the natural hair highlights, as seen in Figure 9.88.

  3. Figure 9.88Figure 9.88 Working on a neutral Color Dodge layer painting with the Airbrush tool with a large soft brush emphasizes the highlights.

  4. To accentuate shadows, add a Color Burn neutral layer by (Option + clicking)[Alt + clicking] the New Layer icon on the Layers palette. Select the Color Burn Mode and check Fill with Color-Burn-neutral color (white).

  5. Use the Airbrush tool with a large soft brush with black paint set to 2%–5% Pressure to accentuate the contours of the shadows, as shown in Figure 9.89.

  6. Figure 9.89Figure 9.89 Working on a Color Burn neutral layer painting with the Airbrush tool with a large soft brush emphasizes the shadows.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020