Basic Portrait Tutorial

beautiful web
Today I am going to do a breakdown of how I edit basic portraits. I got a little carried away while editing so there are a few steps that I did that I wont break down, because they are not exactly basic. Above this text is a before and after of the photograph we are looking at today.

First I did some simple colour correction and cropping in Lightroom. I always start my editing process in Lightroom, it’s a lot nicer to the photograph because I am editing it in raw.


As you can see once I was in develop I played around with the sliders. I brought down the exposure  and contrast slightly. I changed the WB mode to Shade to give it a brown/red hue. I brought down the highlights quite a bit, and I lightened the shadows as well. I always add contrast by adding more whites and blacks. I never go past +5 clarity when editing the entire picture. Vibrance came up a little bit as well.

square crop and brushing


I cropped the picture into a square format because I found the white sky above my model to be to distracting. Then I went into the adjustment brush, and brought the exposure and saturation down slightly. I also bumped up the temp so it was a little warmer, and I painted around my model. This was to bring more focus towards her face without actually lightning her face.

I also created a new brush and went into her eyeball area to bump up the saturation and the sharpness just a little bit. After all of this I export the photo and open it into Photoshop.

high freq



First step in Photoshop is High Frequency Separation. I am still pretty new to this technique so I put a link to another tutorial on how to do that in here written by a much more experienced photo re-toucher.

Basically the bottom layer has a Gaussian Blur filter to make it so it’s the colours of the image, and the top layer has a High Pass filter on it to retain all of the detail.

You paint the colours you want on the skin to even out the tone on the bottom/blurred layer, and you use the clone tool or the spot healing brush to get rid of blemishes and imperfections on the top/detailed layer.

You end up with something like this:

after high freq


After I am finished with High Frequency, I play around with the dodge and burn brushes. I play around with the midtones of the whites and blacks. Basically I am adding a slight contrast. I do it slightly exaggerated and then I bring the opacity of that layer down so it looks more natural. Then I open a curves adjustment layer and I make a simple S curve. Bring the whites up slightly, the blacks down slightly and then to create a more matte look I soften the blacks by bringing the bottom left arm up and bring down the highlights by bringing the top right arm down.

After that I click where it says RGB and the opens a drop down menu. In there you can play with the reds, greens and blue. Every picture is going to be different. Here I added a bit of reds and yellows to the highlights, and a little bit of blues to the shadows.


doge and burn plus curves


Then I open up my picture into a program I downloaded for Photoshop called Portraiture. This is a cheat for softening skin.




I play around with the sliders until I get something close to what I like. This program can be a little intense so I always do it on a separate layer so I can mask out parts I don’t like and take down the opacity of it so it doesn’t destroy the image. You don’t want to lose the detail in the models face, which is why we do High Frequency Separation to begin with. I just like the softness this adds to the photo. Below you can see my mask.

masking port


Then I combined all of these layers together into a new layer using the action CTRL ALT SHIFT E, and I started to clone out the hair that is sticking out of the models head, as well as some hair that got into her eye and surrounding area. To Do this you use the clone brush on the right side bar, or you can activate it by pressing S.


clone hair


This takes a lot of time and patience but it is totally worth it. Your models hair can’t always be perfect, or the wind could blow some hair into the worst spot on her face. It’s really hard to get everything perfect in camera, and it is super stressful constantly worrying about it when you are shooting. This is the beauty of Photoshop.

Next I played with her eye colour.




I added some colour to her eyes by creating two layers, and painting a very similar blue to what she already had on her eye. The bottom layers blending mode is set to Color Dodge and the top layer is set to Overlay. This really helps bringing the viewers focus to the eyeballs without whitening the whites of the eyeball.

Next I went into Liquify and I slightly changed the shape of the models face. You don’t have to do this at all. I did it in this situation because she was looking straight at the camera and I wanted to make things seem a little bit more symmetrical.


liquify and flip backround


I also duplicated the layer and flipped it, put a mask on the layer and masked in the grassy part over top of the bright orange water that was on her left side. It was extremely distracting and the lightest part of the photo. Your eye always goes to the lightest part of the photo first. Sometimes blown out areas look amazing but in this case it didn’t.

Next I created my own “vignette” and played around with the levels and exposure.

exposure and levels


I selected the area around the model, and feathered the pixels to 300. Then I went into levels and darkened everything. After that I did an exposure adjustment layer and I brightened everything up just a little bit.

Then I started getting a little bit crazy and decided I wanted it to seem even more like autumn, and also warm it up a bit.

replace colour


I made a duplicate layer and I went into Replace colour. I made all of the greens/yellows behind the model into a red colour. After I liked what I saw I masked out the model to make sure no colors were changed on her.

The rest of my process I didn’t screen shot but I will break it down for you anyways.

I started goofing around in the Selective Color adjustment layer to make things even more yellow and orange in the backround.

I desaturated the entire image using the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer because I found the models skin to be a little bit to red.

Then I blurred the backround a little bit with the Lens Blur filter, again masking the model out. To sharpen her eye area I duplicate the layer again, do a High Pass filter and put the blending mode on to Vivid Light and mask out the areas I want to be sharpened. Be careful with this, it’s extremely easy to over sharpen which I am sometimes guilty for.

Last but not least, I added a little bit of noise to the photo. I always add noise to my pictures if I add more blur to the backround otherwise things look to soft and fake.

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