Editing Portrait in Photoshop: Guide for Beginners

By Tata Rossi 24 days ago, Photoshop Tips

Taking a good pic is only half the battle. Knowing how to edit portraits in Photoshop is no less important for creating eye-catching and fabulous portraits.

You can download Photoshop (a trial version) from the official website for free, or upgrade to a newer version if you are currently using the outdated tool.

Preparatory Step. Photo Culling & Analyzing

portrait culling

Before editing, I advise you to choose the best photos you took and carefully look at how to improve them. Remove the photographs with distracting things (strangers, stains, too bright textures or colors), anything that distracts attention from the model. If some objects cut your model’s face, body or distracts, remove this photo too.

You can select the desired items manually in such tools as Lightroom and Adobe Bridge. Besides, there are many Photoshop tutorials on YouTube on this theme.

Before starting the editing process, remember how you took the image you are going to upgrade. What kind of lighting did you use during a photoshoot? What did you shoot the pics for and what aspects do you want to highlight?

Perhaps, you should make the image more delicate by adding a pinkish tint to the skin, or emphasize your strong character with brighter makeup.

Step 1. Make Basic Adjustments in RAW

Launch Photoshop, open the RAW file, and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) will open in a new window automatically. Primarily, I needed to correct and set the dynamic range of the portrait photo, including blacks and highlights.

To ensure the natural skin color, I also tweaked the WB. Avid photographers know that even when shooting with a flash set for the white balance, the model's skin has an orange tint.

photo color correction white balance before
photo color correction white balance after

Regulate white balance. Eyedropper tool allows fixing white balance in Photoshop without trouble. The image sections for processing should be whiteish, grey, or black. You can also achieve amazing results with Auto White Balance (AWB).

Work on the dynamic range. Head to the ACR Basic panel, find the Black slider, define the black point of your model, and make the black color richer and more intensive. But do not overdo it, otherwise, the fine clothes details could be deleted.

Moreover, it is possible to increase the image brightness by dragging Whites and Highlights sliders. Here you should make certain that the pic is still contrasted and the colors are not faded due to your manipulations.

work on contrast while editing portrait in photoshop

Work on contrast. Once the dynamic range is adjusted it is high time to make a pic more contrasted to highlight the desired parts, like eyes.

The skin tone will help you control the required level of contrast. The greyish tint means that the contrast is too decreased. An oversaturated skin tone indicates that you overdid with contrast.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

Auto Fix White Balance in Photoshop

How to Use Adobe Camera RAW

Step 2. Crop Your Image

crop the image while editing portrait in photoshop

Before polishing the result with sharpening and retouching skin, it is advisable to crop an image in Photoshop. By doing so, you can easily delete any undesired section of your photo like empty spaces, unwanted persons, or objects to bring the focus on the important things.


FixthePhoto retoucher’s tip: Be sure not to crop at the joints like shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, and wrists, otherwise you’ll spoil the whole look.

Perform the following steps when cropping in Photoshop:

  1. Find the Crop tool from the toolbar on the left to make the cropping grid visible.
  2. By moving the grid edges, you can adjust the area for cropping worry-free. Head to the top menu, and pick another preset in the drop-and-down list (square, 4:5, 2:3, and more).
  3. Push the Enter button to crop the pic.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

Everything You Should Know To Crop Photos In Photoshop

How to Crop A Single Layer in Photoshop

Step 3. Remove Flaws Attentively

photoshop portrait with healing brush

The next stage is to get rid of spots, wrinkles, and pimples and even out the skin tone.

The Healing Brush is a versatile tool that can help you fix all these issues:

  1. Head to the left toolbar and choose the Healing Brush. Set the desired size.
  2. Point the cursor to the area that needs to be improved. Then hit the left mouse button. The rest will be done automatically: Photoshop will copy and paste pixels from other areas to correct the flaw.
  3. Do not stop clicking while making small strokes to get rid of all the problem areas. The precision of the Healing Brush tool is very high, but if required the area from where new pixels are taken can be changed. Hold the ALT key on your keyboard and click with the left mouse button to make the brush use pixels from this section.
portrait editing service by fixthephoto portrait editing service by fixthephoto

Want to Delete Blemishes from a Photo in No Time?

Contact the professional retouchers at FixThePhoto for help. They will eliminate problems such as acne and uneven skin tone, and improve hair and makeup within 1-3 business days.

Step 4. Use Frequency Separation for Skin Editing

portrait editing skin retouching before
portrait editing skin retouching after

This image retouching tool will enable you to separate the detail and the color to adjust them apart. You get two layers:

  • the high-frequency digital data layer (the details);
  • the low-frequency layer (tonal features).

Frequency separation helps completely get rid of black-heads from a model’s nose by wiping over the affected area with the clone tool, removing just these defects without damaging the color and tone.

If you want to perform skin retouching and erase minor defects without paying much effort and spending much time, try the collection of ready-to-use actions. With them, enhancing colors, removing shades, and correcting tones is a no-brainer.

The procedure is the following:

  1. Click the layer with the right mouse button and create several duplicates. Choose the first layer and head to the top bar choosing Filter > Blur options. Choose the Gaussian Blur option with the intensity from 4.5 - 5.0. On a newly created layer with much blur, it is easy to correct skin tone mismatch.
  2. Choose the upper layer, head to the top menu, and select Image > Apply Image. In a newly appeared window, go to the Layered field and configure your blurred layer. Afterward, hit Subtract and set it as your blending mode. Choose Scale to 2 and Offset to 128 and confirm all these selections with the OK button.
  3. The resulting layer will feature all the texture details from the original pic. Choose the layer and use Linear Light as the blending mode for it. This will eliminate a grey tone.
  4. Select the blurred layer one more time. Go to the left toolbar and activate the Selection tool. Hover over the area you need to fix with the Selection tool applied. To smoothen the selection edges, set its Feather to 27 pixels. To minimize differences in tone in the skin, use Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and set its strength to around 7 pixels.
  5. Go to the top and select the texture layer. Then go to the toolbar and find the Stamp tool. Choose the desired size and click on the defect to remove it automatically. However, the overall skin tone won’t be affected in this case. Keep it up until you get what you want.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

Step by step Skin Retouching Tutorial

How to Retouch Skin Using Frequency Separation

Step 5. Apply a Dodge & Burn Effect

portrait retouching dodge burn before
portrait retouching dodge burn after

When editing portrait in Photoshop, think of using the Dodge & Burn technique to highlight various facial features or make them neater, as this will add some dimension to your pic.

Here are the steps:

  1. Head to the toolbar and find the Dodge tool there. 15% is the most optimal setting for your exposure.
  2. Remember that the Dodge tool is sensitive to painted picture sections, so consider adding some strokes to the parts you are going to highlight.
  3. So this is where the Burn tool comes into play. It can intensify shadows. Choose the appropriate size and make sure that the exposure strength is 15%. Add some strokes near the eyes, nose, under cheekbones, lower lip, and jawline.

FixthePhoto retoucher’s tip: To make sure that the skin looks realistic, avoid making too many and too large strokes. It is better to use layers: add two of them and set both to Overlay. Then you need to choose the black shades to create shades. Afterward, change the color to white and make the painted sections lighter. If the intensity of the effect is too high, decrease the layer opacity.

portrait editing teeth whitening before
portrait editing teeth whitening after

This technique is also applicable when you need to whiten teeth in Photoshop, for example. You can also perform this task using the teeth whitening photo editor. But make sure that you do not go overboard with whitening, as the teeth won’t look realistic. To achieve a perfect look, the Opacity should be set to 50%.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

How to Whiten Teeth in Photoshop

How to Adjust & Change Facial Features in Photoshop

How To Create a Simple Dodge & Burn Effect In Photoshop

Step 6. Refine the Hairdo

photoshop portrait to refine the hairdo

You can add hair in Photoshop, change hair color, remove frizzy hair, and add shine. Some tasks, such as removing stray hairs, can be accomplished using the Clone tool. With it, it is easy to capture background and paint over an image section, which is ideal when it comes to dealing with hair that is layered over skin or patterned backgrounds.

Liquify filter will come in handy if you want to remove hair in the shortest possible time. This eliminates the need to spend hours discerning details, as you can get rid of stray hairs by puckering and pulling areas of an image.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

The Easiest Way to Change Hair Color in Photoshop

How to Remove Stray Flyaway Hairs in Photoshop

Increase Hair Volume

Step 7. Sharpening the Eyes

photoshop portrait for eyes sharpening

When editing portraits in Photoshop, it is recommended to divide the workflow into stages. For instance, you can sharpen the eyes at first, and then proceed with sharpening clothes and skin.

You can experiment with actions to make your eyes vivid but natural-looking. The collection contains 100 free tools for making the eyes on your portrait pics ideal in a jiffy.

Although the number of ways to sharpen images in Photoshop is virtually limitless, the simplest one is the following.

  1. Create a duplicate of your background layer and name it eyes. Then convert it to a smart object by clicking the right button of the mouse two times.
  2. Head to Filter > Sharpen and look for Smart Sharpening. Set it to 500%. Extend the radius until the large structures in the iris emerge. The next step is to select a lower value so that the noise and sharpening become well-balanced. Only a small amount is required to minimize noise.
  3. Now it is possible to apply the effect from a smart filter on the pupils and irises. For this, find the white square on the smart filter level and follow this path Edit > Image > Invert. The square will change the color to black, which means that the filter is not acting on the pic. Paint the pupil and iris of both eyes with white to focus the functioning of a filter on those areas.

FixthePhoto retoucher’s tip: To customize the features and poses of your model, use Photoshop AI tools. Select the Smart Portrait option to position the head differently and change the facial expression to save time taking pics of the subject in different poses.

Step 8. Sharpening the Skin

portrait retouching sharpening before
portrait retouching sharpening after

If the skin’s focus is too soft, it is possible to make it sharper with a High Pass filter, which delivers excellent results with minimal noise.

  1. You need to make a “stamp” level, which is actually an image copy refined will all previous editing manipulations. Commmd+Option+Shift+E on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E on Windows are the needed commands.
  2. Duplicate this level and turn it into a smart object.
  3. Head up to the menu bar and select Filter > Others > High Pass. In the emerged window, there is a Radius slider, with which you can easily increase the radius to make the pic in the grey area more visible. The intensity of the effect greatly depends on the radius size. I decided to stop when the pic creeps into the grey area. For this, a radius of 0.9 pixels was ideal.
  4. Apply the changes and select the “Overlay” or “Soft Light” to smoothen the sharpening if needed. Make the white square in the smart filter level black and paint back the skin and hairs only.

Do this procedure again, now using the larger radius to make the clothes sharper.

Recommended Video Tutorials:

Quickest Way to Effectively Smooth SKIN & Remove Blemishes

[Quick and Easy] How to Sharpen Images in Photoshop

FixThePhoto Retouchers’ Tips

Open the image in 2 windows. When editing portraits in Photoshop, open a photo for processing in two windows and put them side by side for more convenience. In this case, any editing manipulation with the first pic will be automatically applied to the second one. You can scale a pic to refine the specific image section and check whether these changes improved the overall look of a photo.

Turn your photo into a work of art. If you want to make your pic look like hand-painted, take advantage of Photoshop filters. Open the filter gallery, choose the dry brush filter, and correct the hue and saturation to achieve the desired effect. You can also experiment with ready-made actions to achieve the effect of an oil painting.

editing portrait in photoshop with actions

Highlight eyes with contrast. If you want the model’s eyes to pop up, increase the contrast by making the pupil and outer edge darker and other parts brighter.

Take advantage of Sharpening and Blurring filters. The sharpening tool is what you need to make an image more detailed, whereas the blurring tool is ideal for capturing stunning images with the perfect balance of sharpness and blur.

Experiment with the halos effect. To create a stunning halo effect, it is necessary to illuminate the subject. Using a very soft flash of the brightest color ensures the most optimal results. Besides, increasing the depth of field or pulling the depth of the bright color closer allows for achieving a more dramatic effect.

editing portrait in photoshop with halos effect

Get acquainted with the warping effect. Use an off-center photograph in portrait mode to see how this effect works. If your frame is not ample, think of cropping the pic to the center and then warp it to either side. To apply this effect to a photo, open the pic in Photoshop, and hit the warp tab. Choose the center image and cancel the selection for the warp area to make a new shape.

Create the darkening effect. This technique allows for intensifying shadows and making highlights in your images lighter. To do this, find an image masking feature in Ps. Leverage the toolbox to choose the shape for darkening and use the masking from the collection of background pics. Select the shadow to darken it with a white canvas and then use the paint fill tool to fill in the gaps.

Bonus Tools

editing portrait in photoshop bonus tools

By means of Photoshop actions, you can brighten eyes, make teeth pure white or enhance the skin tones. There are over 300 free features for shooters that work in any genre. Export and install the Photoshop action you want to apply or add the whole page of free actions for Ps to use later. Use Photoshop CS 4-6 or Photoshop CC to refine images with these filters.