How to Edit Portraits in Photoshop

As a wedding photographer, a part of your job also requires you to edit portraits. And knowing how to edit portraits in Photoshop, which is one of the best ways to perfect your image after you have already shot it, is a skill you will need throughout your career. You can do so much to improve your wedding portraits in Photoshop – adjust exposure, color, remove unwanted spots from the skin, and even whiten teeth. This skill comes especially handy when you have a couple who has requested you for specific edits. Rather than outsourcing it to someone else, you can deliver exactly what your couple requires from you with just a few clicks and tweaks.

Tips On How to Edit Portraits in Photoshop

1. Cull

After you have uploaded your images in Photoshop, you need to cull them. This is the process of going through all your images and then selecting and rejecting them. In this step, you could also categorize your images into those that stand out and others that are simply good images. Instead of deleting your images, you can keep them in separate folders and then begin working on the ones you definitely want to keep.

2. Work in RAW

Start by shooting in RAW. This will ensure you have more freedom to improve and manipulate your images when you start editing them in Photoshop. When you open these RAW images in Photoshop, a dialog box will pop up. This is the Camera Raw, a plugin for Photoshop that Adobe created for photographers. It was being used with Lightroom earlier but is now available for Photoshop users and automatically gets installed when you install the software. This box will show you a set of sliders or editing settings on the right and a toolbar at the top. It will have a preview of your image at the center. The Camera Raw dialog will help you save your edits and export your image once you are done working on it.

3. Straighten & Crop

Cropping an image in Photoshop
Image courtesy of @trevorhooperphoto

With a RAW image open in Photoshop, you can now start making edits to it. You can begin by cropping or straightening it to improve its composition. This can be done after you select the Crop tool from the toolbar. Once the tool is on, you can adjust the cropping boundaries for your image by dragging the edge handles. If you want, you can also use other cropping options such as the Aspect Ratio menu, Swap Width, and Height values, or the Overlay Options, provided in Photoshop. In Photoshop CC, the Crop tool will also help you straighten your image. You will only have to click the straighten icon to make the adjustments.

NOTE: You can crop your image before you begin making other adjustments or after you are done editing.

4. Adjust White Balance

If you feel like your image is a little too dark, you can brighten it up in Photoshop. You can choose to fill light and also up the recovery. You can then move on to adjusting the white balance of your image. A poor white balance, which can make your image look too warm or too cold, can ruin your image and make it look unrealistic. When working in Camera Raw, you can use the Temperature and Tint Sliders to adjust white balance. If you are not working in Camera Raw, using Curves can help you correct the white balance of your image. You will find it when you click on the Image option in the top toolbar and go to Adjustments. From the dropdown menu, you can then choose Curves. Focus on the eyedropper tool and set the white, grey, and black points to adjust the white balance.

5. Color Grade Your Portraits

You can choose to color grade your entire portrait or a section of your photograph in Photoshop. This will help you give a shade or color tone to your portrait. You can access the color grading tool in Camera Raw by going to Filter and choosing the Camera Raw Filter option from the dropdown menu. You can skip this step if you are already working in Camera Raw.

Once you choose the color grading option from the panel that shows up, you will find three color wheels in the window below. These are Highlights, Shadows, and Midtones. This is where you make adjustments to get your desired results. To reset a color wheel, you can just double-click on it. The Gradient Bar below your portrait will allow you to see the colors you are using as your Midtones, Highlights, and Shadows. The Balance Slider will let you balance the color in Midtones, Highlights, and Shadows.

Related Read: Check Out The New Color Grading In Photoshop 2021, This Lives In Camera RAW. The Identical Tool Lives In Lightroom Classic 10

6. Eliminate Noise & Sharpen the Image

Using the sharpening tools in Photoshop to eliminate any noise
Image courtesy of @trevorhooperphoto

You can save your blurry portraits or eliminate any noise from them using the sharpening tools – Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask – in Photoshop. To use the Smart Sharpen technique, go to Filter, choose Sharpen, and then Smart Sharpen. Once a control box appears, you can adjust the Amount, Radius, Angle, or choose to Reduce Noise too. Smart Sharpen lets you control the sharpening amount in shadow and highlight areas, whereas the Unsharp Mask sharpens your image by enhancing contrast along the edges. If you want to use the Unsharp Mask technique in Photoshop, you can again go to Filter, select Sharpen, and then pick Unsharp Mask. Here you will see the Amount slider, a Radius slider, and a Threshold slider.

7. Improve Exposure With Dodge & Burn Tools

Besides improving your image’s overall exposure, you can use the Dodge & Burn tools to adjust exposure selectively. The Dodge tool will let you lighten any underexposed areas of your portrait, while the Burn tool will help you darken the overexposed areas. You will find these tools in the vertical toolbar (the icon looks like a lollipop). Once selected, you will have an option of selecting a brush to paint black or white over your image. The white paint will help you Dodge particular areas, whereas painting any area black will send the Burning command to Photoshop. Before you start painting, select tones from the Range menu. The Midtones option will help you change the middle range of grays. The Highlights will change the light areas in your image, and the Shadows option will change the dark areas.

Related Read: How To Dodge And Burn Your Images In Photoshop

8. Remove Distractions When Editing Portraits in Photoshop

You can use the Spot Healing Tool, the Patch Tool, or the Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop to remove distractions from your portrait. The Spot Healing Tool will help you eliminate small distractions or spots from your photo, and the Patch Tool will help you remove bigger objects from your image. While the Patch Tool will let you select and replace pixels from one part of the image to the other, the Content-Aware Fill will use automatic algorithms to do the same work. Compared to the Patch Tool, the results achieved by using the Content-Aware Fill are better and more sensitive.

Related Read: How To Use The Patch Tool In Photoshop

9. Soften the Skin & Remove Spots

Editing the subject's skin in Photoshop
Image courtesy of @trevorhooperphoto

After making overall adjustments to your image, you can focus on your subject. Start by making edits to your subject’s skin. You can smoothen the skin, remove wrinkles, blemishes, or spots, all while making it look natural by using a combination of various tools in Photoshop.

If you want to smoothen your subject’s skin, use the Spot Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp tool to edit out any marks or blemishes. Then create a duplicate layer or merge a new layer. Invert the layer by pressing Ctrl + I in Windows or Cmd + I in Mac. Now, go to the Layers panel and set the Opacity to 50%. Also, set the Blend Mode to Linear Light. Right-click your layer and Convert to Smart Object. Next, go to Filter, then Other, and then to High Pass Filter. You will now be able to set a value for the amount of blurring or softening you want for your subject’s skin. Go to Filter next and then to Gaussian Blur. Here, just set a third of the value you used for the High Pass. As the last step to this process, Alt-click the Add Layer Mask icon. This will hide the effect. Now, take a white brush and paint over your subject’s skin to reveal it.

10. Work on the Eyes

To enhance your subject’s eyes, start by duplicating the background layer and renaming it. Then, select the Dodge tool and pick a brush. Set brush size, brush hardness, range, and exposure values. Now, use this brush to lighten the iris. Try to stay away from the thin perimeter of the iris and also the pupil. Next, choose the Burn tool to darken the perimeter of your subject’s iris and pupil. You can also use sharpening effects or change the color of your subject’s eyes using the Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer.

Suggested Read: How To Change Eye Color With Photoshop

11. Whiten the Teeth

Everyone wants their smile to look perfect in photographs. And this usually means white and bright smiles. So to whiten teeth when editing portraits in Photoshop, use the Lasso Tool to make a selection along the edges of your subject’s teeth. Then select the Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer in the Adjustments menu. After you do this, Photoshop will transform your selection into a layer mask. Now, go to the Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer properties panel and click on the options bar that says Master, and then select Yellow. You can now move the saturation slider to the left to reduce the yellow in your selection. If there’s a need, you can fix a harsh edge to your selection by selecting Masks in the properties panel. When you see the Masks panel, you can move the Feather slider to the right to give your selection a softer edge.

12. Enhance Hair

Editing portraits in Photoshop by fixing the subject's hair
Image courtesy of @trevorhooperphoto

Removing stray hair, cleaning up the edges, or creating an outline for the hair – your subject’s hair might need some adjustments too. You might also have to fix any gaps in your subject’s hair or add volume to it. All of this is possible if you know how to edit portraits in Photoshop. The Spot Healing brush can help you remove stray hair, while the Clone Stamp tool can be used when you want to clean up the edges. This will help give a smooth look to your subject’s hair. When it comes to adding volume or filling gaps in the hair, the Brush tool will be your friend.

Related Read: How To Fix Hair In Photoshop

13. Resize & Export Your Portrait

Before you use them for your social media, website, or printing, you might have to resize your portraits in Photoshop. To do that, go to the Image option in the toolbar at the top and select Image Size. You will see a new window open. Click the box next to the Constrain Proportions to maintain the proportions of your image. Select the Inches option and check the resolution of your image. Avoid a resolution that’s lower than 200 pixels/inch. Input width and height values you want. Click Ok and save your file now. If you want to, you can crop your image again before saving the final file. You can also use the Save As option to rename the new file while your original image remains safe. To export your portrait, go to File, Export, and then Export Preferences. Before your image gets exported, you can add your preferences here.

14. BONUS TIP: Edit the Same Image in 2 Different Windows

For better control and results, we’d suggest you edit your image in two different windows. Doing this will enable you to focus on the details of your image in one window and the composition in the other. To do this, you can go to Window and then Arrange. Next, click on New Window for (your image’s name). When you see the second window appear, go to Window again and then Arrange. From here, you can pick to edit your image either in 2-up Vertical or 2-up Horizontal.

Related Read: Top 15 Photoshop Tricks For Wedding Photography

Infographic stating with practice you will master photoshop for editing your photos

Editing portraits in Photoshop might seem to be a lengthy and complex process, but with practice, you will be able to get better and quicker. Knowing how to edit portraits in Photoshop will help you impress those who make special editing requests or are simply not comfortable with how they look. It will also help you eliminate distracting elements from portraits, which will save your hard work from going to waste. Remember, no matter what step of editing you are at, don’t modify things to the point where they start looking unrealistic. Keep it balanced and explore the different options that Photoshop provides you to make your portraits look better.

At ShootDotEdit, besides providing useful post-production tips, we also offer photo editing services to help your wedding photography business. To learn what we do and how we do it, check out our pricing plans.

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