Portrait Retouching

Portrait Retouching Tips | Skin

Portrait Retouching

Mastering the skill of portrait retouching is an incredibly valuable asset for professionals across a variety of creative industries, and whether you are  an aspiring freelance photographer, graphic designer, or marketer at an agency, or maybe you just want your photos to pop — the ability to tastefully execute refined portrait retouching is a skill that will serve you for years to come. 

If you’re looking to advance in your current career or improve your photos appearances, you may want to consider our Adobe Photoshop Bootcamp to learn the right ways to use Photoshop to edit images and more. 

A Note on Portrait Retouching

It’s important to keep in mind that today’s camera lenses are astonishingly sharp. This is wonderful for those of us “high-resolution freaks”, but when it comes to portraits this can be very unforgiving. When tastefully done, portrait retouching should soften a subjects imperfections and enhance their positive features, all while maintaining the authenticity of the person being photographed. With retouching being such a sensitive topic in the media today – perhaps the most important thing to remember is to not overdo it.

Portrait Retouching

Evaluate the Situation Before You Start

There are many techniques to do the same thing, there is no best technique to use all the time, it is dependent on the situation. When it comes to portrait retouching, there are many factors to consider. The image itself is an obvious one, but also keep in mind the amount of time you have, how far is the subject from the camera, if your image will be printed in a large format, or simply posted on Instagram. Know that it will take a lot of time to find out what your favorite go-to tools are for each situation so be patient and allow yourself some time to play!

Layers, Masks & Opacity

By creating and utilizing multiple layers, you will be able to tweak and refine each of your filters/adjustments individually. You can do this by creating a blank layer (shft-ctrl/cmd-N), a copy of a layer (ctrl/cmd-J), or a layer that flattens all of your layers into one, new layer (Ctrl/Cmd-Shft-Alt/Option-E)

Make sure to turn your layers on and off as you go to watch how far you have taken the image – it’s easier to adjust the layers one by one than to have gone too far and need to adjust all of them at the end. 

To adjust layers – you can add a layer mask. Then by using the brush tool, you can paint that layer on or off by using a pure white or pure black brush setting (make sure you have the mask selected!). By lowering the overall opacity of the layer, you can also adjust the intensity of the effect of that specific layer.


Actions are a recorded set of procedures or “actions” that can be reused on more than one image.

These can be created by the user or loaded with an ATN file. Premade actions can be purchased in numerous places – we recommend checking out Creative Market for some reasonably priced actions to start with.

Actions are helpful when you are adjusting multiple images and want to increase your productivity and speed up your workflow. Actions can help you save, resize, apply masks, add filters, etc. 

To record an action –

  1. Open your actions panel
  2. Click the options bar in the top right corner and select ‘new action’
  3. Name your action
  4. Select the group you’d like to organize it in and press ‘record’
  5. Once you are done, hit the ‘stop’ button to the left of the red record button
  6. To load an action you have downloaded, click that same options button in your actions panel and select ‘load actions’

Use a Tablet

If you are going to be retouching a large number of photos, one of the best ways to increase your productivity is by using a drawing pad or tablet. We recommend Wacom brand tablets. This gives you the ability to work as though you are drawing on the photo and adjust the amount you

Portrait Retouching | Blemish Removal

In Photoshop there are so many ways to create the same effects, this is also true for skin softening. Blemish removal is among one of the most basic and necessary steps in portrait retouching. There are multiple tools available to do this like the Spot Healing Brush, Healing Brush, and the patch tool. The spot healing brush is the quickest and our favorite – but not necessarily the best nor highest quality. 

Check out the PiXimperfect’s video below to see a few of the ways to remove blemishes: Complete Guide to Removing Blemishes in Photoshop

Portrait Retouching

Tools & Short Cuts

  • Toggle through Tool Options – Hold Shft – Press Tool Shortcut EXP: Shft-J
  • Spot Healing Brush – J
  • Healing Brush – J
  • Clone Stamp (supplemental) – S
  • Creating a blank layer – Shft-Ctrl/Cmd-N
  • Make a new layer of all layers – Ctrl/Cmd-Shft-Alt/Option-E

Portrait Retouching | Skin Softening

Most professional retouchers use a set of actions when softening skin. Depending again, on the situation and where the photo will be used, you may want to spend additional time adjust every step of the process to make your images very high-end.

Frequency separation is the most advanced version of skin softening. This separates the high frequencies from the low frequencies – high contains the skin texture and the low contains the color and tone. Using this method prevents a high-quality image from looking like beauty mode on our phones where everything is basically blurred. 

Tools, Adjustments, Filters

  • Invert Layer – Ctrl/Cmd-I
  • High Pass Filter
  • Filter Blur Gausian Blur
  • Brush – B

PiXimperfect has created two very helpful videos that walk you through a quick version that teaches you how to create a reusable action as well as an in-depth version that uses (and explains) frequency separation. 

Portrait Retouching

Adobe Photoshop is a complicated program with unlimited capabilities for image creation, portrait retouching, editing, and design. The Adobe Photoshop Bootcamp at Digital Workshop Center is designed to show you real-world applications of this incredible tool. Want to learn more? Contact us today to get creative, advance your career, or land the job of your dreams.

Learn how to retouch like a pro?