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Retouch a Face


Retouching is camouflage.

You don't have to achieve perfection, especially the further away your efforts are from the eyes, and to a lesser extent, the mouth.

People will be looking at the photograph, not examining it, as you do.

They won't be looking at it up close, at a magnification of 200%.


Be sensitive to over-retouching.

If Uncle Moe has had a mole on his cheek for seventy years—and you remove it—his family may wonder where the mole went.

Ask the subject of the portrait before you do major surgery.

Ask: "What are your good features?"

The person may then list what's wrong, if something is of concern.

You may be surprised.

What you think should be done, is not wanted.

What you don't think needs doing, is wanted by the person.

Purpose, & Love & Money

Retouching is guided by the following.


What are you trying to communicate to the viewer of the photograph?

A portrait of the captain of a lobster boat, at the helm, will be retouched one way.

When she's getting married, the retouching will be done differently.

Love & Money

How much time are you going to spend on retouching?

The first five minutes of work may create a 75% improvement.

Do you want to spend thirty or more minutes to bring the photograph up to a 95% improvement level?

The amount of time beyond five minutes is often determined by:

• Your relationship to the person in the photograph

• How much the person is paying you.

Age & Sex

Your retouching may vary depending on the age and sex of the person.


Use the Navigator panel to enlarge areas that you're retouching.

It's a lot easier to see what you're doing.

Remember, if your brush strays a little too far, the mistake probably won't be apparent when viewing the photograph at smaller magnifications.

Occasionally, when retouching at high magnifications, the retouching won't look good when viewed with the rest of the photograph.

Let's say you magnify the eyes on a portrait.

You lighten them.

Isolated from the rest of the face, the lighter eyes look good.

But, when you reduce the magnification to see the entire face, the eyes are now too light in relation to the face.

So, go back-and-forth with the magnification to check your retouching.

Hand Tool

Do the following to move the magnified photograph.

If the cursor is a hand, click on the screen, hold, and drag.

If you're using a brush, press and hold the space bar to change to the hand cursor.

In the Navigator panel, click and hold on the white box, and drag.

Global Editing First

Edit the entire portrait as you would any photograph.

However, portraits often have less contrast and less saturated color than other subjects.

Local Retouching

Next, you'll work locally with the Spot Removal brush and the Adjustment Brush.

Spot Removal: Blemishes

In the Develop module, click the Spot Removal icon.

Use Spot Removal to remove blemishes, wrinkles, and the like.


Spot Removal

Adjustment Brush

In the Develop module, click the Adjustment Brush icon. q

Adjustment Brush


Click the Adjustment Brush preset menu icon.

You may see another preset instead of Exposure.


Adjustment Brush Menu Icon

Here's the menu of the presets for the Adjustment Brush.


Adjustment Brush Presets Menu

After you click one of the presets, you can modify it by moving the sliders.

The five presets at the bottom have default values.

The default values for the presets are below.

To restore the default values, do the following.

1) Go to Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Lightroom > Preferences (Mac).

2) Click Restore all default Develop settings.

  Exposure Brightness Contrast Saturation Clarity Sharpness
Burn -.32 0 0 0 0 0
Dodge .23 0 0 0 0 0
Iris Enhance .69 0 0 70 0 66
Soften Skin 0 0 0 0 -100 25
Teeth Whitening -.41 0 0 -63 0 0

Brush Settings

You can change the brush settings.

You'll probably want to:

• Use feathering.

• Reduce the effect by lowering Density.

For example, use 50 where less editing is needed, and 75, when a stronger effect is required.

• Select Auto Mask to keep the brushing within bounds.

If the skin tones vary too much, deselect Auto Mask to prevent uneven retouching.

You can save the above settings as an A brush and a B brush.

If you need to erase some retouching, click Erase and brush.


The eyes are the most important part of a portrait.

They're often poorly lighted.

Use the Dodge preset, if needed.

Use the Iris Enhance preset to add color to the eyes.

Use the Sharpen preset to make the eyes stand out more.

Smooth Skin

Use the Clarity and Soften Skin presets to blur the skin.

Avoid blurring the eyes, tip of the nose, and mouth.

Lines & Wrinkles

Lines and wrinkles with shadows can be improved by lightening the shadows with the Dodge preset.


Discolorations include bags under the eyes, large liver spots, rosacea, and the like.

Slight color changes may be hard to see.

Press y to see a before-and-after view.

There are three tactics.

Tactic #1 - Dodge

Hide discolorations by lightening them with the Dodge preset.

Tactic #2 - Desaturate

Click the Saturation preset.

Then, drag the Saturation slider to a minus value.

Brush the discolored area.

Tactic #3 - Brush with the Opposite Color

This tactic is good for too-rosy cheeks, rosacea, and the like.

Green cancels magenta (pink).

You'll brush green on the magenta areas to reduce their color.

Do the following.

1) Click the Color preset.

2) Click the color box.


Color Box

3) Click in the green area of the "spectrum."

4) Click and hold on the tiny white box, and drag it it to this position: H 120% and S 50%.

H is hue, and S is saturation.

Also try cyan, which reduces red.

For cyan, set the hue to 180%, and the saturation to 50%.


Select a Color Window

5) Click the x to close the window.

6) Change the brush settings.

a) Set both the Flow and Density to 25.

You'll vary the Density value often if the discoloration isn't evenly colored.

b) Deselect Auto Mask.

7) Below your photograph, deselect Show Selected Mask Overlay.

If you don't, you'll see the orange mask color as you brush.


Deselect Show Selected Mask Overlay

8) Brush the magenta areas with green, or brush the red areas if you're using cyan.

9) Because the effect is subtle, click the Turn off brush adjustments icon in the lower-left corner of the panel.

Toggle it repeatedly to evaluate.


Turn Off Brush Adjustments Icon

Or, as mentioned, press y to see a before-and-after view.

Skin Tone


The skin tone corrections below are guidelines only.

Within a race or ethnicity, there are large variations in skin tone.

For example, go to Color terminology for race.


Parts of this section were adapted from Correcting Skin Color / Skin Tones in Lightroom.


Also go to the Photoshop Elements tutorials on skin tone:

Skin Tone Correction Guidelines

Skin Tone Samples

Skin Tone Samples Chart

• Methods:

Adjust Color for Skin Tone Method

Color Variations Method

R > G > B Method

Spot Correction Method

Lightroom uses percentages to describe color values.

Photoshop Elements uses a scale of 0 to 255.

How To

When color correcting skin, follow the guideline below.

Red > Green > Blue

Check If Red > Green > Blue

You can use the White Balance Selector to see if Red > Green > Blue.


White Balance Selector

Caucasian Skin Tone

Do the following.

1) In the Library module, select a portrait with a Caucasian skin tone.

2) Go to the Develop module.

3) Click the White Balance Selector in the Basic panel.

4) Move the tool around the portrait to look at the RGB values.

The RGB values appear as percentages at the bottom of the loupe window.

The RGB values are the average of the twenty-five pixels that appear in the window.

Judge the color on areas of the face that are "in between."

That is, avoid shadows, highlights, and cheeks.


White Balance Selector

5) Apply the Red > Green > Blue guideline.

The green percentage should be about midway between the red and blue percentages.

The red percentage should be higher than green.

The blue percentage should be lower than green.

Other Skin Tones

6) Open a portrait with an Asian, Hispanic, or Black skin tone.

Asian or Hispanic skin tones may have less blue, as these skin tones are often more yellow.

Black skin tones are often:

• Darker, so the red values may be lower to add cyan (blue/green).

• More magenta, so the green values may be lower.

Temp & Tint Sliders

7) When using the White Balance Selector, you can change the Temp and Tint sliders.

The up-and-down arrow keys on your keyboard change the Temp.

The left-right arrow keys on your keyboard change the Tint.

When you press one of the arrow keys, the slider moves five points.

To change by increments of 1 point, press Alt + arrow key.

To change by increments of 10 points, press Shift + arrow key.

Note how the percentages for each color change as you move the tool around.

Presets & Plug-ins

If you haven't already, go to Presets & Plug-ins.


You can download retouching-related presets.

Here's the Google search for Lightroom + Retouching + presets.

Download a preset and go to Install.


Plug-ins are available for retouching.

A plug-in is a program that works along side of Lightroom.

The program gets the photograph from Lightroom, processes it, and then sends it back to Lightroom.

Have a look at Portraiture and Portrait Professional.

Download a plug-in and go to Install.