Minor Retouching in Photoshop Elements
You don't need extremely high-end editing software to make minor retouches and edits to your photos. In fact, you can still achieve wonderfully pleasing results with something like Adobe Photoshop Elements. Here's a quick run-through that is simple and thorough.
First and foremost, shoot in RAW. That's not to say that great photos can't be shot in JPEG, but shooting RAW images makes editing much easier in the post-production process. This is evident in the Camera Raw window that came up in the photo above, when I imported the image into Photoshop Elements. Please note that I'm using Elements 6, and not the latest version.
This image was shot with the Canon 5D Mk II and 85mm F/1.8 (wide open and focusing on his eyes) in a very dark cafe in TriBeCa, NYC.
My first step in fixing my images is to tweak the exposure levels so that I have a more balanced histogram to work with (which you can see in the top right corner). In this case, I'm raising the exposure levels, as seen in the exposure slider on the right-hand side.
After playing with the exposure levels, it's time to lower the color temperature (white balance) of the image. Then, it's a matter of adjusting the tint levels to whatever pleases my eye.
After adjusting the color-balance levels, I thought that the image could used another bump in the exposure level. So I adjusted this again until I felt it was appropriate.
Then I started to notice just how red his skin was, so I desaturated the image a bit by lowering the saturation slider. With some minor tweaks, his skin suddenly started to look more life-like.
Since I raised the exposure levels, the image noise/grain started to show a bit more. To counter this, I switched to the detail panel and raised the Luminescence slider under the Noise Reduction section.
After tweaking the noise levels, I still felt that the image was too dark. So I raised the exposure again. Notice how the shadow behind Sal (the gentleman pictured) is now much lighter.
Now that I was finally happy with how this looked, I decided that it was time to work under the hood a bit more. The next step was to click "Open Image."
When you click "Open Image," you're brought into a totally new interface that allows you to make different manipulations to your images.
Now the first thing to do is to create a new layer. In Photoshop, you always want to work in layers because if you make a mistake, you'll be able to backtrack much easier, and you'll also be able to spot the differences in what you've done over time.
Another tip is to name each layer appropriately. So if you're going to blur the skin in one layer, name it, "Blur Layer."
In the first layer, I usually like to work on the eyes. On my Macbook, I pressed Control + to zoom into the eyes, in order to make it easier for me to work.
To bring the color of Sal's eyes out more, I used the color dropper tool on his eyes and took the color.
Now I switched to the brush tool, and after making sure that the mode up on top was set to Saturation, I began to work on his eyes.
After this I went down to the area shown above and selected the Dodge tool, with which you can brighten specific areas. I wanted to brighten the whites of his eyes, so after selecting this tool I chose a level which subtly brightened the whites, without making them look too processed. After this, I used the burn tool to darken the corneas.
All of this requires great care to touch only certain areas.
Now that I've done all the work that I needed to do on the eyes, I go on to create a new layer. In this layer, I retouch the skin and blur it a bit to hide any flaws.
I don't want the changes I make in this layer to affect the layer below it (which it can do because of the order of the layers), so I used the magic wand tool to erase the eyes in this layer. Of course, I unchecked the other layers on the right hand side before this.
If you're good with the magic wand tool, then I encourage you to use that option. However, I'm a manual control freak, so I preferred just to use the erase tool, for the most precise results.
After the eyes were all done, I used the spot-heal tool to find imperfections in Sal's skin that would stand out.
After making the appropriate changes, I went to the filter tool and selected Gaussian Blur.
At this point, I adjusted the blur levels until I achieved a result that pleased my eye for the portrait.
Finally, I chose the Flatten Image option, which merged all of the layers into one image.
Now that it was all over, it was just a matter of choosing the "Save for the web" option. I usually resize the image to 1000 pixels on the wide side of the image, click Apply, and then save the image.
This is the final image, which looks natural, and is very pleasing to the eye. Sal's eyes remain sharp, his skin is soft, major flaws have been removed, and the color is balanced to look natural.
Questions? How do you edit images like this? Let us know in the comments below.