Portraits: part one / 26 comments + post
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In this tutorial we will work through a range of examples, using four layered Photoshop files, to explore a variety of techniques for enhancing your portraits. The techniques we will discuss include choosing a technique to enhance the message you wish to convey, soft-focus effects, and selective masking of a subject's eyes.

The specific topics covered in the tutorial include:

• What do you want to say?
• Getting the message across
• An introduction to soft-focus effects
• Adding a soft-focus effect
• ‘Soft Light’ and Overlay blend modes
• Enhancing eyes


oldest comments first
comment by Eric at 12:34 AM on 19 November, 2007

Again, quite well done. While, I'm not a fan of some of the techniques (Gaussian Blur), the application of other techniques was very enlightening. Specifically, the combined use of masks, curves, and channel mixer components. When I download the PSDs I immediately 'get it', both literally and figuratively. Thank you.

comment by Alberto at 10:17 PM on 19 November, 2007

Clear and Shiny as always. Really well exposed and great concepts in here. I really like the way You expose every single theme. Waiting for the second part :). I think that the most interesting thing is, not only the technical thought, but the crystalline way You explain the irrational part (emotions and how to represent it). Thank You.

comment by Jennifer at 06:59 AM on 20 November, 2007

Excellent tutorial - who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks ;-)

comment by Jamey at 11:34 AM on 20 November, 2007

"Immediately after creating the Curves adjustment layer I fill the mask with black using the bucket tool (I’m pretty sure there’s a keyboard shortcut for doing this, but I can never remember it). This entirely blocks the effect of the layer."

I don't know about the shortcut for filling black but on a solid white mask I usually do CTRL-I (I'm on a PC) to invert it, which then makes it black.

comment by Lisa Wilkinson at 09:37 AM on 21 November, 2007

another great tutorial :) my only comment is have you got any further with the being able to create a pdf format so i can print it off and have it in front of me im working from laptop and its a tricky keep flipping to and fro

comment by djn1 at 04:49 PM on 21 November, 2007

Jamey: thanks for the tip.

Lisa: I got part way through sorting it out but ran out of time to implement it for this tutorial. When I do get it sorted I'll update all of them.

comment by Paul at 11:56 PM on 23 November, 2007

" I spent ages drawing very precise masks around the whites of people’s eyes and then wondered why my adjusted images ended up looking odd."

Me too!!

This is the single best piece of advice (for me) in this tutorial, I would have never thought of this....thank you!

comment by djn1 at 12:03 AM on 24 November, 2007

Paul: you'll find it makes a huge difference, and providing you don't overdo the adjustments your images will look much more natural.

comment by m at 01:34 PM on 27 November, 2007

Fantastic tutorial, I never realised how much impact a very small change can make if applied well.

comment by Chris at 07:25 PM on 2 December, 2007

Does anyone know if I can use these techniques using Photoshop Elements for Mac? Or do I Need CS3?

comment by djn1 at 07:53 PM on 2 December, 2007

Chris: you can use some of the techniques in Elements 4 for Mac but as there isn't a demo version I can't download it to work out exactly which are compatible.

I know that it probably has all the blend modes you'll need, but I'm not sure if it has a Curves tool. The latest version for PC does (though it's not as flexible as the full Photoshop tool) but I don't know about the Mac version.

comment by dp at 10:35 PM on 11 December, 2007

In response to Chris/djn1: Although certain things won't be possible with Elements 4, it is possible to follow a lot of the tutorials with minimal workflow changes. Extra functionality can be added to Elements through 3rd party (sometimes free) plug-ins. In fact, Elements 3 is actually better in this respect as Adobe closed some of the loop-holes in v.4 so its hard to get curves/channel mixer plugins for v4 whereas its easy for v3... just do an internet search for 'curves plug in photoshop elements'

I'm running behind in the tutorials at the moment, but the one's I've read have been very good so far! I like the idea of a PDF version.

comment by Johan at 07:41 PM on 16 December, 2007

Your portraits are awsome and so is this tutorial! As said above, the PSD's are great, they really are the practical learning element of all these tutorials.

comment by Mike at 12:47 AM on 27 December, 2007

hello, as a new member, i want to say that this is well done. I do like the .psd files and i wish i could use a pdf for reading also...i hate to read for a long time on computers... just can't wait for the lab color one, Merry Christmas to you and your family ;-)

comment by Mike at 08:37 PM on 28 December, 2007

i don't know where to write this, so here it is... i have a suggestion for a tutorial... eyes... not just sharpen and screen a layer, but the magic ones like we see on flickr but nobody will share the recepies... thanks in advance, Mike

comment by djn1 at 08:55 PM on 29 December, 2007

Mike: I suspect that the majority of people will use a masked Curve to adjust eyes, maybe two: one for the white of the eye, another for the pupil and iris. The technique is identical to the one I describe in this tutorial other than that the masks are probably more precise; i.e. in the tutorial I show you how to lighten the eyes and the surrounding area.

comment by salvatore_ at 10:44 AM on 30 December, 2007

Great ...
Really a beautifull work this tutorial ...

comment by paflechien at 10:15 PM on 1 May, 2008

Great job ! My first steps in chromasian pictures !

No french translation available !?

comment by djn1 at 09:21 AM on 7 May, 2008

paflechien: at this stage we don't have any plans to translate the tutorials, but it is something we're considering.

comment by Anurag Sharma at 11:56 AM on 20 August, 2008

I love doing portraits and associated with this is a question.

Do you decide the "look" of the final image at the time you take the photograph or just before you do post processing?

I understood what you said regarding the exploratory nature of landscape images but was wondering when the decision is made on how you are going to manipulate the image....before or after the shot is taken? I.e. are the shots set up to be manipulated or simply just taken and the interpretation of how to present them chosen just prior processing?

Does this make sense?

comment by djn1 at 12:28 PM on 21 August, 2008

Anurag: most of the shots I take of my own children aren't staged in any way so I often grab the shot then think about the processing later.

comment by DREAMS OF LIGHT at 01:34 PM on 13 September, 2009

thanks david.. useful as always!


comment by Jonas (americanvirus) at 06:25 AM on 6 April, 2010

You wrote, "Immediately after creating the Curves adjustment layer I fill the mask with black using the bucket tool (I’m pretty sure there’s a keyboard shortcut for doing this, but I can never remember it). This entirely blocks the effect of the layer."

I use a Mac w/Photoshop CS4. Here are the keyboard shortcuts:

Pressing the letter 'g' will select either the bucket tool or the gradient tool depending on which one you have visible in your tool pallet.

You can toggle back and forth between the gradient tool and the bucket tool by pressing SHIFT+g.

Once the bucket tool is selected you can make sure that your color is set to black by pressing the letter 'd' for the default color.

comment by Jonas (americanvirus) at 09:22 AM on 6 April, 2010

Re: last comment on Keyboard shortcuts.

If your default foreground color ends up being white when you press the letter 'd', you can toggle the foreground color from white to black by pressing the letter 'x'.

comment by djn1 at 09:28 AM on 6 April, 2010

Thanks Jonas.

comment by Badr at 11:36 AM on 3 September, 2011

Many useful techniques were demonstrated in this tutorial and the processing of image 3 was, for me, of particular interest as it allowed me to learn how particular colour tones can be achieved to dramatically change a portrait.

Thank you.