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Portraits: part one (further information)

An introduction to the ‘Portraits: part one’ tutorial

In a literal sense, a portrait is a simple enough thing – a drawing, painting or photograph of a person – normally of their head and shoulders, often with them looking straight at the viewer. But a portrait can be much more than just a simple likeness or snapshot of a person. A good portrait tells a story about that person. This might be a story about their personality, their mood, their relationship to the viewer, or any number of other things, but whatever it is, a good portrait is always more than just a literal reproduction of the scene before the camera.

There are many Photoshop techniques that you can use to enhance your portraits (some of which I’ve covered in previous tutorials, some of which I’ll be covering in the future), but in this tutorial I will be focussing on three things. The first is a general point about post-processing portraits – i.e. what it is you want your portrait to say – and the remaining two are techniques that I find especially useful in my own work: soft-focus effects and selective masking of a subject’s eyes, both of which can transform a mundane portrait into something much more powerful.

The topics covered in this 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 (part one and part two)

By the end of this tutorial you will be able to:

  1. Think about the message you want your portrait to convey and how to achieve the effect.
  2. Be able to use the ‘Soft Light’ and Overlay blend modes to add a soft-focus effect.
  3. Be able to use selective masks to enhance or alter a subject’s eyes.

This tutorial contains 5470 words, 52 illustrative images and screen grabs, and has received 26 comments.

Photoshop files included with this tutorial

Each of our tutorials is based around a series of Photoshop files, at the resolution originally posted on chromasia, and each contains all the original adjustment layers I used to create the final image. The ones that are included in this tutorial, and a brief description of how each one will be used, are listed below – the ‘before’ version on the left, the ‘after’ version on the right. Each of these files can be downloaded after you subscribe.

How to get from this … to this
Image 1
In this example I discuss the relationship between the message you wish your portrait to convey and the Photoshop techniques you employ to achieve that aim.
Image 2
In this example I show you how to use the Gaussian Blur filter and the Overlay and Soft Light blend modes to add a diffuse, soft-focus effect to your portraits.
Image 3
In this example I show you how to use a masked Curves adjustment layer to lighten your subjects eyes and the surrounding areas of the image.
Image 4
In this example we will work through and refine the techniques discussed in the previous two examples, utilising them both to adjust this image.
What our subscribers have said about this tutorial

"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."


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


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


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


Content overview (the rollover graphics and embedded videos are not illustrated)
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5
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Further information

To find out more about our other individual tutorials please click any of the following images. Alternatively, you can visit our main tutorials page for further information on: our annual subscriptions; our forthcoming issues; and our current members’s offers. You can also read through our sample tutorial on Tonal Range and the Curves tool.

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Critique Slot Screencasts
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HomeOnline tutorials26 comments 
Portraits: part one (further information)