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Retouching Portraits in Camera Raw

One of the main things we’ve always had to go to Photoshop for was retouching portraits, but now, by using the Spot Removal tool, along with the Adjustment Brush, we can do a lot of simple retouching jobs right here in Camera Raw, where they’re completely non-destructive and surprisingly flexible.

Step One: In the portrait shown here, we need to do some basic fixes first (the white balance, for one, is way off), then we want to make three retouches: (1) we want to lighten and brighten her eyes,(2) we want to remove any blemishes and soften her skin, and (3) we want to sharpen her eyes and eyelashes. These were all things we’d have to go into Photoshop for, but now we can do all three right here in Camera Raw. Let’s start by fixing the white balance first, then we’ll do the retouch. The image at the top here shows the As Shot white balance, which is way too blue. From the White Balance pop-up menu, choose Flash (since the photo was taken with a studio flash), which gets rid of the blue, but for this particular image, to me it makes it look too warm (yellow), so drag the Temperature slider to the left a bit (as shown in the bottom image) until the skin tones look about right (not too yellowish). Next, we’ll do some retouching, and we’ll start with brightening the whites of her eyes.

Step Two: First, select the Zoom tool (Z) from the toolbar, and click on the image to zoom in a bit closer, so you can see the eyes clearly. Now get the Adjustment Brush (K), then in the Adjustment Brush panel on the right, click three times on the + (plus sign) button to the right of the Brightness slider to increase the Brightness amount to +75. Choose a small brush size using the Size slider, then paint directly over the whites of her eyes (as shown here) and, in this case, probably her irises, as well, to brighten them. If they look too bright, we can always lower the Brightness amount after the fact.

Step Three: Next, we’ll remove some facial blemishes, so zoom in tight on an area where you see some, and then get the Spot Removal tool (B; its icon looks like a brush with sparkles around it, and it’s circled here in red). This brings up the Spot Removal options panel, and the only thing you need to do here is make sure the Type pop-up menu is set to Heal (rather than Clone). Now, you just click directly on the blemish you want to remove, and draw outward. As you do, a little red circle will appear that grows in size as you drag. Make that red circle a little bigger than the blemish and then let go of your mouse button. A green second circle will appear, which shows where it’s sampling skin from to repair your blemish. If, for some reason, it didn’t pick a good patch of smooth skin (and your retouch doesn’t look good), click on this second circle, drag it to another nearby area, and it will resample that skin area, which should do the trick. Go ahead and remove all the blemishes.

Step Four: Switch back to the Adjustment Brush, then click the – (minus sign) button beside Clarity four times to set the Clarity amount at –100 (this is called “negative clarity” by people who love to give everything a name). Increase the size of your brush (by using either the Size slider or the Right Bracket key on your keyboard), and then paint over her skin to soften it, but be careful to avoid any areas that should stay sharp and have lots of detail, like the eyebrows, eyelids, lips, nostrils, hair, etc. (as shown here). Lastly, click on the New radio button, set the Sharpness to +100 and Clarity to +25, then paint over the irises of her eyes and her eyelashes to help make them look sharper and more crisp, which completes the retouch (a before/after is shown below).

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