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Removing Braces

Remember how I said there’s a fine line between tasteful retouching and retouching that is just flat-out fake? Well, in this tutorial we’re going to make an exception because braces aren’t really a part of anyone’s life that they care to remember. They’re not part of us. They’re a temporary fix for something and most people can’t wait to get them off, so it’s okay to take a creative approach here—especially if it’s a portrait that you’re going to look back on one day. Why remember the braces—just remember the smile.

  • Step 1. Open a photo of someone with braces. If you’re lucky, they have those newer braces that are transparent or the color of teeth. If not, they’re the silver kind. As you can see here in this photo, we’re working with the old silver kind.
  • Step 2. The first part is something I learned from Jane Conner-Ziser and it’s a great little trick. First, choose File>New>Blank File and create a new document. Enter 50 pixels for the Width and Height, 72 ppi for Resolution, and choose RGB Color as the Color Mode. Click OK to make the document.
  • Step 3. Choose Edit>Fill Layer to open the Fill Layer dialog. Change the Use setting to 50% Gray and hit OK. This fills the layer with a neutral gray color.
  • Step 4. Now choose Filter>Artistic>Film Grain. Set the Grain to 1, the Highlight Area to 0, and the Intensity to 5, then hit OK.
  • Step 5. Press Ctrl-A (Mac: Command-A) to Select All. Go to the Edit menu and choose Define Pattern from Selection. In the Pattern Name dialog, give your pattern a descriptive name like “Removing Braces Pattern” and click OK.
  • Step 6. Okay, we’ve just created a pattern that is going to help us remove the braces. Now it’s time to remove them. Switch back to your photo and press the letter Z to get the Zoom tool and zoom in on the braces. Then select the Healing Brush tool from the Toolbox (or press J until you have it). In the Options Bar, set the Mode to Screen and click on the Pattern radio button. Then click the small down-facing arrow next to the Pattern thumbnail and from the Pattern Picker, click on the pattern that you just saved in Step 5. Don’t forget to turn on the Sample All Layers checkbox.
  • Step 7. Also in the Options Bar, set the Healing Brush to a soft-edged brush in a size that is just larger than one of the braces. Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the top of the Layers palette to create a new blank layer. Then, click in the center of one of the braces to start removing it. As you click, you’ll see it start to disappear. Click a few more times until it’s gone. Don’t worry that the wire is still there—we’ll take care of that in another step. Right now, we’re just going to get rid of the big areas.
  • Step 8. Do the same for the rest of the braces on the teeth. Make sure you change the brush size to take into account the teeth that are receding into the background. The closer you keep your brush strokes over only the braces, the better things will turn out. Use the shortcut Ctrl-[ (Left Bracket; Mac: Command-[) to increase the brush size or Ctrl-] (Right Bracket; Mac: Command-]) to decrease it.
  • Step 9. Now, decrease your brush size so it’s just slightly larger than the wire. Click on the wire with the Healing Brush and start removing it just like you did the braces.
  • Step 10. Okay, we’ve got a good start here and we’ve done a lot of the heavy work. Now it’s time to take care of the details. At this point, your image should look similar to mine and your Layers palette should have just two layers—the original photo and the layer on top that we’ve been doing all of our healing work on.
  • Step 11. The first thing we need to do is add some spaces between the teeth. They all seem to blend together at this point. Select the Eyedropper tool (I) and click to sample the color between two of the teeth where a space is still intact. This will change your Foreground color to that color you just sampled.
  • Step 12. Select the Brush tool (B), and choose a very small soft-edged brush—about 2–4 pixels should do. In the Options Bar, drop the Opacity of the brush down to 30%. Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the top of the Layers palette and start painting a space between those two teeth. (Double-click on the new layer’s name if you want to rename it so you know what is on each layer.) Make sure you build up each paint stroke by painting over it several times, since your brush opacity is so low.
  • Step 13. Repeat Steps 11 and 12 for the spaces between each tooth. It’s best to continually resample an area from the existing space between the teeth because the color changes between each one.
  • Step 14. Now that we’ve made a good start in rebuilding the teeth, it’s time to start getting the color back. Create another blank layer on top of the rest. Use the Eyedropper tool to sample a color toward the center of one of the teeth, but make sure it’s not over an area we healed with the Healing Brush back in Step 7. Select the Brush tool, set its opacity to 40%, and start painting on the tooth that you just sampled from (increase your brush size if needed). Again, click multiple times with the Brush tool to build up the effect.
  • Step 15. Repeat the previous step for each tooth. Because of shadows, highlights, and lighting, each tooth may be a slightly different color so make sure you sample a color from each tooth. When you get to the edges you’re going to have to, well, fake it. You can probably tell that those areas are pretty much gone so you’ll have to use the color from the tooth closest to it to just fill in that space. Make sure you don’t go over the lips though.
  • Step 16. Whew! We’re almost there. The last thing we need to do is to apply some final touches. Start out by creating a flattened version of your photo with all of the layers compressed. Since we don’t want to lose the original work, in case we need to tweak it, there’s a cool keyboard shortcut for this. Click once on the topmost layer to select it, and then press Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E (Mac: Command-Option-Shift-E; also known as the entire keyboard). Seriously though, this is a great shortcut and it creates one flattened layer on top of the rest.
  • Step 17. Finally, select the Dodge tool from the Toolbox (or press the letter O until you have it) and set the Exposure setting in the Options Bar to 20%. Paint over the middle teeth to lighten them a bit. If needed, select the Burn tool (press the letter O again, until you have it) and do the same for the teeth on the edges to darken them a bit if they’re too light. You can always look at your original photo to see the lighting and determine if the outer teeth are darker than the ones in the center.
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