High School Photo Club: Photoshop Retouching

As I said last time, I have been volunteering with the photo club at the high school where my wife teaches. Last post, I discussed some really valuable books for not just learning photoshop, but learning things the way pros do things. Today, I am going to cover the tools I went over during the demonstration.

First things first: Layers. Layers provide a very important and basic function: they allow you to make non-permanent changes to your image. Always make changes on new layers. This is just my opinion, and there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but for where we are going now, stick to it. Making a new layer is easy: Ctrl+SHFT+N or CMD+SHFT+N will do it, or you can find the same command in the menu under Layer->New-> Layer. Don’t worry about remembering hot keys now. You will learn them based on necessity, not memorization.

My main retouching tools are the Clone Stamp, the Healing Brush, and the Spot Healing Brush. I’ve found better explanations than I would have provided, so check those out. I have one important point to make, though. Each tool in photoshop has it’s own toolbar which pops up under the menu bar when you select it. For clone stamp, healing brush, and spot healing brush, you are going to want to check the option: “Sample all Layers” or “Sample Current and Below”, whichever it may be for your particular version of photoshop (it has changed over time). This will let you do your retouching on a separate layer (without this checked, your tool will ignore the pixels from different layers, visible or not). That’s super important for my workflow.

Here is a great tutorial on using layer masks. As you can see, layer masks are super useful. Best of all, they allow you to go back later and change what you’ve done. A popular trick among some retouchers is to use the Edit-> Fade tool to reduce the strength of a tool they’re using. After you make a brush stroke, let’s say, you can use the fade command to reduce that brush stroke’s visibility by a percentage of your choosing. That’s pretty handy, but you can’t come back later and change your mind. You can get the same thing from a layer mask by painting in black at a lowered opacity. And, since layer masks stick around, you, or a client, can come back and change your mind later.

The one thing I would like you to retain from this is that you should avoid making permanent changes to your image. If you can get away with making adjustments that you can change later, it’s worth it. Sometimes, though, a tool (usually a filter) can’t be used on a separate layer. I don’t touch my base layer, so here’s what I do:

I merge all visible layers, select all, copy, undo back to before the merge, create a new layer, and paste in the merged image. This takes everything I’ve done up to that, and puts it into a new layer, on top of everything else. I have an action set up to automate this repetitive task. Since this new layer covers everything underneath it, it negates the effect of any changes you make underneath it. I still say to keep those layers, though.

Finally, the Liquify tool. Here is a good video. Notice that you can use masks within the liquify tool to decide which areas of the image can be affected (and how much!) by your squishing things around. That’s handy for keeping your backgrounds from getting all loopy around your subject. The two main tools I use for retouching skin and faces are the the Forward Warp tool and the Push Left tool. The forward warp tool is not very smooth in my opinion, and I mostly use it when i need to make very small specific changes. If I need to, say, make a nose smaller, or move a chin around, I will use the push left tool. It allows me to retain smooth, natural, graceful lines that tend to become uneven with the forward warp tool.

So there you go, guys. Get good with these tools, keep your changes subtle, and not even your subjects will know! (hint: if you don’t tell them you retouched the image, they will just think that you are a really good photographer!) At the next photo club, I will talk about adjustment layers and field questions about this stuff that I have covered so far.

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