Before We Begin
Let’s take a look at the original photo that we will be using courtesy of Alraunie-Stock on Deviant Art.
1. Study Your Photo First
It’s very tempting to dive into a photo and erase the flaws you immediately detect, but before making any major changes, try to study it first. A photo tells you a lot about itself. Notice the relationship of the light source and the shadows it casts on your subject or the photo’s environment. Take into consideration how the original photo looks in order to understand its potential.
Make mental notes of which details will stay and which ones will be omitted. Identify which area will be the main focal point that will hold your audience’s attention, and what it will take to highlight it. Once the direction you take becomes clearer, then proceed with your alterations.
2. Use The Crop Tool
The crop tool is one of the most underutilized tools in Photoshop. Just because a photographer takes a picture doesn’t mean that everything in the picture has to stay. Looking at this photograph, we’ll see the model is a young woman with beautiful big eyes. However, the rest of the body is a bit over-posed, and therefore diminishes the intensity of her eyes.
By cropping the photo we notice a few things happening. First, the tight shot brings the viewer’s attention back to her face. Then the photo becomes "heavier" on the right side, meaning the viewer’s eyes dart straight to her face, highlighting her gorgeous eyes. Lastly, did you notice this crop makes the photo seem more cinematic? While the original photo looks like a model, the cropped shot could be a still of a scene, perhaps where we catch the actress’s glace back at the camera. Great photography creates an unspoken story that only the viewer plays out in their head.
3. Edit Photo Before Removing Flaws
Nearly all photos should be adjusted with either Curves or Brightness and Contrast in Photoshop. Making these adjustments brings a newfound intensity to the photo, making it go from dull to full of life. While many focus on removing flaws, I’d rather make all the final adjustments on the photo’s overall mood and color scheme first.
We want to create a mood that is appropriate for her expression and look, so I first pass the photo through Curves to intensify the lighting, and then move onto editing with Color Balance. As mentioned previously, I wanted the focus of this photo to be the girl’s gaze, so Color Balance allows me to alter the general color of her hair and the environment while maintaining color harmony. Notice how these changes altered the mood of the photo by taking the attention away from her hair color. Lastly, I added a layer of a solid dark blue color and switched the blending mode to exclusion for an air of mystery.
4. Keep Airbrushing Natural
The last step in completing this photo is removing flaws. When you airbrush a photo, try to keep it as natural as possible because overly processed photos are always obvious to their viewers. I used the Stamp tool to cover a wide range of edits including the removal of stray hairs, bags under the eyes, and piercings. The stamp tool allows me to paint over flaws by sourcing nearby areas, creating a seamless transition from what was once there to what is now gone.
Try not to remove flaws by blurring the photo because you’ll create an unnatural effect where the skin is blurry while everything else remains sharp. Instead, you can use a slight blur to focus on small areas where your subject has large pores. Also, use the Liquify tool in moderation. Here, the Liquify tool was used to shape her hair so it appears shorter, and for minimal edits around her face.
You can bring out the best qualities of any photo by paying close attention to its details. Base your editing decisions on what works best for the photo, and you’ll be able to compliment any photographer’s work in no time. Good luck!