How to Use Touch Up

Portrait retouching is tricky—you need to help your subject look their best without looking fake. Fortunately, PicMonkey’s tools make touching up professional portraits a breeze. Let’s walk through some retouching basics and get this portrait looking its stellar best.

Start with great color

Open your picture in the Editor and choose Colors in the Basic Edits tab. Click the Neutral Color Picker, then click an area of your image that’s gray or white. The rest of your colors will shift automatically.

Click around the picture to see how it works. If your subject is wearing white or grey, try clicking those areas. Otherwise, try the whites of the eyes. Zoom in so the eyes are large enough to sample from and click on the whites. This will give you a good color base to begin retouching.

Craft the contrast

Now choose Exposure to get the brightness and contrast looking good. The Brightness and Contrast sliders adjust the entire picture, while the Highlights and Shadows sliders only adjust the brightest and darkest tones, respectively. Bump up the brightness, then pull the shadows a little darker. You can play with the Highlights slider as well. Make sure that no area of the skin is so bright or dark that it loses detail.

Brighten the eyes

Head to the Touch Up tab and choose the Eyes group, then Eye Brighten. This tool gives the eyes a little punch. Zoom in and size your brush so it’s small enough to paint only the irises. Don’t worry about being messy with this brush; you can use the eraser to clean things up later. It’s often easier to use the eraser to shape the painted area than it is to paint it perfectly in the first place.

After you’ve applied the effect to the whites of the eyes, use the Lighten slider to brighten the color in the irises. The Fade slider can also be helpful, depending on the color of the eyes and how much reflection is showing in them. These eyes responded well to a lot of lightening with the Fade turned up about halfway.

Blast the blemishes

Click into the Skin group and choose Blemish Fix. This is a remarkable tool because it only affects spots that contrast with the area around them. So a red pimple gets removed in a snap, but it won’t leave a mark if you mistakenly click where there’s no blemish. Zap things like spots on the forehead and freckles.

Smooth the skin

Click Wrinkle Remover to touch up distracting crinkles and creases around the eyes. Size your brush and paint Wrinkle Remover on the area, then adjust the Fade slider. Subtlety is key here—this tool could remove the crease under the eye completely, but that would look fake. Go light and remove some of the detail of the crease, then use Airbrush to soften the contrast and make it less apparent.

When using Airbrush, keep the fade set pretty high so it’s gentle, and toggle between Natural and Strong to see which works better. This area is an important identifying feature of the face, so don’t go crazy. Apply Airbrush while you’re zoomed in, but view it zoomed out to be sure you’re not applying too much. These light touch ups make a big impact when they’re all combined.

Whiten the teeth

Click on the Mouth group and choose Teeth Whiten. Zoom in on the teeth, then adjust your brush size and paint on the teeth only. Remember, the eraser is your friend. Adjust the fade to taste, but be light-handed here, too. Use this tool to enhance your subject’s smile without making the teeth distracting or artificial looking.

Reduce the shine

Head back to the Skin group and choose Shine Reduce. Use a very large brush and center it on the shiny spot, then click once. Notice how the shine becomes much less apparent. Click on it one more time if necessary, but keep in mind that if you apply too much the area will become mushy looking. The undo arrow on the bottom toolbar is very useful when touching up portraits.

Review and sharpen

Zoom out and take a look at the photo as a whole. It looks good, so we’ll move on to the last adjustment, sharpening.

Find Sharpen in the Basic Edits tab and click Unsharp mask. Sharpening makes the photo look more polished, and the unsharp mask gives you more control than the regular Sharpen tool. Leave the Radius slider set to one, and slide the Strength slider far to the right to see how it changes your image. Bring it back toward the left while paying attention to smaller details like the hair and eyelashes, to make sure they don’t look chunky.

Straighten and save

Click Rotate in the Basic Edits tab and use the Straighten slider to align your photo. Use the eyes as your guide and make them line up with the grid lines. This small adjustment alters the entire feel of the picture and makes a person seem more trustworthy and honest. Tilted heads can be coy, cute, or thoughtful, or they may be perceived as sly. A level shot makes all the difference in the viewer’s perception.

This picture is looking refined and just about ready to share. It’s a good idea to save a copy now so that you can come back to it if you want to make other adjustments, like creating a black and white version, or cropping at different sizes. You can also save your photo to Hub and it’ll be ready to re-edit whenever you want it.

Crop at different sizes

You may want to create a variety of crops for social media pages, like a LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile pic. You may also need the picture for a business card, which usually requires a vertical crop. The Crop tool can make all of these, and has a number of presets in the drop-down menu.

In the Crop tool (Basic Edits tab) click and drag the corner handles of the grid to change the shape of the picture. You can also choose a set proportion, like 8 x 10, in the drop-down menu. Create one crop, save it, then undo it to create another crop and save that version too.

This portrait is ready to roll!

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Levi Sim is a full-time photographer and dadtographer in Portland, Oregon, who travels way too much while shooting for clients and teaching other photographers. He excels at making meaningful pictures with just about any subject and digs all styles of photography. You can read more of his educational articles on