Professional Portrait Retouching Tips

Professional Portrait Retouching Tips

Professional portraits have come a long way since the days of harsh lighting and mottled brown backdrops. Portrait retouching tools have also evolved, which means your subjects expect you to make them look really, really good.

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. This portrait is straight from the camera and will help us walk through some retouching basics.

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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 grey or white. The rest of your colors will shift automatically.

Screen Shot ProPortrait Retouch 600-1

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.
Screen Shot ProPortrait Retouch 600-2

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, but it wasn’t necessary in this photo. Make sure that no area of the skin is so bright or dark that it loses detail.

Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie. Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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 are dark and responded well to a lot of lightening with the fade turned up pretty high.

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 minor moles. This tool also works wonders on the razor bumps that frequently show up on men’s necks and cheeks.

Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

Ease the wrinkles

Click Wrinkle Remover to touch up the bags and creases under 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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to touch up your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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 remember to be light-handed here, too. Use this tool to enhance your subject’s smile without making the teeth distracting or artificial looking.

Use PicMonkey's tools to whiten the teeth in your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to reduce the shine on your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

Review and sharpen

Zoom out and take a look at the photo as a whole. This one could use a little more brightness, so we’ll take care of that before moving to the last adjustment, sharpening.

Use PicMonkey's tools to adjust the exposure of your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to sharpen your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

Straighten, save, and crop

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.

Use PicMonkey's tools to straighten your professional portrait photos, like this one of a dark-haired man in a suit with a red tie.

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. You can also save your photo to Hub and it’ll be ready to re-edit whenever you want it.

One thing professionals need in a portrait is a variety of crops. They’ll need different shapes and sizes for their social media pages, like their LinkedIn profile. They may also need the picture for a business card, which usually requires a vertical crop. They may also have a specific need, like a 16:9 crop for a slide in a presentation. The Crop tool can make all of these, and has a number of presets in the drop-down menu.

Use PicMonkey's tools to crop your professional portrait photos. Use PicMonkey's tools to crop your professional portrait photos. Use PicMonkey's tools to crop your professional portrait photos.

In Crop, 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.

Learn to retouch a professional portrait—like this one of a dark-haired man with a red tie—with PicMonkey's tools.

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Levi Sim
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 Photofocus.com.