Photoshop Tutorial: Portrait Retouching technique

This tutorial will outline a the basics of Ray Bayer portrait retouching technique. This is a “before/after” example of this adobe photoshop technique.

This picture was taken and post processed by Ray Bayer and originally posted on photosig by Ray

From here on this post is simply a copy/paste from Ray’s own words when he generously shared his technique on DPReview

Many people have emailed me or asked me directly on a various sites as to how I do this type processing. Many, many guesses (most bring a smile) and many hostile comments have graced my images. No actions, no Draganizing, no set steps are involved. It’s done manually and below are the basic steps if anyone’s interested. The images are far from perfect but I like what I do so there are never excuses from me on the way a photo turns out.

The ‘secret’ to these photo’s is based on and really has to do with lighting. I use one White Lightning 1600 on a 48″ Photoflex lightbox set as high as the room allows and to the side of the model aimed across and bounced off of a white reflector set very close to the face. Also one (sometimes 2) Alien Bee B 400’s on an umbrella turned way down and this setup is aimed directly at the face. Also set this as high as your room allows. Experiment with the light output and adjust. I never use a light meter and I don’t look at my camera’s histogram. Ever.

I only use RawShooter Premium 2006 as my raw converter and Canon 1Ds and usually the 70-200 IS although at times I’ll use the Canon 135. You’ll probably also see some noise in some images especially were I brought that part of the image out of shadow as this is the nature of the 1Ds.

I post process in Photoshop CS2 and here is where most of the controversy is correct? My files are naturally ‘painterly’ because they’re shot with the 1Ds and this is just the way the camera processes the file. Very smooth and saturated. At least my camera does. These images are not ‘Draganized’ as many, many seem to think (this stems from some questions I asked on the Dpreview site long ago) and no actions are used.
No burning or dodging is used either.

It starts with a manipulation of exposure with heavy emphasis using the gamma and offset sliders and level/ curve manipulation. Also on some of the more radical images I’ll play with the blending modes.

For the skin I use the high pass filter. Make a duplicate layer and set the high pass anywhere from 6 to 30 pixels, invert and apply a soft blend. (I play with the blends also.) Use the brush set at 100 to brush the eyes, lips, some of the nose, clothes and anything else you want to deblur. I usually use smart sharpen in CS2 but lately I’ve been using Focus Magic with very good results.

Of course this skin technique should be done as one of the last processes before sharpening.

Exact steps: Duplicate the layer/ use the high pass filter. Go to Image/Adjustments and scroll down to Invert and click it. You now have to make a mask.

Go to your layers palette and change the blend to Soft Light. Go to the Layers tab on the top of the screen (under the words Adobe Photoshop) click it and scroll down to Layer Mask, click it and finally click on Reveal All for the mask.

Be sure the brush mode is on normal and play with the opacity to get the effect you want.

Click on the brush tool (make sure the foreground color is in black and not white), set it to the size you like and paint back in the sharpness around the predominate objects in the photo as the eyes, some of the nose (especially the nostrils), the lips, any facial nuances you may want to keep sharp, hair and clothes.

That’s about all I can do to ‘demystify’ my so called technique and I really don’t think what I do as too technical. The cornerstone is LIGHT. Simply practice. Anybody can do it. Really.
I think I touched on the entire process. Email me if you have any questions.

Ray Bayer

More examples of Ray’s work using this technique can be found in the original thread on DPReview