Portrait Retouching Workflow at Paper Prod

How long does it take to edit a portrait?

Speaking of portrait retouching, the answer is not straightforward! Depending on the face structure, type of photography : in studio or on location…the editing time varies between 40min to 1hour per photo. In some cases we could spend up to 2 hours on a single photo. That’s the essence of working on low volume photography. We are going to spend as much time as needed to enhance every portrait, get rid of every distracting details and make it unique.

What do you do during this hour of post production?

Well, we are going to explain our portrait editing path to help you understand what we do. This portrait retouching workflow is only applicable to advanced portraits sessions, where we typically deliver 3-4 photos for 1 hour of shooting.

General adjustments

Adjusting the composition

First, we start our portrait retouching, by making the more obvious adjustments to the whole image : 

Image orientation. Should we add more tension to the portrait by adding rotation?Cropping, focus the attention on the subjectImage geometry. Should we correct horizontal and vertical lines for instance? Let’s say we have a model standing in front of a door. As the door is not perfectly straight, it adds distraction. We will correct horizontal and vertical lines to make the door straight!Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Adjusting the image

We then continue our portrait editing by adjusting every general aspects linked to brightness and tones of the image. Here are some elements : 

  • Exposure correction. Especially true for location portraits, should we brighten or darken the image? 
  • White balance correction. Are the whites truely white or yellowish, green etc? 
  • Levels. We adjust the whole tonal range 
  • Midtones adjustments. Should clear clothes and skin look brighter or darker? 
  • Highlights recovery or overburn. Are clouds in the sky still visible behind the model? Is the sky, or the windows of buildings in the frame totally overexposed, can we still see their details etc? 
  • Shadow correction. Is there too much shadows masking important details? Chromatic aberrations correction, fringing and flares. This is particularly true while shooting facing the sun, and visible on small details. It can create color aberrations around borders, hairs etc in an unpleasant way
  • Sharpness of small details

Portrait retouching

When the general adjustments are done, we have a qualified image to start the real magic. Everything will be balanced and exposed as it should, so we know we have a very good base to work on. The goal of the portrait retouching is to achieve a beautiful natural looking image. We don’t want the skin to look like plastic.This part of the workflow is the longest one. We are going to use virtual brushes, and paint over areas of the skin, hairs, background etc to achieve our portrait, working by very small portions at a time. We will preserve expression wrinkles, scars or any elements of skin texture that creates unique identity.

Dusts and distracting details

We remove any dusts on the photo. It could be small details like dust on glasses, on colored or white background in studio photography. Or it could be a very distracting part of the image like a paint or tag on a bench for example. Any big or small detail that distracts the attention will be removed to let us focus on what matters in the portrait editing : the model. 

Portrait editing, Skin correction, first pass

We are going to fix everything we can on the model’s skin. While always keeping a copy of the original image as we go further and further in the retouching. We will frequently compare the base version and the skin retouched one. We don’t want to loose the essence of the portrait, its authentic nature. What we will fix :

  • Blemishes. We will fix one by one, most of the skin imperfections. Yes you read correctly : one by one!
  • Eyebags. By reducing or removing them depending on the portrait
  • Small strands of hairs falling on the forehead, masking the eyes etc
  • Small lips hair

Skin correction frequency separation

Once we removed most of the imperfections, we will use another layer of skin retouching technique called frequency separation. It will help reduce or remove further skin discoloration and any left imperfection, while retaining skin texture. You can read more about it here.We will apply the effect by painting over the skin, touch by touch extensively, not intensively. 

Matching skin tones

Once we retouched the textures of the skin, we match the different tones. Continuing with the portrait retouching, we will adjust the color of the forehead and forearms for example, so they look similar. We will apply this correction to the whole skin surface. The goal is not to match 100%, but to harmonize everything.

Eyes, lips, hair

At that point, our portrait is beginning to look amazing, and we already spent a good amount of time too! We are going to enhance the eyes by brightening them a little bit and adding a touch of sharpness. We will saturate the colors of the lips, and correct the hair’s texture and color as well. 

Final touch

The portrait editing is almost done, we end everything by adding more dimension to the face structure, by painting soft shadows on the darker sides of the face, and brightening the other ones. The goal is to achieve a 3D effect on the model’s face. It puts more emphasis on the face and the eyes, where the magic happens. 

We end up with sometime like this

Studio Photography - Professional Portrait on pink background
Studio Photography - Professional Portrait Black and white

Of course, depending on the picture some steps could be added or used in a different order. But that’s it! This is our workflow at Paper Prod to process every advanced portraits we take. 

We hope this lecture was not too boring, and that you learnt something about premium retouching!


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