Recently I performed a quick retouch on an image shot by a flickr friend. I’ll show the overall image editing progression below.


Image © c0466 WANG

I was impressed by Tony’s shot, but I felt the presence of stray hairs across the mouth spoilt the look. I also sought to improve the look of the image. After getting the RAW file (shown as Original above) I got to work. The first thing I did was change the colour temperature from around 4500K to 3900K to cool down the image. Sometimes a camera can get the scene’s white balance wrong (if the camera was set to AWB), and I find it’s always worth to try playing around with the colour temperature to see if the colours can be made to look more natural. Of course, it’s a good idea to have a colour-calibrated monitor to do this evaluation with confidence. Also it’s a must to shoot in RAW to be able to easily achieve non-destructive colour temperature adjustments.

The editing was two-part. Firstly, I used the Clone stamp tool to remove the hairs on the lip, face and arms. I also like to remove ‘flying hairs’ that appear over the background to achieve an overall cleaner look. Secondly, I used a dodge-and-burn editing technique to smooth out skin imperfections. This method, popularised by Calvin Hollywood and others, requires pixel-level editing on a 50% grey layer set to “Soft Light” blending mode. This editing layer is set above the main image layer, like so:


To setup up this layer, select Layer > New > Layer… then select Mode: Soft Light, and (importantly) check the box underneath “Fill with neutral color 50%”. Then select that newly-created layer and lay down (using a brush or pencil) dark grey colouring over the relatively bright areas you want to tone down, and conversely apply light white colouring to areas you want to brighten up. When you draw in this way on the Soft Light layer, you’ll see changes in the lightness or darkness appear on the underlying pixels on the image. This is how the blend mode works. To show an example of how that layer was edited, check out the following – note this is not what you’ll see directly.


I’ve exaggerated the layer effect so you can see where the light/dark areas were applied. You can see the effect or difference in the next image as a close-up.


The effect is subtle but noticeable. I’ve not done a comprehensive job on the skin retouching (this was about 30 mins work) but most areas of concern were addressed – mainly under the eyes and around the nose. I think the skin in the After editing image is better than the original.

Here are a couple of other images, and a brief editing rundown.


Image © Michael Sydenham

In the Original Bec was shot with a daylight flash against a predominately tungsten background. I used two layers to correct the image. One layer preserved the tungsten background, and another layer with just Bec and the original daylight treatment.

Thereafter the following steps were applied over a 3 hour period:

– liquefy (to fix dress, shoulders, arms & right underarm)
– cloning (to fix some skin issues and fill the gaps in the ocean resulting from liquefy)
– dodge & burn (on hair and skin, mostly on the arms and legs)
– saturation increase (mainly on background)

Here’s another one – a test bridal shoot with Bianca.


Image © Michael Sydenham

Here the flash was not in sync with the shutter, resulting in a darkened area to the right-third side of the image. Fixing this was more involved. I duplicated the image to a new layer, bumped up the levels and used a mask to blend in the new layer to achieve a seamless overall brightness outcome. Then I smoothed out the skin, and adjusted saturation.

Thanks for reading.

One Response to “Retouching”

Leave a Reply to tony wang Cancel reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published. Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS