Now that you know the tools Photoshop has to offer, we’re going to take a look at using them to correct and alter colour, retouch blemishes and other unwanted parts of your photos, and enhance portraits to make the subject look especially good.
Welcome to the second lesson in our Basics of Photoshop series. The main lesson is the video above and the text below is for reference. Most of what you’re going to learn here is best demonstrated in the video, so watching it is the best way to learn. In this lesson we’re going to be covering three things: colour correction, photo retouching, and photo enhancing. We’re going to look at basic ways to perform these tasks and nothing too complex, but you’ll find that these simple methods are very powerful and can handle the majority of what you’ll want to do with your photos.
Colour correction is a lot easier than you think. You just need to know which colours are complimentary (meaning on the opposite end of the colour wheel) and you can use those to cancel out too much of another colour. (If you need a refresher on colour, check out our colour guide.) You also need to be able to spot where colours are the most prominent. This means being able to tell, for example, when red is dominating the light areas of the photo and blue is dominating the dark areas. If you simple applied a blue filter to the entire photo, you’d end up with more neutral highlights—which you want—but a photo that looks too cool because the shadows are overly saturated with blue colour. To recap, you need to pay attention to two major things when colour correcting: which colours are dominating the photograph and which colours aren’t, and also where, tonally, those dominating colours exist.
This is something you can generally do just by eying the photo, but the proper method is to consult the histogram. You can bring this up by going into the Window menu and choosing Histogram. The left side represents the shadows, the right side the highlights, leaving the middle for the midtones. If a particular colour is dominating the photo in any area, you’ll see it dominating that space on the histogram. This can be a handy guide for spotting necessary corrections.
Now that you’ve got a basic idea of what we’re going to be targeting, let’s take a look at some of the best colour balancing tools Photoshop has to offer. You can find all the adjustments we’ll be discussing in the following places:
- You can find standard adjustments that apply to a single layer by going to the Image menu, choosing Adjustments, then choosing the adjustment you want.
- If you want to create an adjustment layer that can apply to multiple layers and be adjusted after the first application you can create an adjustment layer. You can either do this by going into the Layers menu, choosing Adjustment Layer, and then selecting the adjustment you want, or just selecting the adjustment you want from the Adjustments palette.
Here’s an example of creating a simple curve: make a point at the midpoint of the line and then two more points that are each about one grid space away from the midpoint. Pull the bottom-most point down into the shadows a bit and the top-most point up into the highlights. This will create basic contrast and is the simplest adjustment you can make in Curves. If you’re having trouble understanding how this works, you can see an example in your Photoshop presets. At the top of the Curves window, you’ll see a preset menu. Choose “Strong Contrast” and you’ll get a curve that’s similar to the one we just discussed. You should also check out the video at the top of this post to see a full demonstration of Curves.
Photo Retouching And Enhancing
Basic photo retouching and enhancing is very easy and very effective if done with the right level of subtlety. We’re going to take a look at some options for correcting problems in your photos—like cuts on a face, dry skin, dust from the lens, etc.—and also how to enhance a portrait to make it look especially nice.
Most of the touch ups you’re going to want to perform can be accomplished with the healing brush or the cloning stamp. If you’re trying to just make a person look their best—which is all you really ought to be doing with a portrait—you can do most of what you want to do with the healing brush and clone stamp—two tools wel discussed in a reasonable amount of detail in lesson one. We’ll also take a brief look at some of your other options as well.
The Healing Brush Revisited
Enhancing a Portrait
Using a couple of minor enhancements, you can make a portrait look significantly better than the original photograph. Everything we’re going to discuss here is designed to bring out the best in the image of the person you’re working on and not necessarily look better than they actually do. Photos tend to pick up more detail than we’d normally notice and people generally don’t have pimples, cuts, or other blemishes on their faces all the time. The idea is to bring out the best in the subject and not perform anything that’s untrue to their appearance or is just downright unrealistic.
Burning and Dodging
While these enhancements are pretty minor, they make a significant difference in the overall look of the photo. While it might seem minor while you’re making them, go into your History panel to see what the photo looked like in the beginning after you’re done. Once you see the difference, you’ll believe how these subtle little tricks can go a very long way.
That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for the next lesson, where we’ll be learning about layout and design in Photoshop. If you’d like to learn more about the topics we discussed today, be sure to check out our guide on getting the best colour from your photos, give any photo the analogue treatment, how to make your crappy photos look like they’re awesome, and how to whiten teeth in your photos.