Photo Editing: Retouching

Retouching portrait photos is a process and there are a variety of ways one can really make an image pop.

Some situations call for more time and consideration, like removing pimples, dry skin, brightening the eyes, and blurring the background for effect. For my own photos, I will not do drastic changes, such as blurring/removing wrinkles, or changing the shape of my face. There are cases when such edits may be useful, but I would consider that to be photomanipulation rather than retouching. Normally, the goal is to improve upon the natural and unique features we all have. The features that make us, well… Us.

We’re human and will get blemishes and skin discolouration from time to time, and those types of things should be retouched when possible. I certainly don’t need a professional profile photo featuring a prominent forehead pimple!

Getting Started

The steps to perfecting a photo all depend on what we want the result to be. I tend to go for a more natural look, removing pimples and bringing out the colour and vibrance in skin, hair, and eyes. I try to avoid removing moles and freckles, as those are qualities that make a person unique and helps a photo appear more “real”. My style of retouching is to bring out the best in a person and not hide or change who they are with drastic photoshopping.

Photo 01: Hey, That’s Me!

In the photo below, the original is on the left (or above) and the retouched version is on the right (or below). This setup will be the case for all photographs used here.

The original was taken in August 2018, using a Samsung Galaxy S4, in my kitchen with the sunlight coming in from the backdoor. I wanted to use an “everyday” photograph, not taken with any special DSLR cameras or external flashes, as at least one example for what we can do with photographs to improve upon them.

In this case, I took the photograph into Adobe Photoshop for the retouching process. I blurred the background, removed a couple pimples from my chin and forehead, took the greenish tinge from my skin caused by the natural lighting, and brightened my eyes some so that the hazel was more evident. These are all little steps, and there’s a bit of trial and error to get the correct look.

Overall, I’m happy with the result and the retouched version turned out to be an improvement, without feeling fake or overdone.

What do you think?

Photo 02: Bryan

This photo was taken with a Pixel 2 XL, using the “Portrait” feature in the Camera app, which blurs the background for you while leaving the subject in focus.

I have used the feature a couple of times, but I am not a fan of it. I prefer the control that comes with doing it myself. I like to control the amount of blur, and, being human, am better at masking areas so that the hair does not get blurred, too. I include this version of the photo here, though, because… I might have deleted the original. (Sorry, Bryan!)

You will notice the final photo to be brighter, lighter, and more vibrant. In this case there is some retouching done to the skin, and more brightening done to the eyes to bring out the colour.

Photo 03: Bryan

This photo was taken with a Pixel 2 XL, outside on the shaded front porch during a sunny day. The house siding makes for a neutral background, nothing too distracting.

As I was careful in taking this photo, paying attention to lighting and composition, there wasn’t much that needed retouching. Still, as with every photo, adding colour to the skin and brightening up the eyes is always an improvement.

Not every photo needs drastic changes, and sometimes the small things make all the difference.

Editing with Professional Photos

The photos shown below are not taken by me. These photographs are available, for free, from websites such as Unsplash and Pexels, where individuals upload their photographs for anyone to use. I searched the two sites and collected a number of photos that I could edit/retouch to feature examples of our capabilities at Tali Gibson Designs.

Please keep this in mind while reviewing the photos below.

Photo 04

Original photo by JC Gellidon from Unsplash.

Here, we have a woman resting her hands on her chin and staring into the camera lens. The photo works well as it is, but I chose it as an example because it would be clear that a few changes make a huge difference.

The original photo has a slight green tinge, and is quite dark. Here, I lightened the overall photograph, making for some natural lighting, and changed the woman’s eye colour by pulling out the colour in the photo. Her eyes may not naturally be hazel, but the change is subtle and believable.

Photo 05

Original photo by Harishan Kobalasingam from Unsplash.

Here we have a young woman facing the camera with a small smile on her face. The changes here involve the photo contrast being bumped up, hair and eyes more vibrant, and additional colour added to the lips.

Small changes on their own, but they make a big impact in the end.

Photo 06

Original photo by Azamat Zhanisov from Unsplash.

Can you tell what was changed in this photo? The goal here was to be subtle, and without the comparison to the original it may not be obvious what was done.

That is generally my goal when retouching. Be subtle when I can, and push the colours or vibrancy of some areas to really make them pop. A person not being aware of the original may not quite realize what was done, but there’s something that makes the result look that much better.

Here, along with brightening the photo overall, I have also enhanced the colour of the hair, eyes, and lips. The woman’s skin should also feel more rich, now that the shadows are reduced.

Photo 07

Original photo by Ana Francisconi from Pexels.

In a photograph such as this, it’s clear that the original does not need any more retouching. The original photo is soft and bright and any changes, like the ones I have done, are personal preference or to emphasize another effect.

Photo 08

Original photo by Analise Benevides from Unsplash.

This was a bit more subtle, aside from the change to the eyes, where green was added to create interest. The woman’s eyes may naturally be green: I cannot tell for sure. The colour is still natural though, so it should not look out of place.


Whether for personal photos taken on your phone as JPEG, or photos taken with a DSLR camera in RAW format, we can help you with improving the look of your photography.

Photos will be edited with a chosen style in mind, specific for the project as discussed beforehand. Anything from touching up a a photo intended for Facebook or Instagram, to those intended for a client of yours to free up your own time to work on other projects.

Next time your in need of photo editing, consider Tali Gibson Designs LLC.

We would love to hear from you.

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