Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
SmashingConf London Avatar

We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. our upcoming SmashingConf London, dedicated to all things web performance.

Photo Retouching Tips And Tricks In Photoshop

Two weeks ago we published1 the first part of Photoshop tips and tricks for photo retouching. Today, we’ll be presenting the rest of the article. We hope that these techniques will be quite useful for your workflow. You may know some of them, but hopefully not all of them. We have had articles on various tools in Adobe Photoshop but this one is focused more on the techniques rather than the tools provided. Please note that all images used in this article were purchased and are used according to their licenses. [Updated June/14/2017]

Here is a short overview of the techniques we’ll be covering in this follow-up:

Defining Colors

If you want to redefine the foreground and background colors, use the Eyedropper tool to select the foreground color, and then switch the position with the background color, maybe by using the shortcut X, and pick up the next color. But there is an easier way. First, define the foreground color just as you’re accustomed to, but then define the background color by holding the Alt/Option key. Instead of changing the foreground color, you’ll redefine the background color with just one click.

Define foreground and background colors
Define foreground and background colors.

Controlling Folders

Folders give structure to layers, which is especially important if you’re working on demanding compositions. Folders are often collapsed, so you can’t see the contents at first sight. This conserves space but it’s not always desirable. If you want nested layers to reveal their contents and offer a quick overview, hold the Control/Command key and click on one of the triangles to expand. All folders at the first level will expand. You can collapse them again using the same trick. To expand all nested folders inside the folders as well, hold the Alt/Option key as well as the Control/Command key.

Hold down the Ctrl key during the expansion of the folder
Hold the Control/Command key to expand the folder.

Split-Toning Effect

Create two new gradient maps via Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Gradient Map. You could, for example, create a gradient from dark-blue to beige and another from dark-brown to white. To change a gradient, click on it to open up the “Gradient Editor” dialog box. There, click on your chosen color patches and open up the color picker via the “Color field.”

Blending Options: This Layer
Blending Options: This Layer

Confirm with “OK,” double-click the layer with the second gradient map and, under “This Layer,” move the right slider to the left. To make the transition a little smoother, click on the slider while holding down the Alt/Option key and move it to the right. Confirm with “OK.”

Split Toning Effect
Split-Toning Effect

Flexible Vignette

To create a non-destructive vignette, go to New Adjustment Layer → Levels. Darken the image completely by, for example, setting the Highlights down to 80. Now use the Brush tool with black color to paint the light center into the layer mask. Instead of using a brush to paint the area, you could use the Elliptical Marquee tool and fill the selection with black.

Adjustment Layer: Levels
Adjustment Layer: Levels

You can use the Move tool to adjust the vignette’s position any time, or blur it using the “Gaussian Blur.” You can also increase or decrease the darkening. To do so, open the Levels Adjustment dialog box again.

Skin Retouching In Camera Raw

Again, open a photo in Camera Raw (for example, by using the right mouse key from Bridge and clicking “Open in Camera Raw”). In general, you can use the Spot Healing Brush tool and all other tools and sliders to improve the image. When you’re happy with it, hold the Shift key and click on “Open Object.” The image will be put on a new layer as a Smart Object.

You could also click the blue link at the bottom of the screen, which opens the “Workflow Options” dialog window. From there, you can control some other settings as well. Make sure to check the “Open in Photoshop as Smart Object” checkbox, and then confirm with “OK” to open the images (without having to holding Shift).

Here, layers are smart objects.

Right-click on the layer and choose “New Smart Object via Copy,” and then open the Camera Raw dialog box again by double-clicking the layer icon. Set the “Clarity” value to -100 and confirm with “OK.” Hold the Alt/Option key and click on the “Create Layer Mask” button, then use a soft brush to paint over the optimized skin. Use the opacity slider to control the amount of retouching.

Optimized skin with Camera Raw
Here is optimized skin with the help of Camera Raw.

Setting Lights

If you want to do some virtual re-positioning of your strobes, then neutralize the shot first. Go to Select → Color Range, and set Select option to “Highlights.” Copy the selection content to a new layer by hitting Control/Command + J. Activate the background layer again, and select the “Shadows” this time. Bring those to their own layer, too, with Control/Command + J, and then set the blending mode to “Screen” and the highlights to “Multiply.”

Highlights and Shadows
Highlights and shadows

Reduce the opacity to about 30%, depending on the image content. “Shadows/Highlights” might also help. On a new layer, filled with a neutral gray and its blending mode set to “Overlay,” paint in the desired light quality with the Dodge and Burn tools. Alternatively, add a new layer and set its blending mode to “Soft Light” or “Overlay” and, with a low opacity brush, paint black and white on this layer.

The lights were neutralized a bit
The lights were neutralized a bit.

Distinguished Paleness

For a distinguished paleness, copy the background layer and set its blending mode to “Screen.” Use Image → Adjustments → Desaturate or “Black & White,” then “Shadows/Highlights” to increase the effect. The exact adjustment options can vary according to your image content.

The effect will cover the entire image unless you click on the “Create Layer Mask” button while holding the Alt/Option key, and then paint the pale areas with the brush tool and white color. You can control the effect’s strength with the opacity slider.

Distinguished Paleness
Distinguished paleness.

Dodge And Burn Look

Copy the reduced layers to a new layer with Shift + Control/Command + Alt/Option + E, and then set the blending mode to “Vivid Light.” Use Control/Command + I to invert the layer content, and apply Filter → Blur → Surface Blur with a radius of about 70 pixels and a threshold of 40 levels. Press Shift + Control/Command + Alt/Option + E again, delete the layer below, and set the blending mode to “Overlay.” Apply a “Gaussian Blur” to make the contours a little softer, and then click Image → Adjustments → Desaturate.

Dodge & Burn Look
Dodge and Burn Look

Bright Eyes

To make eyes appear brilliant, click on New Adjustment Layer → Exposure. Fill the layer mask with black (or invert the mask), and paint with white over the irises and with black over the pupils. Set the blending mode of the adjustment layer to “Luminosity.” Increase the exposure in concert with the gamma value to give the iris structure more contrast. Also, try changing the “Offset slider.”

Beautiful eyes with exposure

Create beautiful eyes with exposure.

The Orton Effect

With the Orton effect, sharp and blurred versions of a photo are mixed together. Copy the background layer with Control/Command + J, and click on Image → Apply Image. Change the blending mode to “Screen” and click “OK.” Copy the current layer again with Control/Command + J. Apply a Gaussian Blur to this copy by clicking Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur. The value will depend on the size of the image. The shapes should always blur slightly. Set the blending mode for the layer to “Multiply.”

More contrast and depth with the Orton effect
The Orton effect creates contrast and depth.

Optimizing Lasso Selections

Many users (even professionals) prefer the Lasso Selection tool to the Path tool for uncomplicated selections. To switch to the Polygon Lasso tool for a short stretch, hold the Alt/Option key while working. To switch back to the regular Lasso tool, just release the Alt/Option key while depressing the mouse button.

Easy switch between the lasso and polygon lasso tool
Switching between the Lasso and Polygon Lasso tools is easy.

It often happens that, during a zoom, you hit the edge of the work area while making a selection. Just keep the space bar pressed to switch to the Hand tool, and you can quickly change the displayed image section.

Aligning Layer Contents

Some areas in Photoshop are hardly ever noticed. This is one of them. If you activate the Move tool, you’ll see some mysterious symbols to the right called Align tools, in the option bar next to Auto-Select and the Transform controls (which are basically equivalent to Free Transform).

The Align tools
Align tools

If you activate just one layer, the Align tools won’t do anything, but if you select two or more layers by holding the Control/Command key, then you can align the layer’s contents with these buttons. Choose from options such as “Align Top Edge” and “Align Vertical Center.”

Restoring Selections

Often, while in the middle of working on a tricky selection, you’ll accidentally deselect it by clicking once too often. You can restore the lost selection by pressing Shift + Control/Command + D. This will get the ants marching again. You can also undo (Control/Command + Z) the action, and even perform multiple undos with Control/Command + Alt/Option + Z.

By the way, you can hold the Alt/Option key to subtract elements from the selection at any time, or hold the Shift key to add to the selection. Pressing a combination of both keys creates a selection intersection. Important selections that you might need later can be saved by going to Select → Save Selection.

Restore lost selections
Restore lost selections.

More Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Workflow:

(al) (vf) (ik)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1
  2. 2 #technique1
  3. 3 #technique2
  4. 4 #technique3
  5. 5 #technique4
  6. 6 #technique5
  7. 7 #technique6
  8. 8 #technique7
  9. 9 #technique8
  10. 10 #technique9
  11. 11 #technique10
  12. 12 #technique11
  13. 13 #technique12
  14. 14 #technique13
  15. 15 #technique14
  16. 16
  17. 17
  18. 18
  19. 19
  20. 20
  21. 21
  22. 22

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Dirk Metzmacher is a professional Photoshop trainer and book author with over 10 years of experience. He is also the creative mind behind (Photoshop-Weblog), a blog about techniques, tutorials and resources related to Adobe Photoshop.

  1. 1

    I look forward to looking at some of the tuts. Many thanks for taking the time to put them together.


  2. 2

    The woman with “optimized skin” looks totally unnatural.. like an alien. Please stop making humans looking like that! It’s NOT beautiful!

    • 3

      As shallow as it may seem, this is what a lot of marketing agencies require.

    • 4

      Alex, graphic artists are not going to put limits on our creative expression just because people like you (and those behind those self-righteous “Dove” videos as well) have a few self-esteem issues. If you aren’t happy with the way you look that’s your problem, not ours. It doesn’t give you the right to demand censorship of artistic expression, which is what you are really saying here. Why should we not be able to create or render pictures striving towards our artistic ideals of perfection, regardless of whether or not it’s realistically possible? That’s what art is, and has always been, about.

      • 5

        That’s cute. “creative expression” and further, “what a lot of marketing agencies require.” That last bit should make the issue a dead give away. I’ll just say, art should be left for the shows. Not every blasted image we see in TV and magazines. As a male, I feel cheated and lied to as the skin complexion of most advert models is totally unrealistic and raises our expectations to unachievable levels. Dont tell me creative expression. That’s a cop-out for a larger problem. Albeit, one that’s WAY off topic here. :-)

    • 6

      Alex, the effect shown here is not one a professional retoucher would EVER do, this is something an amateur, hobbiest or someone who thinks they are a pro has done, and I agree with you – its horrible.

      Speaking as a professional, one of the main things to learn about retouching is to enhance an image while leaving its structure (or textures) intact – that is the most important thing.
      Look in some glossy fashion magazines at that type of photo and you will see that skin ALWAYS has a texture.

  3. 7

    My favorite is the Dodge+Burn look :)

  4. 8

    This is a very good topic, I’m looking forward to mastering photo retouching, this will help alot, thanks.

  5. 9

    Another way to create a non-destructive Vignette:
    1. Convert your Layer into a Smart Object
    2. Go to Filters -> Lens Correction
    3. Inside the Lens Correction Window click onto the “Custom” tab
    4. Now you should see a Vignette section. Nice thing is you can choose between lighten and darken.

    This won’t leave you with as much as control as the technique stated in the article, but if something needs to be done fast – there you go ;-)

  6. 10

    wonderful! i’ve always been an illustrator junkie, but knew enough about photoshop to get by on most projects. I am especially digging the “distinguished paleness” part; never thought to do it that way :)


  7. 11

    Paul Eustice

    March 25, 2011 6:49 am

    Some great techniques here, nice and easy Dodge and Burn there! One thing though – with the Aligning Layers tip, it’s not quite right to say you can’t use the align tools with only one layer activated. You can – if you have a layer activated, you can align it to a selection.

    For example, Ctrl/Cmd+A to select the canvas, then align your layer to the centre, top left, etc.

  8. 12

    I didnt get the start point of the “dodge and burn look” tip. How exactly? Can someone help me with that? Thanks.

    Especially, I cant imagine what “reduced layers” are? Maybe I’m stupid… Lol.

    (Sorry about my english…)

  9. 13

    Image editing articles are the best

  10. 14

    i like it………
    with adobe photoshop how to select the objects hairy. such as human or animal hair bear?

  11. 15

    wow great tutorial. i increase my skills day by day trough sm…………

  12. 16

    Something is wrong with “Dodge And Burn Look” tutorial, i cant make work with same image. First ctrl+shift+alt+e ll not work with only one layer in the first step.

  13. 17

    Marvin Hagemeister

    March 26, 2011 1:19 am

    Nice list of useful tips. Enjoyed it a lot! Very useful stuff!

    @Fernando: Make a copy of all visible layers with ctrl+shift+alt+e or if you only have one layer just copy it with ctrl+j. Set the blending mode of this layer to “Vivid Light”, invert it with ctrl+i. Then apply filter–>blur–>surface blur. Make a copy of all visible layers and set this one to overlay.

    • 18

      Nopes, that doesn’t work either, Dodge & Burn section is missing something in the beginning.

      Edit: It should read like this.

      Start with your image, copy the layer twice with ctrl + j.

      Then set the blending mode of the top copy layer to “Vivid Light”.

      Use Control/Command + I to invert the top layer content, and apply Filter → Blur → Surface Blur with a radius of about 70 pixels and a threshold of 40 levels.

      Now flatten this layer and the untouched 1st copy together, leaving base layer as original image. Set the blending mode of the combined layers to overlay.

      Apply a “Gaussian Blur” of 1px -2px to make the contours a little softer,

      and then click Image → Adjustments → Desaturate, if you prefer flatter colours.

      • 19

        Adriaan Fenwick

        March 27, 2011 10:52 pm

        Thanks for sharing…I also thought something was missing/wrong with the ‘Dodge And Burn Look’ tutorial…

        Otherwise – loving this. Thanks!

  14. 20

    Dylan Valade

    March 26, 2011 7:27 am

    I really liked the split-toning effect, thanks for the tutorial.

  15. 21

    Every designer must know this tips!
    Thanks for sharing!

  16. 22

    Fantastic article, very usual especially split-toning effect, I never played with it but looks really nice. Thank you.

  17. 23

    Its really great work , thanks for the tutorial.

  18. 24

    Adriaan Fenwick

    March 27, 2011 10:54 pm

    Look at Chirs’ comment (reply) on what to do in the ‘Dodge and Burn’ section…which is definitely my favourite technique out of them all :)

  19. 25

    Thanks for sharing this post.I like it.It contains good tips and tricks for photo retouching.

  20. 26

    Thanks a lot for the tips. I had trouble in retouching skin and lighting effects with my pictures. Now I know how to edit them in detail.

  21. 27

    Thanks for these, simple and effective!

  22. 28

    Thanks a lot for the tips. I had trouble in retouching skin and lighting effects with my pictures. Now I know how to edit them in detail

  23. 29

    Creative Manner

    March 29, 2011 9:57 am

    Thanks for the tips man I love the dodge and burn trick.

  24. 30

    Sean Parsons

    March 29, 2011 1:04 pm

    Thanks for all the great tips The dodge and burn trick will come in super handy for a lot of projects. Simple yet very effective!

  25. 31

    why why like this? this is the second post with great tutorials, but they are so short and sometimes they are very hard to understand, why don’t put the whole thing and before & after photos?

    thanks anyways

  26. 32


    March 30, 2011 11:19 pm

    Hi In march calendar error march totally 31 days one of the wallpaper only 30day

  27. 33

    Great tips. Thanks a lot. Some of them are so simple and quite intuitive that I felt like a total idiot for not knowing them.

  28. 34

    SO i have seen a picture with people having the same white & smooth complexion which is thee complete opposite in real life. This explains it all.LOL.

  29. 35

    thanks for sharing…a reference to come back to.

  30. 36

    I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong, but the bright eyes tutorial isn’t working for me.

    When I add my adjustment layer and try to paint with white and black for the irises and pupils, nothing happens. Is a step missing?

    Thanks for the help!

    • 37

      I did the same, when you use the sliders it changes. Used overlay in blending mode as seemed to work better, great tuts thanks

  31. 38

    Great tips! Very helpful!

  32. 39

    Usefull tips, thanks a lot !

    I wanna married the girl from the Orton Effect chapter by the way !

  33. 40

    Caitlin Roper

    May 9, 2011 6:31 am

    Thanks for this, really great!

  34. 41

    I really liked the split-toning effect, thanks for the tutorial

  35. 42

    I stumbled across this page. What a gem! Thats one of the quickest decent looking skin retouch methods I’ve ever seen.

    Can’t wait to try some of the other tuts.

    Thanks :)


  36. 43

    Pretty good tips!!! But I still can’t get the eyes bright. Somebody please help.

  37. 44

    When discussing Photoshop’s align tools you should mention that they are pretty arbitrary, you never know what you are aligning to, and they overall suck

  38. 45

    Great tutorial. I’m very interested in this tutorial and I’ve got many thoughts and ideas for create a great photo retouching job. Thanks for sharing this techniques.


↑ Back to top