Photoshop tutorials for professionals and beginners
Enhance portraits in Photoshop

Tunning a photo in Photoshop

In this tutorial I will show you how to make a great photo enhancement. The tutorial has two parts, on the first I will show you how to retouch a photo to make it look better and on the second part we will deal with the abstract stuff.

This is the final result

Resources needed

Girl with weapon -> (this image is no longer available but you can find similar images on the author’s gallery, check the links below)

I got the stock photo used on this tutorial from hydropheliac‘s gallery on deviantart. You should visit his gallery, he has really good quality stock  photos, specially weapons poses, swat and other special ops characters.

We will work on full size in order to keep all the details. If you have a really slow PC you might want to resize the stock image a bit.

Step 1

Download the stock image and open in Photoshop. I only used a part of the image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and select a part of the image like in the image below and go to Image>Crop. The part that I selected is 2272×2485 but the exact size doesn’t really matter.

Step 2

The first thing to do on the retouching phase is to clean the photo using the Healing Brush Tool (J). Use a 15-20 pixels healing brush and make sure you reduce the hardness to 0.

Clean all the spots on the face and the chest. It’s important to work on the image at different zoom levels because some spots are are only visible on certain levels of zoom. The more you heal the better the result and the smoother the skin will be. I spent about 10-15 minutes on this step.

not_heal clean

Step 3

On this step we will work on the depth of the image and shadings of the face and the rest of the body. Create a new layer above the stock image layer and fill it with pure Gray (50% black) and change its blending mode to Overlay. The image will not be affected at all by this layer unless you paint on it. That’s exactly what we are going to do. We will use the Dodge and Burn tools on this layer to retouch the face.

Make the eyes look cool

Select the Burn Tool (O) and set the brush size to about 5 or 6 pixels (if you are using a smaller size image use a smaller brush) and set Exposure to 20-25%. Make a couple of passes around the edge of the iris to darken them. Then, use the Dodge Tool with the same settings and make a couple of passes over the inner part of the iris.

Face sculpting

We will use the same technique as for the eyes and on the same burn/dodge layer.

Select the Burn Tool again and set the brush size to about 65-70 pixels (if you are using the original image size) and set exposure to 7-9%.

This step might be a bit tricky if you have no experience on photo retouching but the main objective is to enhance the shadows and lightning and “sculpt” the face with the light. In general, the darker the area of the face, the further away it looks and the brighter it is, the closer it looks.

Make multiple passes using this low exposure setting. If you mess up somewhere just take the Brush Tool (B) and paint back with pure Gray.

Try to darken areas like the far end of the cheek, around the eyes, right side of the nose and right side of the neck, bottom right side under the lips and also part of the hair. Use the Dodge Tool (O) with the same settings and lighten the cheek bones and left side of the face as well as the left side of the nose. See what I did in the image below. The white areas are made with the Dodge tool and the dark areas with the Burn tool.

Once you’re done, duplicate this layer to make the effect stronger. If the effect is too strong, lower the opacity of the duplicated layer until you are satisfied. If the transitions are not smooth enough, apply some Gaussian Blur to the burn/dodge layer.


Step 4 – General adjustments

On this step we will adjust the contrast and colors of the image. We will use Adjustment Layers for this task because they are non-destructive filters.

Contrast adjustment

Create a Levels Adjustment layer above all the layers of the palette. Use the settings depicted in the screenshot below.

Colors enhancement

If you are using Photoshop CS3 add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and increase the Saturation. If you use CS4, add a Vibrance Adjustment Layer and use the settings in the image below.

Tone adjustments

Here we will change the overall tone of the image using the Curves filter. I used the blue and red channels of this filter to adjust each color tone independently, the green channel is is not used, leave the default. Use the settings in the image below.

After applying this filters, this is the result.

4-adjustments-before 4-adjustments-after

Step 5

We will make the face and the background a bit smoother. Duplicate the girl layer and put it above all the layers on the palette. Apply Surface Blur – Filter>Blur>Surface Blur with the following settings: Radius 4px, Threshold 23 levels. Change the layer opacity to 40%. Name this layer surface blur and create a layer mask for it. Use a soft edge brush to hide the dress and the hair. See image below.

Ok, the retouching part is done, let’s get to the abstract part and add some light effects. At this point, you can create a stamp by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E and copy it to a new document because it will require less CPU usage. I’m working on the same document.

Step 6

Create a new layer above all the layers on your palette and select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M).  Make a wide rectangle like in the image below and fill it with white. Name the layer blue line.

Create a Layer Mask for the blue line layer and use the Reflected Gradient to fade out both ends of the rectangle.

With the blue line layer selected press Ctrl+T to load the Free Transform Tool. Then press and hold the Shift key and use your mouse to rotate the rectangle counter clockwise to 45º. The Shift key pressed will snap the rotation exactly 15º at a time. You can also type -45 on the text field on the top tool bar. If needed, reduce the size to make it like in the screenshot below.

Step 7

Now we will apply some nice effects for the rectangle. Open the layer styles by double clicking on the blue line layer and apply the following effects.

Outer glow

Inner glow

Color overlay


Now, reduce the layer’s Fill to 40% and change the blending mode to Overlay. This the result.

To make the red line, duplicate the blue line layer and place it below it on the canvas. Name this layer red line. Keep the same layer style settings but change the blue color to a pink or red color. The Inner Glow settings are the same for both the blue and the pink. If the color is too strong, reduce the Fill of the red line layer to 25% or something like that.

Step 8

Since my canvas size is over 2000 pixels, on this step I used a very big soft brush to make the following light. If you are using a smaller resolution image, use a smaller brush. Use the screenshot below as reference.

So, grab the Brush Tool (B) and use a soft brush and color ff48c9. Create a new layer above the rest of layers on the palette and click one time. Change the layer’s blending mode to Linear Dodge (Add).

Duplicate layer with the pink light, place it above the original layer on the palette and change it’s blending mode to Soft Light and Opacity to 50%. I named it Soft light.

Create another layer and reduce the brush size to about 500px and color to f3dfed, blending mode to Normal and opacity 100%. Click one on the center of the pink light. This last two layers will make the image brighter. See image below.

Step 9

Now we are going to create a very nice light effect that will change the entire image aspect.

Create a new layer above your last layer on the palette and name it blue light. Select the Gradient Tool (G) and the Linear mode from the top tool bar. On the Gradient Editor select the preset Foreground to Transparent and change your Foreground Color to 3ed4ff. See screenshot below for reference.

With the gradient settings ready, place your mouse outside the canvas on the left side, click and drag holding the Shift key pressed in order to make a perfectly straight gradient. Change the Opacity to 75% and blending mode to Overlay.

This is the result, before and after. Hover the mouse over the image.

Step 10

Create a new layer and name it light lines. On this new layer, make two more rectangles using either the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) as you did on step 6 or the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and the Shift key to draw at 45º angles.

Change the light lines layer’s Opacity to 30% and change its blending mode to Overlay. Open its Layer Style window and apply a 2 pixels Stroke, Position – Outside and blend mode – Overlay.

Step 11

Click the light lines layer’s thumbnail on the palette while you hold down the Ctrl key in order to select the edges of the shapes created on step 10.

With the edges selected, create a new layer and name it light dust. Now grab the Brush Tool (B), a soft brush and white color. Press F5 to open the brush settings and increase the Scattering and Shape Dynamics>Size Jitter to maximum. Paint on the light dust layer and you will see that it will only paint inside the selection. Change the blending mode of the layer to Overlay.

For a stronger effect, duplicate the light dust layer.

Step 12

Use the Polygonal Lasso tool (L) to create a triangular selection on the top left side of the canvas and fill it with white. Change the layer’s blending mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 30%.

Step 13

As a final touch we will make a soft shadow using the Gradient Tool (G). So, go on and create a new layer, this will be the last one. Get the Gradient Tool and select the Radial Gradient mode from the top tool bar.

Select the Foreground to Transparent preset and change your Foreground Color to black. Click on the chest or face of the woman and drag outside the canvas. Zoom out before you do this in order to have space to drag.

Change the layer’s Opacity to 50% or less if the effect is too strong and change the layer blending mode to Overlay.

Step 14

If you want to post your image to places like Flickr or Deviantart, you should reduce the size. Resize the image to the desired size and apply a 2 pixels Unsharp Mask an use Amount 200. (these settings are for a 900px wide image. For higher resolution images use 3 pixels of sharpness and less amount) Apply this filter twice to enhance the details.

I hope you liked this tutorial. Sharing this tutorial on social networks is greatly appreciated.

Final result.

1-photo-tunningCilck for full size view


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