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Beginners skin retouching tutorial

I plan to create several photoshop tutorials that will compliment my article about selling photos online.

This is the first tutorial, and it is step by step beginners guide to skin retouching. Other tutorials will appear as time will allow; and they will be published both in this blog and on my website.

The guide assumes that you have photoshop installed on your computer; and that you know at least basic operations with digital files and with photoshop.

Remark: I photograph in RAW format, and I convert RAW files to 16-bit TIFF files which I then process in photoshop. This allows maximum quality, but it is the subject for a separate article (which I plan to publish some day).

Another remark: Screenshots are shown small in this tutorial because of blog formatting limitations. You can click on any picture to see it full-size.

1. Start photoshop. We will be using default screen layout in this tutorial. You can always get back to default layout by selecting menu Window, Workspace, Default Workspace.

Open the file you wish to edit. In this example we can see that the skin isn’t ideal (no make-up was applied), and the form of nose might need to be adjusted a little.

2. We will make all retouching in a separate layer. That allows much more flexibility in case anything goes wrong. So first of all we need to create an empty transparent layer. Click the “new layer” icon in the bottom right corner, as shown on the picture:

3. Once you got new layer it will be named Layer 1. It is a good practice to give layers meaningful names – in case of complex editing you might get tens of layers, and giving each of them a meaningful name helps to understand later what have you done.

Double click on layer name for changing it, as indicated on the picture:

4. Then the old name will be highlighted, and you can type the new name

5. That’s how layers palette will be shown with the new empty layer created and renamed:

6. There are 3 main tools used for retouching. They are marked on the picture: 1 is healing brush, probably the most useful tool; 2 is Clone Stamp tool and 3 is Eraser Tool (which is helpful to clean some wrong edits; or make an edit subtle).

Let’s select the Healing Brush (by clicking on icon marked 1 on the picture)

After you selected the tool, make sure that the Sample mode is set to “Current & Below” as shown on the picture:

7. There are actually several tools under one icon. The default for photoshop is “Spot Healing Brush”, but we need “Healing Brush Tool”. To select it you need to click the icon in the toolbar and hold the mouse button pressed until the small menu will appear as shown on the picture. Then you need to select >”Healing Brush Tool” from the menu.

After you selected the tool, you need to define it parameters. Right-click anywhere on the picture and you’ll see the tool setting dialog as shown on the picture. The main parameter that we will change is the brush size; the other settings should remain as shown here:

8. How healing brush works? It takes samples from the picture – from the place you indicate – and applies those samples elsewhere. When it “applies” the sample, it tries to copy the texture from the original location, but to match the color with the color where the sample is applied.

It is usually a good idea to take samples from the place where color & texture are similar to the place you need to fix. For selecting the source of sample you need to press the Alt button, and click left mouse button while Alt is pressed. The cursor will look like a small target during that operation:

9. Now you can apply the sample. When you release Alt button, the mouse cursor will show circle as large as you defined in step 7. The size of circle indicated how big will be the sample taken and applied. To apply the sample at one spot move mouse to that spot and click left button once:

10. And here the result:

11. I usually prefer to do retouching with the photograph enlarged to 200%.

Bear in mind that you can click-and-move the mouse to fix large or elongated stains.
Sometimes it’s better to use Clone Stamp Tool instead of Healing Brush. I will not go too much into details, but basically Clone Stamp copies entire sample to a new location “as-is”, without changing any colors or anything. This is useful when you need to adjust the color of the spot; and most of the times I use with opacity 20-40%. Sometimes I use it with even lower opacity when I need to fix glares or skin color inconsistencies.

12. This is the result. I used almost exclusively healing brush here, with just a few touches of clone stamp:

13. You can compare “Before” and “After” by making the Retouche layer invisible/visible. You can do it by clicking a little eye icon next to the layer (number 1 on the picture). If you make background invisible (by clicking on eye icon number 2) you can see how the retouche looks like:

14. Now let’s adjust the form of the nose.

First, create a new layer and call is Nose.

Then select the Lasso Tool as marked on the picture, and make the selection around the part that we need to adjust. Allow some margin on the cheek that will fill the space later.

15. Now we need to smooth the edges of selection – either via menu Select, Modify, Feather or by pressing Ctrl-Alt-D on keyboard. Let’s use radius 10 in this case.

16. Now select menu Edit, Transform, Warp. You will see the grid as shown on the picture:

17. Click-and-hold the mouse at different points, and move to adjust the form of nose. Watch the points where edited part connects with un-edited nose. It’s not so easy to explain in words but it is actually quite simple operation when you try it. Just don’t try to perfom too complex form change… Click Enter when done.

18. And this is the result:

Don’t forget to save it! Keep in mind that many file formats don’t support multiple layers, so it’s usually better to save your edits in TIF or PSD file; and only export to JPG after all edits are finished.

Update regarding selling fine-art prints online

This is an update to my previous post regarding Print On Demand services.

First of all I would like to make a general comment. I am a beginner with print on demand (POD) service, so my notes thus far is about my first impressions and first learnings.

Second thing is for photographers used to sell photos via stock and/or microstock agencies. With stock agencies, photographer’s work is over after the picture is available from the agency’ website. Selling via POD is very different. With POD artists need to advertise and promote themselves actively. Unlike stock photography, uploading the work and waiting for buyers to come does not work with POD.

Buy art
RedBubble is Australian company operating worldwide, and having people in many different locations.

In one sentence RedBubble is free, and it is artistic community with commercial possibilities.

Unlike other print on demand (POD) services, RedBubble is completely free. There are no “basic” and “premium” accounts – all accounts are at the same level, and any member can upload and sell as many pictures as he or she wants. There is no entry inspection – any member can upload any images that are in line with terms of service.

RedBubble is an artistic community place, not an art store. That sounds similar to DeviantArt, but in fact RedBubble feels completely different. Members can share their art works (photographs, drawings or paintings) and they can choose whether the work is for sale or not. Another option is to share/sell t-shirt designs. Members can comment each other work, can mark any work as their favorite, and can add other members to a watch list.

Selling art work is an option, and it’s up to the artist to define the margin on top of base RedBubble price. Art pictures can be ordered as post-cards, as unframed prints, as laminated prints, or as framed prints (with several framing options). It is important to know that the artists have to promote their work by themselves. I am not sure how much marketing RedBubble is doing, but if you want your art work to be purchased on RedBubble you need to advertise it yourself.

It’s worth to note that RedBubble has very quite simple and logical interface.

There are ways to combine images in groups for promotion, or to promote individual pictures. These are a few examples:

Twilight pictures:

Beautiful Belgium:

Sunset station - buy fine art print from RedBubble Horst castle - buy framed fine art photo print from RedBubble

Buy my art at
Imagekind is another POD service. It focuses on high quality photo and art prints (no t-shirts). It has many more framing options comparing with RedBubble – many more types of paper, more types and colors of frames, different matting and glazing options.

All work uploaded to Imagekind is for sale. There is community at Imagekind but it’s hard to say that it is community driven. Similarly to RedBubble artits can put other artists in favorites list; and can comment the work of each other. However forum is completely separated from the main site.

Artists can register at Imagekind for free, but free accounts are very limited. Artist can upload maximum 24 images with free account; and they all have to be in one gallery. The number of keywords is limited by 10 per image, what significantly reduces sale opportunities.

Artists can upgrade to Pro ($7.99/mo.) or to Platinum ($11.99/mo.) level, that offer unlimited number of uploads. Uploads can be placed in various galleries; much higher number of tags per image is allowed (50 and 100 corresponsingly) and there are some other benefits.

In my option free account allows to get the feeling about the site, it interface and about other artists, but artists would have to upgrade to paid account for any serious commercial activity. Still, promotion of your art is pretty much in your own hands.

Similarly to RedBubble there is no moderation of uploaded images at Imagekind.

Imagekind has very clean, simple and logical interface.

Combining images in groups doesn’t make sense with small gallery and with number of tag limited by 10, so I can’t test it. Promoting individual images outside of Imagekind is possible, similarly to RedBubble:

Metro by Mikhail Lavrenov - buy framed fine art print from Imagekind is a division of that focuses on POD from un-known artists. It is much smaller and younger than any of the above services.

Out of 3 services, artistrising has the most complex interface that isn’t easy to understand for novice users. Also, the site is the slowest for me.

Artists can register for free at artistrising. Free account allows up to 50 images to be uploaded, that can be placed in up to 50 collections. Premium account is $50 /year and it allows up to 2000 images to be uploaded (and categorized in up to 50 collections).

Another difference between two accounts is that Premium level allows Fine Art prints while free account only allows Poster prints to be set up. Fine Art is meant for large size high quality pictures; and setup of every single picture will cost artist some money (variable fee).

Unlike the other two services, artistrising has to review and approve all submitted images before they will be available for sale. In theory it should make the site more attractive to the buyers and prevent crap from appearing at the website. However, if promotion will still be made by the artists themselves, the overall quality of site content will not make much difference for buyers (i.e. if they will come from elsewhere to see specific artist/specific work).

There is forum at artistrising, and similarly to the other two sites the artists can comment each other work; and can add other artists to their Favorites list.

Twilight photos

Yesterday I went to the fields near Diest to make some twilight landscape pictures. I found the highway lamp rather interesting (and I am not so happy with my landscape pictures by the way).
speedway lamp

Kasteel van Perk – one more photo

One more picture of Kasteel van Perk.
Kasteel van Perk

This is pseudo-HDR made from single RAW file.

Kasteel van Horst

Yesterday evening we went to kasteel van Horst for a walk. Our younger son was sleeping too long in the day and wouldn’t go to bed early in the evening, so we decided to get to Horst.

I just wanted to get a few sunset pics, and hopefully play a little with remote flashes. Well, the latter wasn’t really possible with very active toddler, but I managed to get a few simple pics. This one is HDR from 2 exposures. I am not completely satisfied with the result, particularly at full size but it’s not too bad.

Kasteel van Perk @ sunset

Kasteel van Perk located in Steenokkeerzel. Our friends had a party there last Saturday.
Kasteel van Perk - Perk Castle
The castle is also known as Castle de Ribaucourt and is apparently considered as one of the most beautiful of the Brussels area (I didn’t know that).

I didn’t have much time for walking around and photographing it, but I will indeed add it to my list of future visits.

Blog template change

Today I decided to change my blog template. I like simple things, but the previous template didn’t hold the visual elements together. I checked default Blogger templates but didn’t like any of them too much. I spent some time looking for templates in the Internet, and I found one that I liked. It appeared to be designed the way that didn’t assume customization. Unfortunately I wasted a few hours of my time trying to modify it before I gave up.

Finally I picked one of Blogger native templates – although I didn’t like the default look it’s not so difficult to adjust it.

There are still some adjustments to be made, I will finish them soon.

YongNuo wireless flash trigger

I am one of numerous fans of strobist.

I use fill-in flash outdoors quite often, on-camera or on extension cord. However I wanted more freedom and flexibility (as I wanted to start doing more advanced things) so I started considering wireless (radio) triggers.

If you read my blog regularly you must have noticed that I am in favor of low-cost solutions when they provide good quality results. So triggers like Pocket Wizards or other brand name were out of question for me. Reading Strobist and flickr forums I found that Cactus V2s is a very reasonable option. So that was my starting point.

Checking eBay for Cactus I found similar, but slightly different triggers from YongNuo. According to flickr discussion it’s slightly improved version of Cactus from another supplier. The case for receiver is exactly the same for both, and both use the name PT-04. Transmitter seems to be slightly different. I am not sure whether the circuit of YongNuo is really better than Cactus but most important is that it uses more convenient batteries. Instead of rather expensive batteries in Cactus, the YongNuo device uses 12V A23 battery in transmitter (which is $1-2) and 2x AAA batteries in receiver.

Yongnuo radio flash triggers

I ordered a set from Hong Kong eBay seller John Camera Store (ebay id copijohn). It took less than a week for parcel to arrive from Hong Kong.

You can see on the picture above how the transmitter and receiver look like. They feel plastic and not very sturdy, but in fact they aren’t too bad. When I tried using them, they worked flawlessly.

Remark: I’ve read in many forums about Cactus triggers missing the shot. So far I have only made a few quick tests with YongNuo so I don’t know how will it behave in real shoot and at longer distance. But with my limited tests I noticed that I need to insert the transmitter in camera hotshoe quite firmly, otherwise it will not work. Once it is sitting well in place I didn’t see any missed shots.

There is one problem I found that is associated with this purchase. However the problem isn’t with the trigger but with my Sigma EF-500 DG Super flash.

Traditional/old/non-TTL flash units use one central contact on the hot shoe for triggering the light. Modern electronic TTL flashes have several additional contacts – different for different brands (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony/Minolta). Most modern flashes can still be triggered by central contact while in manual mode. This is used by universal third-party external triggers.

Apparently Sigma EF-500 DG Super flash only triggers from central contact while in manual slave mode (at least the Canon version). In any other mode it needs all hot-shoe contacts to be connected to Canon camera. In general this is not a big problem, as I still can manually switch the light output in this mode. It is a bit annoying that AF assist LED is constantly blinking in that mode, but this isn’t really critical.

However the bug (or “feature”) I found is that the unit continuously generates multiple flashes in this mode as long as central contact is connected and charged capacity allows. It means that in full power I get just one flash (because recycle time is longer than the central contact is triggered), but at lower power (1/2, 1/4, etc) I am getting 2-3-4 flashes instead of 1.

Searching in the internet I found few other people complained about the same issue. Writing to Sigma technical support in the UK and in Japan didn’t give any result (“thanks for your email, but we don’t know about that”).

There is one idea how to solve the issue – the “Test” button generates only one single flash, so soldering external sync port to “Test” button contacts could be the solution. I haven’t tried it yet because it doesn’t seem to work well. I found one person who tried that with a cheaper (but very similar) Sigma EF-500 DG St and he told me there is some delay in flash triggering via “Test” button, so it is only possible to use with with shutter speeds like 1/30-1/40.

Adding external sync: discussion in POTN forum.
And, there was a discussion on photocamel forum about multiple flashes.

Another idea I have is to try using intermediate trigger between the radio one and the flash, that will connect the central contact for a very short time, regardless how long is it connected on radio trigger. I am not sure it will work well because if it will be too short the flash might not trigger reliably, while if it’s not short enough, the flash will still produce several flashes. Anyway, I am going to give it a try in a few weeks. (My friend has little devices at his disposal that are very suitable for this purpose, so why not trying it?)

For the time being I will only use my Sigma with radio trigger in full-power; or I will use my other strobes – I have two old thyristor units that I bought on a flea market.

External battery for my flash

I have been thinking about an external battery for my flash for quite a while. My main flash (Sigma F-500 DG Super) doesn’t have a high-voltage power connection, and anyway high-voltage batteries are rather pricey for my not so often use… So I haven’t done anything with that until I found the post on last week.

In the nutshell that post explains that using external low-voltage low-cost high-capacity sealed lead-acid battery (6V 4-4.5Ah) helps to reduce re-cycle time significantly for many flash models. While I didn’t see such batteries in the shops in my neighborhood there were plenty available via ebay, with the price around 10 Eur (plus delivery). So I ordered my battery last week.

Incidentally there was a post on Strobist on the same subject just the very next day after I ordered my battery. While the main post was about high-voltage batteries, the reader’s comments discussed low-voltage option as well, and there was reference to the same shutterbug post made in the comments.

Now about my own results:

I have bought 6V 4.5Ah lead-acid battery (about 20 Eur including delivery).
6V 4.5 Ah sealed lead-acid battery

  • It charges my Sigma EF-500 DG Super for ~1.5 sec at full power (vs ~6 sec from AA batteries).
  • My old manual thyristor National flash (pe-3066g) also charges much faster than before (around 3.5 sec).
  • However my Sunpak 4000AF isn’t any faster – I suppose it has a current limitation circuit, so it still takes about 9 seconds to charge…

battery, flash, and bag
I bought a little bag for 3 Eur that just perfectly matches the size of the battery; and I spent 2 Eur for the contacts in car accessories shop. I found some wires at home, so I soldered the contacts to the wires. Also I spent about 20 Eur for charger, but any AC/DC transformer or motorcycle charger that can produce 6.5 V 1.5A current will do the work.