Portrait retouching in five easy steps

image 3 final portrait

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We seldom have complete control when shooting portraits, but we are masters of our images when we open them in Aperture for editing. In just five easy steps, you can transform a ho-hum snapshot into framable work of art.

Step 1: Crop to taste

Nearly every portrait benefits from cropping. By zooming in a bit tighter, we can bring out the subject’s personality.

image 1 cropping

Comparing the cropped portrait with the original framing.

Enable the cropping tool by clicking on its icon at the bottom of the screen, or by pressing the C key. A floating palette appears along with an adjustable grid. Click and drag on any of the eight handles of the grid to frame the image.

If you want to constrain the proportions of the frame, select the dimensions you want from the Aspect Ratio popup menu in the floating palette. You can also reposition the grid by clicking and dragging it. Once you have the crop to your liking, press the Return key to apply.

Step 2: Get the color right

Improperly balanced skin tones, especially when too cool, can drain the life out of your subject. You might not even notice the negative impact that improper color is having, until you correct it. Fortunately this task in Aperture is quite simple.

Go to the Adjustments tab in the Inspector and find White Balance. If it’s not there already, you can activate it in the Add Adjustment popup menu.

Click the Auto button in the White Balance brick. For portraits, Aperture will select the Skin Tone option. If you like the auto color correction, you’re set. Otherwise, adjust the Warmth slider until you see the desired results.

Step 3: Fine tune exposure

In addition to establishing a good overall exposure, you’ll also want to check the highlights and shadows areas. Typical spots that might require a little more work include shiny foreheads or eyes lost in the shadows.

Most of these adjustments can be handled quickly in either the Exposure or the Highlights or Shadows bricks. Start with the Exposure brick to make sure that the overall image is properly illuminated.

In the Exposure brick, the Black Point slider adjusts the dark tones, Exposure manages the highlights, and Brightness primarily affects the mid tones.

Then, if you have a specific area that you want to address, go to Highlights & Shadows to work on that. (Again, if it’s not there already, you can activate it in the Add Adjustment popup menu.) Click on the gear icon in the Highlights & Shadows brick and choose Brush Highlights & Shadows in. If you want to recover highlights, then move the marker on the Highlights slider about half way. You can always add more recovery later if you wish.

In the floating palette that appears, choose your brush size and softness, then move the marker for Strength all the way to the right. You can begin “painting” on the area that needs work by clicking and dragging. As with any brush adjustment, subtle improvement is better than being too heavy handed.

Step 4: Remove blemishes

For a photo subject, there’s nothing worse than having a pimple suddenly appear on the day of the photo shoot. You can put their mind to ease by assuring them that you can quickly remove that blemish later on your Mac.

image 2 remove blemish

The magic of blemish removal.

Start by enabling the Retouch brush located at the bottom of the interface next to the red eye icon. Click on the brush and choose Retouch from the popup menu. Choose the Repair option from the floating palette. Set your brush radius and softness, then move the Opacity marker all the way to the right. Click on the blemish, and Aperture will remove it.

Step 5: Smoothing skin

You could, if you wanted, apply skin smoothing to the entire portrait. But generally speaking, this step is reserved for fine lines on the forehead and wrinkles around the eyes.

Go back to the brush icon at the bottom of the interface. This time, choose Skin Smoothing from the popup menu. Aperture will add a Skin Smoothing brick to the Adjustments tab of the Inspector, and display a floating palette.

In the brick, set the markers for the Radius, Detail, and Intensity sliders to the midpoint. As with other adjustments, you can always fine tune these later. In the floating palette, set your Brush Size and Softness to a diameter that allows you to work in tight areas, then move the marker on the Strength slider all the way to the right.

Now all you have to do is “paint away” those fine lines by clicking and dragging the mouse pointer on the areas that require work. If the effect is too strong, or not apparent enough, adjust the Intensity slider in the Skin Smoothing brick in the Adjustments tab.

image 3 final portrait

The original portrait is on the left, with the retouched photo on the right.

Sit back and admire

At this point, your portrait should be looking pretty good. You can see how far you’ve come by pressing the M key to show you the original image before retouching.

When you share the picture with the subject, there’s no need to discuss the adjustments you make. Just let them enjoy how good they look.

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