Dissecting The Photoshop Facelift

dressing a face with photoshop can make an average shot look like a million dollars.

i am not a professional makeup artist, and don’t claim to be, but occasionally i need to dress up a face with photoshop to amp up a portrait photograph. this can include adding makeup, smoothing skin and applying distortion tools to tweak an expression. the example shown here does all those things… and more.

i often use photography as a blank canvas, because so much can be done in photoshop later. to that effect photographing a model with “natural” makeup has it’s advantages; first, you just might get a great natural shot, and second, you have lots of latitude to add makeup later if you want.

when i took the photograph of the tiger girl in the above example, i had actually been aiming for an entirely different kind of shot. but through the camera i saw an opportunity for something spontaneous and told the model to scowl. i took a few quick shots before returning to the original direction.

for a close-cropped portrait the original photograph resulted in plenty of flaws that could have been avoided or fine-tuned in the studio with more time. but i didn’t have that luxury in the studio, so what i got is what i ultimately had to work with.

before and after: giving your photograph a facelift with photoshop.

disecting the facelift:

in many ways a dramatic expression/composition is easier to approach than a sweet, natural-looking shot, because dramatic compositions allow for tons of post-photography bells and whistles that can also cover up flaws. natural shots should ideally have the least amount of post-photography fudging possible, so getting a spectacular original photograph is key. fortunately, in my shot here i had freedom to mess around with the photograph quite a bit.

post-photography portrait retouching isn't just about fixing blemishes. the expression and attitude can be enhanced with minor tweaks as well.

i clearly wanted drama in my tiger girl shot, so my photoshop scalpel was itching to get to work. here are the things I noticed right out of the gate:

the expression
the scowl was there, but not really dramatic enough for compelling emotion. to improve on this i distorted the lips slightly with the photoshop warp tool [edit/transform/warp]. i made them fuller, but also gave them an enhanced sneer. note: when distorting facial features, use minimalism. a precious little goes a long way. too much destroys.

i enhanced the mouth and expression by carefully selecting regions of the mouth and then warping them.

i also tweaked the eyebrows a bit, giving them an enhanced arch by applying a subtle, triangular shadow layer with a horizontal motion blur. I used the clone tool to sculpt the brow ever so slightly. it’s amazing what a minuscule alteration will do to an expression.

this is standard fare in any photo retouching: getting rid of hot light spots and skin blemishes of one kind or another. for this shot I used a combination of the clone tool , gaussian blur [filter/blur/gaussian blur], and blended flesh layer overlays to reduce the flaws. again, any effect applied is done minimally to maintain a degree of natural complexion.

even with the above tweaks, the face still wasn’t compelling enough, so I decided to give the model makeup. in a series of carefully plotted areas around the eyes i applied eyeshadow and eyeliner with super-soft area selection [select/modify/feather] and layer blending. note; when doing this, you have to think like a makeup artist even if you aren’t one. imagine the process of physically applying the makeup and apply it digitally in much the same way. pay special attention to contours and surfaces.

the above sequence shows the steps i took to create a subtle makeup effect. the selection in the last frame received an outer, feathered delete as a finishing touch.

i also added an iris-enhancing, blurred blue overlay layer with a “soft light” layer blending property to enhance the eyes.

paying special attention to details around the eyes can make a huge difference when retouching portraits.

finishing touches
of course, i applied a lot of other things to the photograph to achieve the final result. i softened shadows in some areas, dropped in a background (which is tricky, when working with hair – but i’ll get into that in a separate post), and even modified the apparel by closing the zipper at the neck.

the zipper enclosure on the neckline was tightened up for a cleaner look.

so there you have it. a photoshopped facelift in a nutshell.

credit: original photo by andreas engel | model courtesy wilhelmina models