How to Retouch Photo with Photoshop: From Underexposed Photo to Professional Illustration

As part of the photoshop tutorials for beginners series, here is a simple tutorial to show how to turn an underexposed photo to professional illustration. Given that most users tend to edit or touching up photos with photoshop, we hope this easy tutorial will be useful to beginners.


For this tutorial I used a photo done with an old analogic camera (Canon AE-1), you can download this photo  or you can use your own photo and use the same techniques obtaining the same beautiful result, obviously the better the image the better  our final work will be.

Adjusting the colors
First of all you need to open the image (File > Open) you want to modify, duplicate the layer using CMD + J and hide the background layer. Now we have to do the most important, but, at the same time, the easiest part of our tutorial adjusting  the colors of the image. There are many ways to do that. We will use the simplest one letting photoshop do the hard part of the work: use in series the Automatic Color (Image > Automatic Color), the Automatic Tone (Image > Automatic Tone) and the Automatic Contrast (Image > Automatic Contrast). For a better result you can set up your own colours using Color Balance ( Image > Adjustment  > Color Balance ) and Brightness and Contrast (Image > Adjustment > Brightness and Contrast).  In this case using the first method is for sure faster and the result is more or less the same.

In this image we can see that there are some parts that can be modified. It is a nice photo but we want  to make it look even better.  Let’s start using fluidify filter. With Layer 1 selected go to Filter > Fluidify or press CMD + SHIFT + X (CTRL+SHIFT+X). Set up the brush using  a Brush of 181px, Density of 28 and Pressure of 38.

Now use the brush on the nose and reduce its dimension a little bit. Be careful and use it like the arrow on the image below. We want the neck a little bit thinner too, so using the same settings click and reduce the neck towards the right as before. Please use the image2 as a guide.

It is hard at the beginning but when you learned how to use this filter you will improve your photo as never before.  Start trying and remember, don’t use a too small brush for the smaller parts.

Look at the girl’s chin and you can see that she has some small imperfections, like spots. Now we want to remove them. Create a new layer ( Layer  > New Layer ) or use CMD + SHIFT + N, name it REM_IMPERFECTIONS (to recognize it faster when you need it next). Select Healing Brush Tool on the left bar and select a hard (100% hardness) 14 px brush and remember to select the “Use all layers options”,  so you can modify in this level parts of the layer below (layer 1). We want to use this tool instead of the clone stamp tool because it is softer and doesn’t change luminosity but only the texture of the skin. With the tool selected press Alt whilst clicking close to the imperfection to select the new texture and click on the imperfections to replace the old ones with the new ones. You should have obtained something like the image below:

For a better result what we are going to do now is soften the skin a little bit. There are many ways to do this. Someone’s advice is to use Gaussian blur filter, but I prefer to use Clone Stamp Tool all over the subject’s skin. This is the tricky part of the tutorial. Create a new layer and name it “soft_skin”. Select the Clone Stamp Tool selecting a 36 soft brush (0% hardness) and set the flow to 68% . As for the healing brush tool select “use all layers”. Now with the clone selected start alt+click on a part of the face and multiple click on the nearest zone until you covered with the clone stamp tool all the face like in the image below. Then diminish opacity of the layer to 65%. This part it’s not easy if it’s the first time with this tool. You have to alt+click on a part and start clicking fast and randomly on the part next to it, the one with the similar color; you will obtain a nice and soft blur effect.

Make a new level as shown before and name it “hair”. Now select the Brush tool with 74px and 0% hardness. The colour used is # 836355. Start drawing on the dark part of the  hair with this colour and in the lighter part with colour # ae8361. Next use a white brush with low opacity (15%) on the top of the head like the image below:

Now change the level’s blending mode to Soft Light removing unwanted parts using a quick mask.

For the last part of the tutorial we want to give it a final touch increasing the contrast of the image. So  right click on a random level and select merge visible  levels. Duplicate this final layer (CMD +J) and change its blending mode to Overlay. Now diminish the opacity of the overlay layer to 40% ( you choose the opacity you want to change it in, in order to make the picture as you wish). We are done.

This is a simple way to retouch your photos obtaining a professional result. I hope this tutorial will help you to improve your skills on retouching photos in photoshop. Thank you for reading.

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2 Comments | Write a Comment

  1. Art Saborio says:

    This is a really good post. I like the way you added the images to back up the tutorial text. I have tried this on a photo that I had and it worked out great. Thanks for quick and easy tutorial.

    Have you thought about doing your own videos on the tutorials? I am sure they would come out great!

  2. Synergy says:

    Just for the sake of perfection: It is Liquify in the english version, not Fluidify. 🙂

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