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To celebrate my new domain name (CoffeeShop's new address is http://www.thecoffeeshopblog.com/ but the old one will still work) and to also show how much I appreciate you, my reader, I want to present my new updated Perfect Portrait PS/PSE action (you can find the old version here, the download link for this new updated version is at the bottom of this post).
This is as close as you can get to a one-stop portrait action. UPDATE: I have many more retouching actions you should check out. You can find them all listed on this page (go down to retouching actions) or check out Perfect Portrait 3 and Perfect Portrait 3 Express.
Not only can you completely retouch a portrait (skin, eyes, teeth) you can also pop color and contrast, sharpen, add a gritty effect, vignette, or even convert to a B&W image. As long as your white balance is adjusted and you have corrected major skin flaws, you shouldn't have to do anything else to your SOOC (straight-out-of-the-camera) images before running this action.
CoffeeShop Perfect Portrait 2 Action Instructions:
Run this action on an image that already has the white balance corrected and major skin flaws removed (red spots, deep wrinkles, and if you have boys-dirt). When you start the action the Levels adjustment layer pane will pop up as seen below. This is where you can adjust the initial contrast/color.
I usually try to move my shadow (left) and highlight (right) sliders under the curve as seen below. You can see it really brightens up this dark image. If you want to brighten your skin more, move the middle (gamma) slide to the left. This is an easy trick to get bright pretty skin.
You can also remove color casts by clicking on the pull-down Channel menu (RGB). Select Red if you have a reddish cast and play with the slides to remove it. You can do the same with the Green and Blue. If you have adjusted your white balance before running this action this shouldn't be necessary.
After you finish with the Levels adjustment, click OK and the action will run. You will have 16 layers when the action is finished. NOTE: You won't notice any major changes other than a contrast boost until you start turning on layers and painting on layer masks. This action does not magically smooth skin, "pop" eyes, and whiten teeth before your eyes!
However, in just a few minutes you can quickly retouch and enhance your portrait using the layer masks. If you haven't used the original Perfect Portait or any of my retouching actions with layer masks you won't understand how to use this action UNTIL you read the instructions below. And if you haven't used layer masks before please read my detailed tutorial here.
1. First and foremost, make sure your brush is set to Normal mode on the top menubar. Click on your brush (B) and go to the top menubar and set the Mode to Normal. If it is not in set in Normal, you won't notice anything happening when you paint on the layer masks! This is the biggest error people run into using these types of actions. If your action suddenly "stops working" and painting on the layer masks doesn't change anything, your brush mode is not set to Normal.
2. Make sure to click to select the layer masks first, then "paint" on the image to add/remove enhancements. Your layer mask MUST be selected or you won't see changes. Some layers don't have layer masks (like Dodge/Burn and Bright Eyes), so just click on that layer when you want to work on it.
3. A black layer mask hides the enhancement on that layer. If you use a white brush on a black mask, you "reveal" the layer's enhancement. A white layer mask on a layer hides nothing. If you want to remove an effect on a layer that has a white mask, paint on that mask with a black brush.
4. Use a soft brush when painting on masks to keep your enhancements subtle. Try different brush opacities and/or lower the layer opacity. If your brush is set at 25% opacity, as long as you hold down the left mouse button while painting you can't paint a higher opacity than that, even if you go over the same area a million times. However, if you release the button and repaint over the area, you will add another 25% "paint".
5. Turn on a layer by clicking on the little box on the left of that layer. If you see a little eye that layer is turned on. You also can adjust the opacity of each layer. If the enhancement is too much, lower the opacity. If you want to remove part of the effect (like brightness on skin), use the layer mask to remove some of the layer's effect.
Now, on to the action.
1. Smooth Skin: This layer is for smoothing skin or even removing noise. Click to select the black layer mask. Click B to get your brush and make sure it is in normal mode and white. Then adjust the brush opacity to taste and gently paint over the skin, avoiding the eyebrows, lips, tip of the nose, and eyes. You can use the brush on 100% opacity and then lower the opacity after you are finished or adjust your brush opacity on the fly. Just make sure to not over-soften the skin so that it looks plastic.
You can also use this layer to paint over a noisy background. Use a low opacity white brush.
If you soften something you don't want to (such as the eyes), simply change to a black brush (X) and paint over the area to remove the effect.
2. Remove Red from Skin: Click to select the black layer mask and paint on reddish skin with a soft low opacity white brush. Adjust layer opacity to taste. (NOTE: In PSE layer 2 and layer 3 are reversed for some reason!)
3. Vivid Color: If you want to make colors pop in selective areas, click on the black layer mask and paint over the image with a white low opacity soft brush. Don't paint over the entire image, only areas you want more vivid.
4. Sharpen: Turn on this layer if you want to sharpen your images. Adjust opacity to taste and use a black brush on the layer mask to remove areas you don't want sharpened.
5. Brighten: Turn layer off or on, adjust opacity to taste, click on the little adjustment layer to adjust up or down, and use a black soft brush on the white layer mask to remove selective areas of brightness (such as on the skin).
6. Contrast Pop: Turn layer off or on, adjust opacity to taste, use a black soft brush on the white layer mask to remove selective areas of brightness (such as on the skin).
7. Urban Grit: Add a slightly gritty contrast pop on areas of your image by clicking on the black layer mask and painting on your image with a soft white brush. Adjust opacity of the brush and layer to taste. I like using this selectively on hair. Don't use this on skin, it can be scary! In fact, if you use this all over an image at 100% opacity your image will have a slight HDR effect.
8. White Teeth: Zoom in the teeth. Click to select the black layer mask and then paint over yellowish teeth with a soft white brush. Adjust the opacity of the layer to taste. Make sure you don't over-whiten!
9. White Whites: Zoom in the eyes. Click to select the black layer mask and paint over reddish whites of the eyes with a soft low opacity white brush. Adjust layer opacity to taste. Don't over-whiten!
10. Eye Define: Zoom in the eyes. Click to select the black layer mask and then paint over the eyes and eyelashes with a soft white brush. Adjust the opacity of the layer to taste.
11. Bright Eyes: Zoom in the eyes. Paint over the iris with a soft white brush to brighten the eyes, then adjust the opacity of the layer to taste. Don't over-brighten!
12. Soft Glow: If you want to add a soft glow to the skin, click on the black layer mask and paint over the skin with a low opacity soft white brush and then adjust the layer opacity to taste.
13. Dodge/Burn: If you want to darken areas of your image (to vignette or burn), paint over areas of the image with a black soft low opacity brush. If you want to lighten areas of your image (to dodge), paint over areas of the image with a white soft low opacity brush. You can do both on this layer. If you mess up, just click on that layer and fill with 50% gray and start over. I love to dodge (lighten) the hair sometimes by streaking it a bit with a low opacity white brush.
14. Vignette: Turn on this layer if you want a vignette around the edges. You can use Overlay, Soft Light, or Multiply blending modes and adjust the opacity to taste.
15. B&W Conversion: If you want to turn your image B&W, simply turn on this layer. You might want to go and adjust the Brightness and Contrast Pop layers to fine-tune the B&W effect. You probably won't have to adjust any other layers. I do sometimes turn up the Bright Eyes layer in B&W conversions to really make the eyes "pop".
There you go! You don't have to edit in the order above. And most importantly, don't go overboard and make your portrait look like a crazy plastic space alien with super smooth skin and glow-in-the-dark eyes. Moderation is the key in editing a great portrait. My sample above is overdone to my taste, but I wanted to make sure you could see the before/after. ;-)
One neat trick to quickly see your before/after (the before after running the levels adjustment layer of course), is to click on the little eyeball by your background layer while holding down the Alt key. All of the other layers will turn off. To turn them back on simply click once again on the eye icon on the background layer. Here is my before/after. This edit took perhaps 1-2 minutes. And I had to leave the dirt...
Download the completely free Perfect Portrait 2 PS/PSE Action at MediaFire!
If you have problems using this action make sure to print out and go over the instructions a few times. It might be confusing at first if you are new to layer masks, but after a few times you will become a pro! And make sure your brush is in NORMAL mode!
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For complete info on installing all of my actions, click here.