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Advanced Photo Retouching Techniques

Lesson 2 of 6

Basic Blemish Removal

Lindsay Adler

Advanced Photo Retouching Techniques

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

2. Basic Blemish Removal


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:03:47
2 Basic Blemish Removal Duration:27:47
3 Frequency Separation Duration:23:17
4 Dodge And Burn Duration:09:55
5 Face and Body Contouring Duration:15:48
6 Enhance Hair in Photoshop Duration:03:41

Lesson Info

Basic Blemish Removal

An image that I'm going to begin with here is actually taken with a 50 megapixel camera, so I'm going to be shooting with an image that has a ton of detail. And so one of the things that you need to know is that on an image like this, I don't know if you've ever heard that certain times it's appropriate to retouch zoomed in at 100%, so you can really see the detail. For a 50 megapixel image at 100%, I don't know if you'll last if you retouch at 100% every single time. Viewing distance makes a difference. Where is the end result? Is this going to be viewed online? That should be a consideration for how you're retouching. So as I've opened up here in Adobe Camera Raw. This would be the same process if you are working with Lightroom. And, one of the things you want to make sure is you want to make sure when you come down here that you are retouching in 16 bit. I want as much information in both the color and the tonality as possible. Now, when you print, most of the time that is kind of s...

quished, you're printing eight bit a lot of the time, but when you're working with the files you want as much as you can to be able to pull information out and move it around. Because, when you have less, when you start pulling, it breaks apart. So it's just basically giving yourself more thread to move with. You can always cut threads off in the end, but you want to give yourself a little bit more fabric to work with in the meantime. Also, just to address this, the color space I'm going to be working in is Adobe RGB 1998. A lot of times when printing, again, prints are sRGB, but you can figure out what to throw away later on. You want as much color information to work with. Many high end and professional retouchers do work in the ProPhoto space, color space, because there is that much more information. For the sake of this class, I think that would be overkill, and we're going to have plenty of information to work with with Adobe RGB, and in fact, most of the time when I'm retouching that is what I'm working with. So just know there is more information available even beyond this color space, but we're going to do RGB 1998 and 16 bit. And here when I'm first starting with my RAW file, the most important thing that I want to analyze right away is I want to make sure just in general that I've got my color balance, my white balance, roughly correct. We're going to be doing changes later on to tweak it, but if it's really, really far off, what ends up happening is if your color and your exposure are way off, different details and different blemishes, and different color shifts become visible that might not actually be a problem in the end, so you end up wasting time. For example, if an image, you end up, let's say is way underexposed, and you don't fix that problem right away. You start off and you open up the image when it's underexposed. Well when the image is underexposed, I can see a lot more blemishes, and a lot more detail on the skin. And so I'm gonna spend a lot of time, and if later on I know, oh wait my exposure is actually gonna be a lot brighter, half of those problems go away. So, that's why I recommend you try to get your white balance and your color, and your exposure close to start off with, just because it's going to give you more hassle later on. One of the things I want to be aware of at this process as well is I want to look for clipped shadows and highlights. So what I mean by that is I want to take a look at the areas that are solid black with no detail, and solid white with no detail. Because once I open up this RAW file, unless I'm working with a smart object, if I open up this RAW file and start working on it, I can't get that information back. Like if the black is solid black, and later on I'm like, oh yes I'd love to have a little bit more detail underneath her neck. It's gone, I mean if I open it up here. So one of the things that you can do is if you're looking at your histogram here in the top right-hand corner of Adobe Camera RAW, you have these two triangles. And what they will tell you is when you get an area that is pure white with no detail, it will turn red if you are clicked on the right triangle up here. And anything that is pure black with no detail will become blue. So I recommend that you turn those on just so you have an idea. Know that, yeah sure maybe a shadow deep underneath the hairline will be solid black, and you're not going to have detail there. But it's more for things like a highlight down the center of the nose. If that detail is gone, and you're trying to bring it back, it's going to be a problem, so you want to just check these things right off the bat to save yourself a little bit of time and effort. So, let me just bring this back. Anyway so something like this would be completely fine. I'm going to open up this image and get started here. And again this is with a 50 megapixel camera, so you're going to see a whole bunch of detail. All right so, when you start working on an image, there are different theories on the way that people work on things. I do generally start with getting rid of big texture problems. So what I mean by that is the big blemish, the big problem areas that we want to get rid of. So this is the category that might not fit into advanced retouching, but it's something that you'll definitely want to know. And so what we're going to do is we're gonna zoom in here and I'm just gonna tell you what I analyze in this image if I'm taking a look, what I know I need to fix. Taking a look at this photo, I know I want to clean up the hairs. I do know that I want to get rid of the blemishes throughout her skin. I also am seeing, do you see here, when you go down her cheek line, right here, it gets a little bit darker. And then it gets lighter again. This is something that, in advanced retouching, that you will spend time doing. You're evening out blotchiness, and really what you're doing is you're making sure there are smooth transitions. I think that's one of the big differences between kind of an average retouch where you just get rid of some pimples, and a higher end retouch is you're trying to have smooth transitions. So even say here on the forehead, making sure that's a smooth transition. Or, of course you can see down here, how there's blotchiness. It's not just the pimples or the blemishes, it's the smoothness of transition of tone. So that's a difference between an average retouch and more advanced retouch. Those are the types of things that you're looking at. So I know looking at this, I will want to soften the bangs under her eyes a little bit. I will want to smooth out a transition like this. I will want to get rid of some of these rough textures. I will likely want to brighten up her eyes a little bit. They just look a little bit dull there. I probably would clean up those hairs, and I know that I would do some work to the hair itself. For an image like this, if it was a portrait, if it were a portrait, I would say I would spend maybe 25 to 40 minutes on it for a portrait level retouch. If it were a high end beauty retouch with the hair retouch, that could be a couple hours. So, let me just tell you my reality of my life just so you all know. What I have done nowadays is I have groomed and found retouchers that understand the level of retouching I want. So what I have done in the past, that I've retouched an image myself, send it out to these retouchers, and then ask them to send it back, and we'll see how they fit to my style. The reason I say this is, if it's a 40 minute retouch, maybe that's doable. If it's the one that's three, four, five hours in my life because I'm not a professional retoucher, that is the type of stuff I outsource. So I'm just letting you all know, maybe you become a retoucher, and that's the things you specialize in. But perhaps as a portrait photographer, there are certain levels in which you know where your time is well spent. So that's like a whole other layer to all of this. Okay so let me just start by getting rid of the major blemishes. So I'm gonna duplicate my background, and I'm gonna zoom in, and let's just go down the line of the various tools that we have available to us. All right so I'll go over here on the left-hand side to your toolbar, and where you see this little bandaid, this is where a majority of your retouching tools or the starting tools would exist. These are not the advanced ones yet, but these are the go-to. So I'm gonna start from the top and just explain what they do. The very first one is the Spot Healing Brush, and the Spot Healing Brush is the easiest to use I suppose. Because what it allows you to do is you can take your brush there, and you can find a blemish, and what you want to do is you want to make that brush just a little bit larger than the blemish, just a tiny bit. And basically what you're saying to Photoshop is this. Okay Photoshop, this is not a good texture, we don't like this area. What I would like you to do is I would like you to identify this as bad, take a look around that skin, and guess what should probably replace it. So I'm leaving it up to Photoshop to guess, and so what's nice is I can just click, click, click, click, click, and Photoshop does a lot of the work. So I should be able to just click, click, click, and what it's doing is it's trying to match the texture and also the luminosity, the lightness and darkness. It's basically just trying to put what it thinks is right. And that's pretty awesome, because it can do a pretty good job pretty quickly. But, if you've used this tool before, you know that there are sometimes some problems. For example, if I get in close, let me see how this one does. Okay, so yeah, like right there is an example where it doesn't work perfectly. If I come over here and I click on this blemish, it isn't quite giving me the right texture. It's picking up a little bit and it looks almost like it gave me a scar. It's subtle but if you were able to see my screen close up, you'd see, it's not quite the right texture. The other places it struggles with, areas of high texture, like let's say a guy with a five o'clock shadow. It wouldn't, sometimes it doesn't quite know what to do. Or, let's say there's a blemish right above an eyebrow, and you use the Spot Healing, sometimes it's like, I'm looking around, I see eyebrow hair, and then it gives you more eyebrow hair. Sometimes it's not as smart as it should be. So, we have another tool that takes it one step further, and this is the tool I would recommend, especially for advanced retouching. And that would not be the Spot Healing Brush, it would be just the Healing Brush. But before I move onto that tool, I did want to recommend, if you are using a newer version of Photoshop, which I do recommend, the Adobe Creative Cloud photography plan, so you always have the newest version of Photoshop and Lightroom. I recommend that you have the content-aware type selected, because these are different ways that you can have the Spot Healing Brush function. You're basically prioritizing what it's looking for when it's behaving. Content-aware is going to be the smartest and probably give you the closest to what you want. Sometimes when working in areas of intense texture like the stubble, or maybe on fabric, texture might be a better fit. But usually for skin, almost always I use content-aware. So, try that one. So if you're trying to save time, Spot Healing is the first one I go to. But the Healing Brush would be the one that has actually more control. And how the Healing Brush works is instead of saying, Photoshop, this is a problem area, guess and replace it for me. What I'm doing is I'm saying, okay this is a bad area of skin. Oh by the way, this is a good area of sin. And it doesn't just replace it, what it does is it replaces it and blends it in, and it uses all those algorithms. So, it's allowing me to give a little bit more input. And so it's better than the cut and paste of Clone Stamp, and it gives you better matching textures and it blends it in more, and it actually preserves textures. So that would be something that I would definitely recommend as the tool for removing blemishes. So, what you do is you hold the Alt or Option key, and this is going to give you a target. This is where you're able to say this is the good skin. This is the area that I like. So let's say, here. This is good skin, Photoshop. Please replace over this bad skin area. And so that's what it's doing, so you can just keep clicking. And what's nice is you can just do a spot, but you could also do a larger area if you needed to. Or for example, for a hair, if I hold the Alt/Option key, and then I click and drag, where you see the little arrow, that's where it's sampling from. So I can kind of click and drag, and it does pretty well with hairs. So that would be something you might consider. And then, you can keep resampling if it ends up being a problem, or picking up bad texture, or if you can actually see, maybe there's a repetition of texture, you can tell, like oh it wasn't as smart, it didn't blend it for me as well as it should have. Another trick as well is, if you have a hair, or a long line, say a line across the neck, or the hair like we have here, one of the things I can do is I can use this Healing Brush to hold the Alt or Option key, to click and sample, and then I'm clicking at the top of the hair, and I am going to hold the Shift key, and when I hold the Shift key, the next place that I click, what it does is it draws a straight line, so it'll continue that healing all the way down. So if you saw that, it got rid of it in one fell swoop for me. So, you can also use shortcuts like that, especially with longer lines. So you would do the Alt or Option to select the area you like. You click, hold the Shift key, and then click the end of the line, and it'll draw a straight line for you. So, this is what I do for getting rid of long hairs, especially when it's straight lines. So, that would be the next tool I would use, and unfortunately, a lot of blemish removal, there's not really shortcuts if you're going for the advanced high end look. It's just a whole bunch of clicking. Which, depending on your personality might be quite therapeutic. I, I mean, depends on my mood. I have watched a whole bunch of Netflix series on binge on retouching, and I'm sure quite a few of you can relate to that. So I'd click around for things like that. So, think of the Spot Healing, or the Healing Brush here, for texture problems. Like there's a blemish. Not necessarily light or dark. We're gonna get to light or dark areas, but like a bad texture. Okay. So, we're gonna keep going down the line of tools. The next tool that I have here is the Patch Tool. I use the Patch Tool less for a high end retouch, but it is faster for big problem areas, like just a big issue. So what a Patch Tool allows you to do is it allows you to select a problem area, say this hair, okay, and I'm just loosely selecting in. And then what I can do is I can click and drag it to the area of skin that I would like it to be replaced by. And it gives me a preview so I can make sure I'm not duplicating texture. And then it blends it in, which is great. One of the reasons I like this tool as well is sometimes for hairs what I'll do is I'll go to the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and I'll just select a hair, like I'm just doing this, right? And every time I click it draws a straight line, so sometimes for me that's easier to select a hair. And I'll click around and I'll select it all. And then, when I switch over to the Patch Tool, it takes that selection, so then I can drag it. So sometimes it just, it like makes it faster for me to make long selections like that. So, when people ask me, okay how do you get rid of stray hairs? There aren't really too many shortcuts for most things. It's selecting it and replacing it, or, we'll talk about some other techniques later. So that's one reason that you might use a Patch Tool. Patch Tool also I would say is better for big areas, like a big scar, for example, or a big blemish, or a long line on the neck. And I actually use the Patch Tool more for issues like in clothing, like a big wrinkle. I'll patch out a big wrinkle for example. So I use that a little less than I would the Healing Brush. So, so far we've done the Spot Healing where you leave a little bit more up to Photoshop, the Healing Brush where you're making the decisions, and it will help you blend in and remove a blemish, and then you have the Patch Tool. So those tend to be the tools that I use most often for texture. The other tool that you're probably relatively familiar with or aware of would be the Clone Stamp. Clone Stamp is basically cut and paste, and then the control that you have is how soft is the edge. How crisp is it, or how much of a gradient does it fade out on the edges? For the Clone Stamp, I'm going to be using it later with frequently separation for how I use it, but I did want to give you some tips and tricks for some shortcuts. I do have to say the caveat, like honesty, the high end advanced retouchers don't take shortcuts. But I do. Like, I definitely do, and I take shortcuts all the time. I said this in my other class. I'm a big proponent of, if it looks good enough, yes. Like, don't die in front of your computer. I mean I have no social life as it is, so if I did as much retouching as I'm supposed to, I would have even less. So, I'm giving you back your social life. Anyway, so, all right so what we're gonna do, real quick I wanted to talk about a cheat, or something that you might want to try. And I'm gonna open up another file. So, for this woman for example, we're gonna revisit as well. She had some defined wrinkles that I would like to soften. And the way that I would soften them would be with localized dodging and burning. But that does take quite a bit of time. So for example, if I zoom in underneath her eyes there. There are a lot of fine lines to work with. So here's just one shortcut that would not be the high end way to do it, but if this is going to be viewed online or it's going to be a smaller image, or you just need a little bit of a softening, this would be what I'd recommend. So what I'm gonna do is I'm actually going to use the Clone Stamp, so let me just duplicate my background. Now normally, when you use the Clone Stamp, it's cut and paste. That's what it is. However, there are ways to make your clone more intelligent, and change its behaviors a little bit. And the way you would do that is by something called blend modes. You can change the blend modes of your brushes. And what blend modes are is they're changing the way your brush behaves. It's making it a little bit smarter. So, by default, it's set to Normal, which you can see up here where it says Mode. And that just means, cut and paste, normal, okay. When I click here, I have a whole bunch of different options available to me to change how this brush, this Clone Stamp behaves. Now, the one that I'm going to recommend or let you know exists, for this particular example, would be the blend mode of Lighten. Okay so here's how it works. If you're using the Clone Stamp, if you want to lighten up a shadow, you change your blend mode to Lighten. So what it does is when you clone, when you do your cut and paste, it only fills in areas that were darker. Those areas that were darker than the area you cloned from, it fills it in, makes them lighter. So when you change your blend mode to Lighten, it lightens it up a little bit. But, anything that was already light, or anything that was neutral, it leaves alone. Because that's what happens a lot when people use cloning. That's what goes wrong that we see so often. I see two huge issues in retouching. One of the biggest things is people eliminate texture. That's like the clear giveaway is that texture gets messed up, because people often clone too much. And so what happens is if you take one clone layer, and clone it over and over, and over, it fills in all the texture, and it's gone, and it just looks too smooth. Then the other one is that people use plugins, that's another one that it just smooths everything. Okay so my point with this is, is if I just clone over her eye, underneath her eyes a little bit, it sometimes blurs texture. But when I change my blend mode to Lighten, what I can do is I can just fill in those hard shadows, those hard wrinkles, just a little bit. This would not be what a high end retoucher would do, but, let me show you real quick. I'm going to change, and I'll talk about flow in one second. I'm gonna change my Flow to like 12%, okay. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna hold my Alt or Option key, and that's how I select an area. I say, okay this is the area you're going to be cutting from. So I'm gonna select from here, and then I'm gonna clone over. Okay, so let me just show you real quick, before and after. Okay, so what it did is it technically left brighter areas or highlight area, and midtone areas, and it mostly filled in shadows. So what I would probably do for her was I would do even less, keep it real subtle, and just do a pass over, and it just like fills in those shadow areas a little bit. Because I don't want, especially this is clearly a portrait, I don't want to eliminate those wrinkles. So I'm not gonna Patch Tool it, right? I'm not going to Spot Heal it, so if you want one of the quick fixes, just to soften that a little bit, it would be your Clone Stamp on Lighten. However, we're going to revisit localized dodging and burning later, so you'd see like the real way to do it. But while we're talking about Clone Stamp, I was talking about the blend mode of Lighten. You can also go the opposite way for the blend mode of Darken. So she doesn't have any problem areas here, but let's say somebody has a big shiny spot on their forehead. What you can do is you can change your blend mode to Darken, and just tone it down just a tiny bit. You could do that a little bit as well. There are other things I would do instead, but just knowing that's how the Clone Stamp can be used. So, we're gonna come back and take a look at the other options, or the more advanced tools available. So that was kind of running through down our list of tools. So what I need to do for a second is I need to do, like what I was just talking about. I've got to clean this up just a little bit more. So, let me come in here to my Healing Brush, and you can take a look at the things that are texture problems. Like this, if this were a portrait, it's probably, I think it's a mole. I would probably keep it. I personally am fine with asking people, like I'll retouch it, I'll leave it in there, and I'd rather give that to them for a portrait and then ask for them to have it removed, than me to remove a mole and then them be concerned about it. Like I'd rather just have to do that extra step. So, texture areas would be things like this. Areas here, like this unevenness, this isn't texture, it's actually lightness and darkness, which is something else that we'll be playing with. So, like this blotchiness, any of that, is not texture, it's luminosity. So we'll use a different tool for that. So let's see. That I would get rid of. So I would probably spend, I don't know, 15 minutes, getting rid of some of these less than ideal textures. But, overall her skin is not bad but I did use a harsher light and a harsher direction of light, so that's why I do have to spend a little bit more time. One of the things I also, just for peoples' knowledge, a lot of the beauty images that I've done that are a little bit more high end and they have that like magazine look to them, they start off looking quite brutal. Because I'll use a very, very, very harsh light, and it shows every texture, but once that texture is perfected, it looks incredible. But when the light's really soft, you see less texture, so the end result isn't as impressive. Does that make sense? So the fact that I brought out more texture but then perfected it is what gives you that like, wow, beauty look at the end. Okay so, I would need to spend more time, but for the sake of our demonstration, we'll say that that is about as far as I will go there.

Class Description

Join professional fashion photographer Lindsay Adler for an advanced primer on photo retouching in Adobe® Photoshop®. You'll learn how to use features like frequency separation, dodging and burning, and contouring as you follow Lindsay through the post-production work of a fashion shoot. Discover Lindsay's techniques that give your images that high-end look.  

Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CC 2015, Adobe Lightroom CC 2015


CPR Photography

One of my favorite instructors. Lindsay Adler is an excellent instructor, great personality, incredibly talented. This edited-down video "Advanced Photo Retouching" (watched several times live and non-live), is great, because all the unnecessary pauses and down-time are edited out. Cutting down the time commitment to a more manageable block of time. It's hard to dedicate 9-5 online live classes without compromising your own work schedule. So, I appreciate very much being able to watch these edited videos. Thanks Lindsay and Creative Live!


This course has an abundance of extremely useful information. I learned so much. I do need to keep going over certain sections so it sinks in, but Lindsey does a wonderful job explaining in detail what all the important things are and leaves out what she knows just isn't necessary to get into. That leaves us with a very useful course that doesn't have drawn out parts that seem time wasting. Lindsey gets straight to the point. And I so appreciate that. She really is an amazing teacher.

Rachel Taylor

Well worth the price of the class! This course goes into more detail than her Advanced Beauty Retouching class. I would recommend a good working knowledge of layers & masks before doing this kind of retouching, but Lindsay makes it very easy to understand.