Photo Editing, photo retouch and digital retouching tutorial

Create a new Layer

Instead of trying to do your edits in the same layer as the photo you're working on, it's much better to do them on a separate layer. That way, if you screw up, you can erase the edit with the eraser, or mask out the bad parts of a layer later on. In the layers palette, choose new layer, the click ok to create a layer on top of the current layer.

Set up the Healing Brush Tool

By default, the healing brush tool is set up to heal only on top of the current layer. I'm not sure why this is so, but for our purposes, we want it to sample all layers underneath the current layer and put the healing changes on the new layer. Click on the Healing (or Spot Healing Brush) tool (1), the look in the options bar at the top of your screen for the Sample All Layers command. (2)

Heal Normally

Click around the image to heal skin and other imperfections. The tool will work normally, but all changes will be on a separate layer, which you can turn off, erase with the eraser tool and edit in any other way without affecting your original image.

Cloning on a separate layer

To do the same with the cloning tool, the option is available in a slightly different manner. First, click on the cloning tool (1), then look in the options toolbar and from the "sample" pop-up on the right hand side choose "All Layers". (2)

What if you wanted to do some lightening of the area around the eyes in a non-destructive manner. Instead of picking up the dodge or the burn tool, Let's use and adjustment layer that is non-destructive.

On the bottom of the layers palette, look for the create new fill or adjustment layer icon, then choose one of the options from the second section. It doesn't really matter which one you pick. To make density adjustments, I like curves the best because it gives you the most flexibility, but you might have a favorite yourself.

Lighten or darken the image

To do a dodge or lightening adjustment, I'm tilting the curve upwards. If you wanted to make a burn adjustment, you'd go the other way. Every adjustment layer comes with a built in mask. When a mask is white like this, it means that the adjustment you're making fully affects the image underneath.

I'm going to make this mask completely black so it won't affect the image at all, then I'm going to paint part of this adjusment back in with a brush.

Inverse the Mask to hide the adjustment

There's an easy and hard way to do this part. Pictured above is the harder way. Click once on the mask part of the layer adjustment (Make sure the mask has a double border) (1). Then go to the IMAGE menu, choose ADJUSTMENTS and choose INVERT. Or, you can just use the shortcut Command I (control-I on a PC). (2)

Brush in the adjustments

The next step is to brush in some of the adjustments. To do that, choose the brush tool (1), then at the bottom of the tool palette, choose the default foreground and background icon (2) to set the color of the brush to white. Next, change the opacity of the brush in the options toolbar to around 30%. Finally, right click somewhere on the screen to choose the size and hardness of the brush. Set the brush to be fairly large and the hardness to be 0. (4)

Brush in your changes

Now, make sure the mask is selected (look for the double border on the mask layer) (1), then click and drag around the areas of the image you want to affect to make the changes. By painting this layer on top of my photo, I'm brushing in some lightness, which is the equivalent of dodging my image on a separate layer.

To get rid of the dodging, simply paint the mask with white (2). You can use this technique to do a number of non-destructive adjustments since all of the adjustment layers have built in masks.

Sharpening Layer

You can create a non-destructive sharpening layer that unlike a regular sharpening layer can be brushed in much like an adjustment layer. To do this, you'll need to make a layer that is a combination of all of the layers so far. I'm not sure if there is an option anywhere in the menus for this, but there is a command combination. On the mac, it's command-option-shift-e (control-alt-shift-e on a PC).

Change the Layer Mode

Before we apply the sharpening, we'll need to change the layer mode. Click on the layer mode pop-up to the left of the opacity on top of the layers palette and choose Hard Light.

Apply a High Pass Filter to the new layer

From the FILTER menu, choose OTHER, then HIGH PASS. This filter converts the layer to a grayscale image with black and white edges. It seems like a useless filter, but when combined with either the Hard Light, Soft Light or Overlay layer modes, it sharpens the image...especially on the edges. The nice thing about the High Pass filter is that adjusting the radius, we can visually see how sharp the image will get.

Adjust the High Pass radius

You can see that the radius will affect how much the image is sharpened. You want the filter to look pretty gray with lighter and darker areas only on the edges of things. The optimal radius will depend on the size and resolution of your image. You don't want to go too far though.

Hide skin from sharpening

To hide the skin and other areas where sharpening is undesireable, we'll need to create a mask on this new layer. I've already renamed the layer "sharpening". You can easily do that by double clicking on the layer name and typing in a new name.

Click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

Brush the soft areas

This time you'll need to paint the mask with black in order to hide areas you don't want sharpened like the skin. Click on the brush tool (you can hit the B key as a shortcut) (1), then if your colors have been changed, click on the default foreground and background colors icon (2) to set them to a white foreground, then immediately click on the switch background and foregrounds icons right next to it (3). To do this quickly, hit the D key, then the X key.

Right click somewhere on the image to pick a soft, yet large brush(4). Make sure your opacity is set to 100% on this task (5), then head on over to the layers mask and make sure it's selected (it should have a double border) (6). Now brush the image around the skin to protect it from sharpening.

Smooth Skin

If you want to smooth out skin we'll need another copy of all of the layers. Make sure the top layer is selected (1), then hit Command-option-shift-e (control-alt-shift-e on a PC). I've renamed the layer here. Go to the FILTER menu and select BLUR, then SURFACE BLUR (2).

Set Blur parameters

Now adjust your blur's radius and threshhold.

Hide the layer

This time, we'll hide the softening layer. The easiest way to do this is to hold down the option key (alt on a PC) and hit the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette (1). This will create an inverse mask (a mask that is filled with black). This will hide the layer completely.

We'll now need to paint with a soft white brush on top of the skin to show some of the blurriness through. This is what will soften the skin. You don't want the brush to be at ful strength, so you'll need to make the opacity of the brush about 30%. Click on the brush (2), then right click somewhere on the image and adjust your brush (3). Move to the options palette and change the opacity of the brush to about 30%.

Click around the image until you soften the skin or other areas.


Every one of your edits can be adjusted at anytime because they're on a separate layer where they can be tweaked and edited to your heart's content.

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