How to Retouch a Dramatic Headshot with Photoshop CC

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As Usual, it Begins With a Good RAW File

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You really want a nice, clean RAW photo to begin with, the better the image that you bring into Photoshop, the better the image that you will be exporting from Photoshop. If you don’t have a great RAW file to follow along with, please feel free to download the RAW file that I am using right here and follow along! [LINK]

First Camera RAW Edits

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Open the image in the Camera RAW editor by dragging the photo into Photoshop and dropping it. In the editor, choose to set the Temperature to “5500” and the Tint to “-60”. Also, boost Contrast “+20” and reduce Blacks “-20”, I also boosted the Clarity to “+6” or so and also dropped the Vibrance to “-20”.

Tone Curve in Camera RAW

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Next, we’ll jump into the Tone Curve tab and choose the “Point” tab and drag the bottom left point upward as I have in the screenshot to boost all the blacks in the image and really give a faded/low contrast look.

Hue & Saturation Tab

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Select the Hue and Saturation tab in the Camera RAW editor and start with the Saturation tab. Set both “Reds” and “Oranges” to “+20” and then jump over to the Lightness tab and set both “Reds” and “Oranges” to “+20” as well. This will brighten and add color to the highlights on his face and really help get the image ready for Photoshop and the editing we will be doing in there.

Split Toning

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Choose the Split Toning tab and set the shadow/highlight balance to “+85” and then set the shadow Hue to “260” and the Saturation to “10”. This will add a subtle blue tone to the shadowy parts of the photo.

Pre-Photoshop Sharpening

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Choose the Detail tab and boost Sharpening to “+100” to add a good kick of sharpness to our image. TIP: I also went into the Camera Calibration tab and set the camera profile to “Camera Neutral”. We’re now ready to open this in Photoshop, hit the “Open Image” button to open in Photoshop!

Blemishes in Photoshop

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Create a new layer in Photoshop and name the layer “Blemishes”. Grab the Healing Brush Tool (J) and set the “Sample” option to “Current and Below” up in the control bar so you can sample the image layer, while painting on this new, blank layer. Clear up whatever blemishes you can find.

Brighten the Eyes

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Next, go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves to drop a Curves adjustment layer into the document and set the layer blend mode to “Color Dodge”. This will blow the highlights out of our image so we need to select the mask in the layers panel and fill it with black to cover everything up. Then grab the Brush Tool (B) and set the opacity of the tool to “10%” by finding the opacity slider in the control bar at the top of the screen. Paint gently in the eyes to boost the brightness of the eyes as I have done in my screenshot.

Adding Some Red

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Add another Curves adjustment layer and choose “Red” from the channels drop down menu in the dialog box. Drag the point in the bottom left part of the curves dialog up a little bit to infuse some red tones into the image and drag the top right corner point downward to add some cyan to the highlight areas of the image.

High Pass Kick

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Use the hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all the visible layers to a new layer and then convert this layer to a black and white image by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U. Go Filter>Other>High Pass and set the High Pass to 3.5px. Set this layer’s blend mode to “Overlay”.

Some Dodging For Shape

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Add another Curves Adjustment layer and set the layer blend mode to “Screen”. Then fill the mask with black to restore order to the image. Grab the Brush tool (B) and set the tool’s opacity to “10%” and paint over areas of highlight to really shape the face and bring out the details that you wish to accentuate.

Multiply Makes Darker

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Use that merge all layers to a new layer trick and then set that merged layer to the blend mode “Multiply”. This will darken the image quite a bit so dial the effect back until it looks just right. I settled on 40%.

Coloring Google Glass

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To add a nice hue of blue to the Google Glass we want to add a new Hue & Saturation adjustment layer and mask it to the actual piece of glass. Then set Hue to “207”, Saturation to “40”, and Lightness to “+5”. This will do the trick!

Intensify the Highlights

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To boost the highlights all we need to do is hold down the Alt/Opt key and drag our older dodging Curves adjustment layer up to the top of the stack of layers. This will duplicate it and double the strength of the effect. Dial back the layer opacity if you feel that the brightness is too strong.

Spot Light Effect

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Create a new layer and name it “Starburst” then grab the Brush tool (B) and use a medium sized, soft-edged brush and add a white dot above the camera of Google Glass. Duplicate that layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J. Select the lower of the two glowing lights and go Edit>Free Transform and scale the glow up a little larger.

Light, Color, and Blend Modes

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With the lower glow layer selected, go Image>Adjustments>Hue & Saturation and set Hue to “196”, the Saturation to “83”, and Lightness to “-30”. This will give us a nice blue glow. Set the layer blend mode to “Screen” and then turn the upper glow layer on and set the blend mode of that layer to “Linear Dodge (Add)”. I reduced the Opacity and Fill opacity of both layers until they blend together nicely. PRO TIP: Add a little noise to both glow layers to smooth the transition from glow to the real image and to add realism.

Thickness & Grit

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Next, add a Black and White Adjustment layer and set each of the color channels as I have in the screenshot:

Reds: -15

Yellows: 180

Greens: 60

Cyans: 145

Blues: 70

Magentas: 110

Set the layer blend mode to “Multiply” and reduce the opacity to about 40%.

Boosting Highlight More

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Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Selective Color and choose “Whites” from the drop down menu. Slide the black slider to the left to about “-35”. This will add a good kick to the highlights. Feel free to adjust as you need to.

Time for Color Balance

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We’re going to add a Color Balance adjustment layer by going Layer>New Layer Adjustment>Color Balance. I set my shadows to “-5”, “-2”, “+3” and then set the midtones to “+5”, “-3”, “+3” and lastly, I set the highlights to “-10”, “0”, “-10”. You can see my screenshots to see exactly what it looks like.

Sharpening & Grain Final Touches

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To finish this effect off I added a little more sharpening and I also dumped in some grain to help smooth any color imbalance that may be present. Thanks for hanging out and checking out this tutorial! Make sure to Tweet and share it with your friends!