Watch video: How to Retouch a Professional Headshot
In the case of any professional headshot, you really, really want to begin the process with a great image out of the camera. This is where shooting with some kind of good light (soft natural, reflected, or studio light) is a very good idea. If your camera can shoot in RAW, I highly recommend you shoot using that highest of quality setting. You can download the file I am using right here. I have simply double clicked to open the image in the Camera RAW editor. This guy runs a store call the Traffic Safety Store and he’s a really cool dude. If you needs cones, he’s your guy.
There are a few things that we need to do to clean this image up and get it ready for the processing we will do in Photoshop. I can see that the background is not a perfect white and he is a touch too dark and the image is also a bit too orange. The first step will be to set the Temperature and Tint to 5400 and -10, respectively.
To help brighten up the background we’re going to boost the Exposure to +0.50, and also kick the Highlights up to +30 as well as the Whites to +50.
I’m also going to knock the Contrast down to -10.
We can now use the Color Sampler Tool (S) to click and drop points at the corners to check to see if we have a true white in the background. HINT: 255 at all three fields means you have pure, bright, perfect white. You can hit the “Clear All Samplers” to more those out of the way once you see your bright white.
Next, hit the Tone Curve tab (second tab over from the left) and choose the “Point” tab and then drag the bottom left point straight up just a little bit to give a little boost of light into the shadowy parts of this image.
Lastly, we need to pop some sharpness in there via the Sharpen tab. I set the sharpness to 85.
I set my output settings to open a 16-bit image at the full 5616px x 3744px. You can change the settings by hitting the big link across the bottom of the dialog box. Hit the “Open Image” button to stick the image into Photoshop.
Create a new layer by going Layer>New>Layer and name the layer “Blemishes”. Grab the Healing Brush tool (J) (Not the “Spot Healing Brush”!) and look up to the toolbar and set the Sample drop down menu to “Current and Below”. Hold down your Alt/Opt key to sample similar bits of texture and tone on his face and heal away any blemishes that you see.
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves to apply a curves adjustment layer. Look in the layers panel and set the layer blend mode to Color Dodge to really blow out the image.
Select the mask for this layer (the white thumbnail to the right of the curves icon) and go Image>Adjustments>Invert. This will fill the mask with black and block out all that effect. Next grab the Brush tool (B) and right click to choose a small soft edged brush.
Next, zoom in on the eyes and look up to the Brush tool toolbar at the top of the screen and set the Opacity to 10%. Set your foreground color to white and gently paint some light into the bottom part of the iris.
Next use the hidden hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to merge all the visible layers to a new layer. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U to desaturate the image and go Filter>High Pass and use a setting of 2.0.
Set that layer to the blend mode of Overlay. This will layer on some crispy sharpening.
Next, create two new curves adjustment layers and set one to the blend mode of Multiply and the second one to a blend mode of Screen. Fill both mask with black just like we did with the last mask that we had on the curves adjustment layer above.
Now we need to take our brush tool (B) and select the mask on the Multiply layer and then set the foreground color to white and paint at that 10% opacity that we were using before to darker areas of the photo that already have dark and shadowy areas to them.
Do the same on the Screen layer, but paint over the brighter areas of his skin and shirt to help them “pop” a little more.
Next go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Selective Color and choose the Whites from the drop down menu and set Black to -15. This will take black out of the highlights which basically just gives the highlights another little snap of light and brightness.
Grab the Brush tool (B) and set the opacity of the tool back to 100%. Right click and choose a large, soft edged brush. Hit the letter “Q” and paint a large area at the bottom of the image. This is quick mask mode and we are essentially able to “paint” a selection. NOTE: The area to be selected gets a soft red overlay to show you where it will select.
Hit the letter “Q” to convert the painted area to a selection, but NO! It selects everything EXCEPT what we painted. Photoshop does this by default, but you can invert the selection by going Select>Inverse.
Now go Select>Modify>Feather and choose to feather the selection about 450px.
With that selection active, go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. Set the levels black point to 5 and the middle gray point to 0.90. This will darken that bottom edge of the photo and help give a little more depth to the shot.
We’ll add another curves adjustment layer here for a final pop of contrast. Use an “S” curve as I have to darken the shadows and brighten the highlights a little bit and you’re golden! You could apply one last layer of high pass sharpening if you think the image needs it, but that’s it! A professional headshot ready to be used on your resume, LinkedIn profile and more! Boom!
Here is our finished image.