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enhancing photos with photoshopThe problem with exceedingly better cameras is that, besides every beautiful detail, they also manage to catch every blemish. The time when you could get away with sunburn, or even something as small as a mole is long past. Those details will be engraved in virtual stone as well.

Nowadays, everyone realizes that movie stars don’t look all that perfect in real life and that Madonna doesn’t look like a twenty year old, but rather thrice that number. It’s the fault, or blessing, of Photoshop, a premier photo editing application.


In this article, I’d like to teach you three rather simple tricks on enhancing photos with Photoshop to fix nearly every blemish. More so, this article is intended for junior editors, like myself. This means that :

  • You don’t need extensive experience with Photoshop.
  • You don’t need a steady hand (i.e. no airbrush techniques).

In other words, everyone can take this tutorial and expect to follow it through to the end. If you watch where you step, you will get great results from very little effort and experience.

1. Remove Moles & Other Blemishes

In Photoshop CS5, there’s an amazing new feature, called content-aware. Instead of sampling from one particular area, content-aware will try to reconstruct spots with little image-parts grabbed from all over the canvas. You can use it to fix a skyline, delete a tree, or to remove blemishes.

enhancing photos with photoshop

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Simply select the Spot Healing Brush tool from the left sidebar, and make sure content-aware is turned on. You might also want to change the brush size in the top left corner, until it just covers the blemish. One short click, et voila. At times, content-aware may mess up, though. In those scenarios, either try again or use one of the manual techniques discussed below.

In earlier versions of Photoshop, we have not yet been blessed with content-aware. On the other hand, we do have the spot healing brush tool. Select it from the left sidebar (see above screenshot), check your brush size, and make sure you have selected ‘proximity match’. Again, one click and you’re done.

Instead of reconstructing the spot, Photoshop will sample it with one that approaches it in color (and hopefully misses the mole). If your result seems faded, change the mode from Normal to Replace and try again.

edit photos photoshop

Alternatively, you can select the Healing Brush Tool from the left sidebar. You can find it by long-pressing the spot healing brush tool. Instead of sampling a random (proximate) match, hold the alt-button on your keyboard and click to select the place from where you want to sample. Then click the blemish. If your result seems faded, change the mode from Normal to Replace and try again.

You can do more than remove moles with this technique, though. Leftovers from suncream, dirty mouths and wrinkles all qualify, although you shouldn’t always bother. ‘Natural’ still has a certain charm, and you want to avoid the Madonna-syndrome.

2. Fix Overshadowed Parts

Sometimes, especially in heavy sun, your image is overshadowed in places. This shadow can even obscure important details, like a smile or the twinkle of an eye. Here’s how to (largely) remove it.

Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels. These levels, in a much too concise explanation, mark the distribution of shades and highlights across your image. In other words; using it, you can master the shades.

edit photos photoshop

The far left slider will control the limits of the darkest shades, the far right one that of the brightest highlights. We will need the middle one, which determines to which side (light or dark) your image inclines. To remove our shadows, we want to limit the darker areas and give light some place to roam, so we will pull the middle slider a little (or a lot, depending on your image) to the left.

edit photos photoshop

Playing with levels can create an overly dark or – in our case – slightly faded image, though. If that’s the case, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Brightness/Contrast. And pull the Contrast slider a bit to the right. This will make you blacks blacker and your overall image less faded.

fix photos with photoshop

Here’s an overview of how we fought off those shadows. From original, to adjusted levels, to adjusted contrast.

3. Fix Discoloring

Whether because of a sunburn, a bad skin-type, or bad lighting, somehow your skin will manage to screw up a perfect picture. In my case it was a sunburn that gave me overly red ears. Here’s how to fix that.

Select the Color Replacement Tool by long-pressing Brush Tool and set its mode to Saturation – the intensity of a color. This brush will change the saturation of your picture to that of the selected color, but leave all the rest intact.

fix photos with photoshop

For our purpose, we want a less saturated color. You can see the kind of color I picked in the screenshot above, but please do play around with it for a bit. In essence, we want the ear to stop being red.

You’ll notice, however, that my ear now looks like it was made of clay. That’s because a less-saturated red skin is not the same as a normal skin. There’s still a difference in color behind the saturation.

fix photos with photoshop

Still with the Color Replacement Tool selected, set the mode to color. We want to give our clay ear a more natural color. To do so, hold alt and select the predominant color on your face. Imagine it to be the color of your ear if there were no shadow at all. Now paint over your clay ear to make it come to life.

Our ear may still look a little fake. This is less of a problem with most other body parts, because an ear has a lot of diverse shadowing going on. While fixing our saturation and color, we also messed with the natural shadows. You can use the burn tool, as can be seen in the screenshot above, to introduce some new shadows. Don’t try to be an artist. Simply swipe it over the ear, and adjust the exposure if necessary. The burn tool will add shadow, but will mostly leave the rest of your colors alone.

Above is the process of our ear-recoloration. From original, to ‘saturated and colored’, to ‘one swipe with the burn tool’.

Note that you can use this same technique to increase the saturation (and sparkle) of eyes, whiten your teeth, and change the color of your shirt. The possibilities are effectively endless.

enhancing photos with photoshop

A final comparison in the screenshot above. To the left is the original, with standard color-improvement from iPhoto; the one on the right is touched up manually, with less than a couple minutes of work. With more time and effort, this picture can be further improved, i.e. by toning down some of the reds in the face and increasing the saturation of the background.

What do you think about enhancing photos with Photoshop? Soon to be common practice? Let us know your thoughts and other tips in the comments section below!

Note: For other great Photoshop tips and howto’ s make sure to download MakeUseOf’s The Idiot’s Guide To Photoshop.

  1. Saikat Basu
    August 20, 2010 at 8:14 am

    At first, I used to be over-occupied with removing red-eyes till I learnt some of the tricks to avoid them in the first place.

  2. Jaswant Tak
    August 17, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Dcenhancer is good tool... you can use that for such kind of refinements http://www.mediachance.com/dig...

    cheers

  3. Jaswant Tak
    August 17, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Dcenhancer is good tool... you can use that for such kind of refinements http://www.mediachance.com/digicam/enhancer.htm

    cheers

  4. Technolic
    August 13, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Great Tips buddy :)

    • Aibek
      August 14, 2010 at 6:57 am

      second that!

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