A huge percentage of photography work revolves around the world of portraits. Really. I’m not sure if the general population quite understands how popular photos of people really are. When folks purchase their first real camera, I think most of them head outside and start taking pictures of clouds and landscapes, but after they become more skilled at and develop a love for what they’re doing, their confidence rises. They bring humans and animals into the mix. For those of us who enjoy making money, we seek out opportunities to shoot engagement, wedding, studio and family types of shots. And for the animal lovers out there, well, they head towards cute kittens and puppies. I happen to be an animal lover. You don’t even want to see all the pictures of my most adorable cat named Ron.
No matter what type of photography you’re into, there’s one area that’s critical you get right – the post-processing. And one area in post-processing that’s critical is sharpening areas in the photo that need to be sharpened and enhancing areas that need to be enhanced. Rarely does a photo emerge from a camera in perfect order. All the wonderful effects we see everyday in those glamorous wedding pictures were done in Lightroom and Photoshop.
In today’s post, I’ll be working on two specific areas of a demo photo. The photo is of a little girl who is posing for the camera. While the original image is already very good, it does call for some minor improvements with the sharpening of the face and some improvements with the color balance of the eyes. To accomplish what I’d like to do to these areas, I’ll be using a sharpening filter called Smart Sharpen as well as a Color Balance adjustment layer. Also, in both of these cases, I’ll be taking advantage of layer masks, with special tactics applied. By the end of this post, you should be able to take your own photo and sharpen isolated areas of it, while leaving the remaining areas untouched. You should also be able to enhance specific areas of a photo, while leaving the remaining areas untouched. Both tasks are very handy, so let’s get going.
Since the changes I’ll be making to this photo are so subtle, I’m not going to repost the photo I already placed at the top of this post. Instead, I’ll zoom in and give you a clear idea of what’s wrong with it.
Whether you can see it or not, the girl’s face in this photo isn’t as crisp as I’d like it. Where it can truly shine is in the eyes and eyelashes. I’d like to slightly separate the eyelashes from one another, which will add some needed drama. Also, I’d like to add some color to her eyes. Right now, they’re fairly muted and I believe that with a bit of extra blue, they can come alive.
It’s important to note here that I only want to apply these changes to the areas I just described. I don’t want any application in the rest of the photo. I like the muted blur of the background, so I’ll use layer masks to keep everything separate.
The sequence of events for both of these photo modifications is like this:
1. Duplicate the layer in question.
2. Apply the filter or adjustment layer to the duplicated layer.
3. Edit it so it affects the entire photo, keeping an eye on the specific area of interest.
4. Add a layer mask or select the adjustment layer mask.
5. Invert the mask in the appropriate Properties panel.
6. Paint away areas of interest so they show through mask.
As you can see, there really are only a few steps to make a photo appear more striking. Below, I’ll walk through the first set of changes that will sharpen the face of the girl in this portrait.
While I’m going to apply some smart sharpening in this post, I’m not going to dive too deeply into the topic. If you’re interested in learning more about the best methods to use when it comes to sharpening a photo in Adobe Photoshop, please take a look at this post:
NOTE: To give you more of an up-close view of what I’m doing, I’ll be displaying the zoomed in version of the girl’s face. This way, you’ll be able to actually see the sharpening and the addition of blue to the eyes. Behind the scenes, I’ll also be making the same exact changes to the entire original photo so I have something to output. I just wanted to mention this so you don’t confuse the enlarged face for the whole photo.
To sharpen the entire photo, I’m going to first duplicate and select that duplicate of the layer of the girl’s face and then head up to the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen menu item and select it.
From there, the Smart Sharpen dialog box will appear.
In this case, I’m only concerned with two settings; first is the Amount, which I’ll set to 150% and the second is the Radius, which I’ll set to 4px. Again, I explain what these settings mean in my previous post that covers how to sharpen photos.
After I finish making the changes to the settings, I can click OK to apply them and to close the dialog box.
Apply a Layer Mask
The next step I’m going to take is to apply a layer mask to the duplicate layer I made the change to.
If you’re curious how to apply a layer mask, please read this post:
If you take a look at the screenshot above, you’ll notice that the layer mask is completely white, which reveals the sharpening I made across the entire photo. Since I only want the sharpening applied to the face, I’ll need to make a change.
First, I’ll double-click on the mask thumbnail that’s in the Layers panel and then click on the Invert button that’s in the Properties panel that appears.
As you can see in the above screenshot, the mask turned black and the sharpening has been hidden. This is perfect because now all I need to do is use the Brush Tool to paint over the face with white. That will reveal the sharpening for only that area, while keeping it hidden for the rest of the photo.
If you’re wondering how to use the Brush Tool in Photoshop, please read through this post where I explain exactly what to do:
Now, if I hide the visibility of the bottom two layers and display just the layer that’s been affected by my masking, I can see that only the face is showing. Those little checkerboard boxes represent transparency.
At this point, the sharpening is complete.
Adding Blue via Color Balance to the Eyes
To enhance the color of the eyes (which are already blue, but not truly showing that), I’m going to follow the exact same steps I followed above. The only difference is that I can skip the first step of duplicating the bottom layer. I’m going to apply this adjustment directly to the sharpened and masked layer.
To kick things off, I’ll head up to the Adjustments layer and click on the Color Balance icon.
As you can see, the new adjustment layer appears in the Layers panel and is accompanied by a layer mask. Also, the Properties panel for this adjustment layer opens. I’ll go ahead and make a few changes by pushing the top and bottom sliders towards the color blue as far as they’ll go. I’ll explain why I’m doing this in just a moment.
By doing this, I gave the entire photo a blue hue. Since this isn’t what I want, I’ll click the Masks icon in the open Properties panel and click the Invert button. Just like last time, this will turn the mask from white to black and will hide the changes I just made by pushing the sliders.
Again, just like I did in the sharpening section above, I’ll grab the Brush Tool, resize it so it’s appropriate to paint the irises in the eyes and change the brush color so it’s white. Then, I’ll brush the irises to reveal the changes I made by pushing those two sliders. Here is the result:
By looking at the above photo, I think we can all agree that the blue of the eyes is pretty crazy. It’s easy corrected with the Opacity slider in the Layers panel though. I’ll make sure the adjustment layer I just worked on is selected and then reduce the Opacity to 50%. That should make the eyes look more natural.
Now, I’d say this is much better.
And that’s it. I sharpened the face of the girl in the portrait to give certain areas more clarity and I woke up the color of her eyes. This is a very common practice when it comes to many different types of photography, so I encourage you to experiment with this type of workflow. You’ll be surprised at how often you turn to it.
As usual, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below. I’ll be more than happy to help out in any way possible. Thanks!
If you’ve enjoyed today’s post and found it helpful, please share it with a friend. Also, if you’d like to continue learning and would like our posts sent directly to your email inbox, simply sign up for our newsletter. We’ll send each and every post directly to you. Thanks!