Fine Art Photography

Makeup the Digital Way: Cosmetic Editing for Photographs

This is good information which we’ll all use at some time. Digital cosmetics is a must for anyone contemplating a future in digital photography, whether that be as a professional or an amateur. While you run through these tips on digital cosmetics, I’ll bet you have some photographs in mind before your reach the end of the article that could use some creative attention…

One of the flexible features of digital photography is the ability to “fix” an image after the shot is taken. The lighting and colors of the digital photograph can be changed. Small, distracting objects can be removed. And perhaps most importantly for those who photograph people, cosmetic alterations can be done quite easily. These adjustments are popular with professionals, amateur photography buffs, and even the novice user who would like to enhance some casual shots.

Many people are camera shy. They don’t like the way they look in photographs and do not want people to take their pictures. They may plead with the photographer to avoid the candid shot; they may hide in the back or duck out of the picture all together, or they may try to hide their faces or bodies. Often, no amount of insisting can get these cameraphobes to agree to a posed shot; the result is the occasional candid shot of them taken by surprise. More often than not, these candid shots are not flattering and only serve to reinforce the victim’s notions about how poor their face turns out in a digital photograph.

The older a person gets, it seems the more extreme this dislike becomes; the effects of aging show up easily under fluorescent or poor light or close ups. But this is not restricted to the elderly; many unwilling photography subjects think that the camera only magnifies their most undesirable features. With image adjustment software like those sold by Arcsoft, Adobe, and Corel, you can change their minds about their images! By performing a few flattering cosmetic corrections to a digital photograph taken under poor conditions, you can show them a flawless, pleasing image of their faces.

Let’s start with a hair transplant. This will not be as painful as it sounds! Common problems with hair in photographs are “flyaway” hairs and evenness of tone. For example, hair that has been dyed may easily reveal the darker tones at the roots under the bright flash of the camera. Pull out your digital cloning tool and copy over some areas of the hair. Use a 50% transparent, feathered clone stamp to do the cloning. Pay special attention that the direction of the hair strands, as well as the hair color, is correct in the region you are patching. To cover dark roots, use a 30% transparency and repeat a few times. This is easiest if you use the maximum zoom that still allows you to see the entire area.

Moving on down, let’s tame the shiny forehead, which can be a little difficult. The effect will be more realistic and pleasing if you use the disturb brush instead of the darkening tool. Use a medium strength and 50% transparent brush, and 100% feathering. Copy a nearby tone with the eye dropper and then use the air brush to fill in just a little color if needed. 3% transparency is best for this delicate operation.

Even the best complexion will have blemishes. We’ll deal with this once again by cloning. Copy a small area of clear, even skin and clone over the problem spot with 70% transparency. Dark circles or wrinkles under the eyes take a more extreme effort; crank it up to 85%. But don’t get carried away removing under-eye discoloration; if you overdo it, the result will not look natural.

Simple red-eye reduction is the least of the alterations you can do to the eyes. With a lot of care, you can make the whites of the eye lighter. Use a dotted-line mask to outline the whites. Then lighten by using the brightness tool at 3%. Avoid the temptation to make further changes here; there are other more subtle alterations that can be done but they are very tricky. An exception is the addition of a small light gray highlight. Use a 2-3 pixel brush and a round, fully feathered shape. If the digital photograph was taken outside, you can use a crescent instead. Soften the highlight if it looks too drastic.

Teeth also often need whitening, as they can often look dark and discolored when photographed. Outline the teeth with the drawing tool and then adjust the brightness to make the region 5% lighter. Teeth may look yellow, so adjust the magenta level by 3% to offset this. You can even play the role of an orthodontist by “straightening” a stray tooth. This is a tricky procedure but can be done with some practice. To do it, clone over the tooth with another, well-shaped tooth. Don’t forget to reverse the image if it comes from the other side of the mouth.

You can also adjust the shade of the skin. Instead of uniformly darkening or lightening, change the center of the histogram of shades (histogram center arrow). Moving this tool up creates a darker tone, and moving it down will lighten. However, this only changes which tones are emphasized; the ranges of the tone are the same, maintaining a very realistic look.

Some other suggestions for pleasing facial cosmetic corrections: make the skin look more even by using a soft focus filter or the softening brush. Make the facial tones warmer by changing the color balance. Select the entire head and adjust the yellow and red colors by a percent or two.

The end result will be a flattering, pleasing portrait. When you show off the final product, the subject of the piece might not even know, or care, that the photo was digitally corrected. They will come to see digital photography as a friend that can help them capture their memories and youth to stay with them forever.

Stay focused.

Ray Baker