Thursday, October 4, 2012

Today's Guest Blogger: Jane Conner Zizer

Hi Everyone! Great to see you here on Rick’s Awesome Blog – and Thank You, Rick for inviting me to contribute a guest blog on one of my favorite topics, Portrait Retouching Arts.

First let me say that I am passionate about retouching! I’ve been doing it almost as long as I’ve been photographing – long before digital came along - and I guess I am in love with it because it can take pictures far beyond what a camera is capable of capturing. I retouch everything and I confess to be rather shameless about moving trees and re composing pictures, but as the bulk of my business is in the portrait industry, I specialize in the portrait arts.

Regarding retouching people, I’d like to say that people are beautiful, just the way they are. Portrait retouching is not about reshaping people’s faces and bodies. It’s not about making people look younger or prettier than they are in real life. Professional portrait artists do not change the way people look! The advertising and fashion industries consider people props that sell products or ideas, but the portrait industry is careful about preserving character and bringing out the best expressions of people because our work goes to families and friends who love our subjects and treasure them just the way they are.

Because of this, my retouching process leaves the face for last.

The first thing I’m going to do is make sure the image is the best it can possibly be. I crop it, tone down corners and fill in backgrounds if it will improve the image. I remove objects that are not important. 

The image that opens this post is a sample of a portrait that is visually improved with retouching but has very little applied to the face. I added foliage over unsightly twigs and branches, toned down the tree trunk on the left and the blue jeans and the flesh tones on the arms, pushed the hip in slightly on the right, straightened the shoulders and removed the spider webs (really?) from the sweater. The only work on the face was toning down oily skin and slightly brightening the teeth. He looks great though, aye! 

I do the global image adjustments in ACR, Lightroom or NIK Viveza, depending on the job. I prefer to do everything else in Photoshop because I have a lot more control there. Retouching is faster, easier and better in Photoshop.

After image adjustments and background work have been completed it’s time to move on to the body and the clothing. I know it’s tempting to remove all the lumps around the middle but it’s better if you go no further than about 50%. When I work on bodies, my first thought is for the posture, then I’ll look at how smoothly the clothing fits the body. After those issues have been taken care of I might nip and tuck a bit here and there but I won’t change the overall body style of my subjects. Here are two samples of body and clothing work that were retouched using a variety of tools and techniques: Dodge and Burn, Layer Masks and Blending Modes, Puppet Warp, Liquify, Free Transform and Paint for sure! See if you can pick out everything I did!

All of the work on the above samples was done in Photoshop.

The next step en route to the face is the hair. It’s amazing how retouched we look when our hair is neatly in place – or perfectly messy down to the details, depending on the style. I fill in hair, re shape hair, add highlights, I remove stray hairs – whatever it takes for the hair to look perfect. 

When at last it is time to work on the face, first check out the makeup, teeth, glass glare – everything except the skin. Make up is especially important because “after a certain age” women can’t see to put it on neatly and it makes a big difference in how fresh the face appears to be. It’s not surprising to find that after straightening make up that there is nothing left to retouch.

The reason I leave the skin work and eye enhancement until last is that it is just too easy to end up doing way too much if you start with the face. You will be really impressed to see how much “facial retouching” is actually done everywhere EXCEPT the face! Always keep things as natural as possible because the goal is not for your subject to preview how they might look with a lot of dental work or a couple of years at the gym, but to think, “Wow, I look great, just the way I am!” and know that you’re the best photographer ever!

Here are some samples of things to look for before actually retouching the skin:

When you do get to the skin consider carefully what you want to do and make a plan for progression. Random retouching is rarely successful. Some tips are: temporary items, like blemishes, bug bites, scratches, razor burn etc may be removed without consequence to the character of the subject. Permanent items may be toned down, shortened and reshaped according to the lighting and the bone structure of the face. Go for expression rather than wrinkles.

It is important to shape the lighting gracefully around each facial feature. It is important to study the face so you can bring out the best expression. Most people are smiling in portraits (or otherwise looking pleasant), but everyone has a bit of stress these days and that shows in the face, too. Stress can be expressed as a slightly pinched forehead or strain around the nose or mouth. Relaxing the muscles of the face makes the person look rested, healthy and fresh.

(It is not important to blur the skin; in fact, it is usually detrimental to the portrait!)

I retouch big things first because it makes the most visual difference and cuts down on the time it takes to do small things that really don’t matter. I relax the face while I shape the lighting. I don’t remove the shadows under the eyes – they are necessary to hold the eyeball in the socket. Plus, people feel unretouched if they see shadows under their eyes even if you gave the rest of them a complete overhaul. If there are problem areas like oily highlights, I take the reflection down but I don’t remove the light. My goal is natural faces and bodies even if it takes a lot of retouching!

The last thing I usually do for a portrait is brighten the eyes and teeth slightly because it adds the finishing touch to bringing light and freshness to the face. Sometimes I add details like eyelashes and iris color. Sometimes I add pink to the shaded areas of the skin. Every portrait is different so it’s important to analyze each one and give the person your best attention because you are going to make an amazing difference in how they see themselves from now on. You can give them confidence! They will love you for it!

Here is a sample of a typical face:

You can see that while I have minimized the texture on the skin, you can still see it and her skin looks natural. She has soft shadows under her eyes and delicate eyelashes and eyebrow hairs. I’ve added some color to the shaded areas of the skin tones and removed the spots that I considered temporary on her face. It’s delicate work, but the result should be a lovely portrait that expresses the mood of the subject – in her case, a quiet Zen like confidence.

I hope you enjoyed my sharing a little piece of my world with you today. There is a lot to tell – and you can read more about my journey in photography at my blog From Film to Pixels / a photographer’s journey from film to technology:

If you want to learn more about retouching, you can learn how to do these jobs and more on Jane’s new DVD, Portrait Retouching for Everyone. It has over 13 hours of “work along with Jane” movies and covers just about everything you need to know in order to produce beautiful portrait retouching. Check it out at:

And, finally, if you have any questions, please feel free to email Jane at If she’s traveling or out of the country, it sometimes takes a few days for her to get back to you, but she will respond to your mail personally. 

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