I was recently approached and asked to do an analysis and breakdown of this before/after by photographer, Hennadiy Kvasov.
Instead of going step by step about the video in particular (as I can’t speak on behalf of Hennadiy’s way of what he did), I want to elaborate on the anatomy of a clean retouch so it allows you to take away something that can be usable in your own workflow. It will allow you to get to where he ended up at as well. Remember, there are no shortcuts to beautiful results. Don’t be lazy!
There are many ways to get to the same point as Photoshop presents many tools to do the same thing, so here is one way. This was also the workflow I used to use before I found a better and faster method that I teach in my classes.
Also, keep in mind that this is not a “how to retouch” but a mere demonstration of a workflow to attain the results needed. This will require you to have some base knowledge. Remember, google is your friend!
The time-lapse video at the bottom with my demonstration should aid you in visually showing you most of the steps shown here.
A few things this workflow will help you achieve:
- Keeping skin quality in tact
- Keeping a very light PSD file (size wise)
- Beautiful and natural transitions without blurring
- Bringing out the best clarity and contrast of the image
- Results similar to the before/after
Follow this image as I elaborate below
1. Healing and Cloning (Blue Folder)
One of the first things we do in this folder is all your healing and cloning work. Essentially any flaw you want to remove, must be done here. I suggest you set a blank layer set to “current and below” or “all layers” and start your process. Remember to keep your brush as small as possible and continue to re-sample very often. I do it for each stroke. The reason is that skin has a distinct pattern that changes in every area of the skin. It’s like a thumbprint!
If you do not sample often, it will be very obvious. Again, keep your brush small and only the size of the blemish you need to remove. Keep your heal, clone, and brush size keyboard shortcuts memorized here, you will be using them often. Or if you use a pen tablet, make use of the buttons so you can customize them. It will speed up the process. Clean healing and cloning sets up for how clean your overall retouch will look. You can’t have a solid house with a plastic base! Cement only, please.
2. Dodge and Burn (Green Folder)
In this folder you will see essentially 5 layers. Your dodge and burn (first 2 layers) should be curve adjustment layers that are masked in black. Disregard the color correction layer for now.
The next two above that is a hue/saturation adjustment layer and another curve adjustment layer titled ‘contrast mask’.
After you set your first two (dodge and burn) adjustment layers, you want to add a hue/saturation adjustment layer, desaturate your image and leave it visible.
The next thing you want to do is add the ‘contrast mask’ curve layer and do an ‘S-curve’ with it so you see a high contrast range. Or instead, you can also add a brightness/contrast curve adjustment layer too if you prefer.
The reason why we add these two adjustment layers is so it brings out all the flaws that you will be dodging and burning.
Now the image should look like a high contrast and black and white version of your own image. With everything visible, start dodging and burning.
The overall key to dodging and burning is when you start painting white on your black masks, you want to ensure you are not too zoomed in to start. If you look at the big picture, you get an idea of what you need to even out, it will become apparent to you. Any interrupted transitions where there are blotchy areas need to be fixed. Essentially you want to get as close as possible to it being a perfect gradient from dark to light areas. You want to be sure your brush settings are very gentle so each stroke doesn’t dodge or burn too much at once.
Remember, be gentle, start wide and go in closer later. If you start too close, you are going to be overwhelemed and everything will look like it needs to be fixed! Start at approximately web view size (30%) and try dodging and burning there, then 50% and so on.
Once you’re done, de-activate your contrast and desaturation masks on top of the dodge and burn layers. You will notice things look much better and there is now some discoloration. Here is where the ‘color correction’ blank layer comes into play. Set that to the ‘color’ blend mode and you will begin painting over every discolored spot by selecting a good sample color next to it. This should start taking care of any discoloration issues in general. Again, remember to select a good skin tone color next to the discolored area, then start painting over it. Because it is set to color, it will blend in with the surroundings. Be sure your brush has a low opacity to it so it comes in slowly.
3. Carve and Contour (Yellow Folder)
The first blank layer in this set, you want to keep it set to soft light or overlay.
Now with white and black, start painting on areas you want to really pop. White will brighten and black will darken in soft light. If you put it to overlay, it will do the same as soft light but also add a bit of saturation and contrast (from visually looking at it).
I usually have two blank layers, one for the eyes and makeup set to overlay, and one for the skin set to soft light. It makes eyes pop and black eyeliner stand out more but that is personal choice.
The end goal is to big strokes in the direction of light and shadow to bring out the natural contrast of the image. It’s like a manual contrast effect if you want to call it that.
Next, above that we have a levels adjustment layer. Once you open your levels adjustment layer, depending on the image, you want to bring in the end points closer together if most of the data starts a little inside. This is very useful for images with very little contrast. You can then either set it to luminosity or leave it as is. You also have the option of masking our certain areas that may have gotten clipped in the process.
Do not abuse levels, it’s really easy to get carried away with it.
4. Color Correction (Orange Folder)
I found a way to color correct using the gradient map. You can follow those directions here:
I have a more advanced version I go over in my classes but this will suffice and should really only be needed for minor transitional corrections needed.
5. Liquify and Sharpen (Red Folder)
The first layer in this set is representative of a merge visible placed on top of all your work so far.
To do that, it is Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E (PC) or Command-Option-Shift-E (Mac).
What this will do is create a stamp of what you’re looking at, merge it into one layer, and place it on top of your layer stack while leaving everything else unflattened.
With this, you want to liquify whatever you want here. I do this at the end because my clients may not like the liquify work or may want to go in another direction. If I had done it in the beginning, it would be near impossible to undo everything. This keeps it non-destructive for me.
Finally, I do another merge visible stamp for the next two layers and apply a high pass to them, set to soft light. The settings vary based on how far you want to take it. As long as there is no color showing through in the high pass preview, you are good to go. The second high pass is in case you want to add any additional clarity to certain areas for emphasis (eyes, lips, makeup, etc).
I have an old video of my workflow in action. It’s similar to what is described above except for a few steps that are different and/or not included. Feel free to watch it if it helps any.
You can also go here to see the full resolution of the file and details:
If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comment section below.
I hope this gave an overview about what really goes into retouching in general. Hopefully you were able to take something away from this!