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Portrait Re-touching Part 1: Removing Blemishes in Lightroom

The image to the left is a nice editorial shot. Mario is at a press conference, wearing a bunch of Wagner College regalia and preparing to sign his letter of intent to play basketball there. His coach sits by his side, listening to a speaker at the podium.

Unfortunately, the close-up on Mario’s face also highlights some blemishes and skin problems that could be cleaned up. In this first part of the tutorial on re-touching images in Lightroom, we’re going to use the Spot Removal Tool to remove some marks and blemishes.

[Note: If you want to play along, you can download the original RAW Image.]

First: Make Global Adjustments

Before you do any re-touching, you’re going to want to make any global adjustments you need to to the picture’s exposure. In this case, the picture looks a little under-exposed. I used the exposure slider to increase the exposure by about 2/3rd’s of a stop (0.66) and that brightened it satisfactorily. I used the clipping indicators to make sure I didn’t blow out any details in the picture (the white letters on the hat were blown out, but that’s ok).

The contrast and saturation looked ok, and I don’t think there are any other major adjustments that need to be made before we start editing.

Next: Zoom In, Look for Blemishes

When you’re ready to start editing, zoom in on your subjects face. I usually go for a 1:1 zoom, so that the face fills up the entire frame. If you zoom in more, you might notice some smaller blemishes… but chances are you won’t actually see them when the final image is printed or posted on the internet.

I highlighted some minor problems with the red squares, and this is what we want to target for removal. Click on the circle underneath the histogram or use the “Q” button to select the “Spot Removal Tool.”

This turns your cursor into a little circle. You can use your mouse’s scroll wheel or the “size” slider on the right-hand panel to adjust the size of this circle. You want to make it just larger than the blemish you’re targeting… if the circle is too large, you’ll create an obvious edit that looks out of place.

Pick a blemish you want to edit, size the tool accordingly, and then click on the center of the blemish. A second circle will appear, pointing to the area that’s going to be used to remove your blemish. Make sure that the skin tone of the two areas is the same. You can drag the second circle around to make sure that you find a good replacement area.

Go ahead and remove all the blemishes you want. Be careful not to be too nit-picky. Sometimes, the things you see at a 1:1 magnification are downright invisible to the naked eye. It helps to look at the overall image from time to time – hit the ‘Q’ button to toggle the Spot Removal Tool off and them zoom out to “Fit” or “Fill.”

Notice the scar over by Mario’s ear? You’re not going to want to try and replace that with one circle. You’d replace way too much area with a single click, and the edit would look hideously obvious.

Instead, we’re lucky that it’s in a pretty nice straight line. I went down the line and made five successive replacements (see the five circles in the picture to the left). I made sure that each circle was drawing replacement data from just to the right. This way, the healed area looks nice and uniform.

The end result is pretty nice. A relatively large scar/scratch removed, and no obvious editing artifacts.

Zoom out, and if nothing stands out to you at this point, then you’re probably done!

And here’s what the picture looks like after removing some blemishes.

The Next Step?

In the next installment of this tutorial, we’re going to look at how to soften Mario’s skin. He’s got some odd coloration that we can soften out. With a little softening, we can also make his pores look a little less noticeable. In general, we want to make his skin look less rough.

Go back to the tutorial’s table of contents: How to Retouch Faces and Portraits in Lightroom.

Go Back: How to Retouch Faces and Portraits in Lightroom (Table of Contents)

Go Forward: Portrait Re-touching Part 2: Softening Skin in Lightroom

Filed Under: How to Process Your Images

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Christina Jomes says: January 10, 2012

    This edit is great.

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About Digital Photography How To

Digital Photography How To is intended to be a guide to people learning how to use their digital SLR cameras. Three years ago, I had never picked up a camera; now, I produce a yearbook every year and I moonlight as a professional photographer.

I write this website to share what I've learned in that time. The topics will range from truly beginners topics, to tutorials for post processing, to resources for yearbook and graphic design, to thoughts on transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional. Keep up to date by subscribing to the RSS feed.

About the Author

Digital Photography How To is written by Brian Rock. In addition to being a photographer, he's an educator. He teaches high school history, he's the advisor of the school yearbook, and he trains his kids to do all of the photography for the yearbook.

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