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Reframing, Retouching, and Recomposing Images

Chapter Description

This sample chapter from Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019 Classroom in a Book teaches a range of techniques for cropping, retouching, and rearranging the composition of images.

Removing wrinkles and spots

Retouching skin to improve a portrait photograph can be a real art, but fortunately Photoshop Elements provides several tools that make it easy to smooth out lines and wrinkles, remove blemishes, and blend skin tones—even for a novice.

  1. If you’re still in the Editor, click the Organizer button (common10.jpg) in the taskbar. If necessary, click the check box beside the Lesson 07 tag in the Tags panel to isolate the images for this lesson. Right-click the image 07_04.jpg and choose Edit With Photoshop Elements Editor.

  2. Make sure that the Editor is in Expert mode. Choose Window > Reset Panels. If you don’t see tabs for the Layers, Effects, Filters, Styles, and Graphics panels at the top of the Panel Bin, click the arrow beside the More button (common30.jpg) in the taskbar and choose Custom Workspace. Drag the Layers panel out of the Panel Bin; then, hide the Panel Bin by unchecking its name in the Window menu. Hide the Photo Bin or tool options pane, and then choose View > Fit On Screen.

  3. Drag the Background layer to the New Layer button (common55.jpg) at the top of the Layers panel to create a duplicate layer. Repeat the process, dragging the new layer to create a third layer. Resize the Layers panel by dragging its lower edge so that you can see your three layers. Use the Zoom tool (common46.jpg) to zoom in on the upper half of the photo, as you’ll be retouching the skin around the woman’s eyes first.

This photo is quite a challenging candidate for retouching; the harsh flash lighting has caused strong reflections on the skin that only serve to accentuate the wrinkles.

Using the Healing Brush tool

You’ll begin by using the Healing Brush to smooth the texture of the subject’s skin.

  1. Click to select the Healing Brush tool (common63.jpg) or its variant, the Spot Healing Brush tool (common64.jpg)—whichever is currently visible beside the Red Eye Removal tool in the toolbar. If necessary, open the tool options pane at the bottom of the workspace.

  2. Make sure that the tool is in Healing Brush mode, and then set the brush size to 20 px. The Source option should be set to Sampled and the Mode to Normal. Make sure that the Aligned and Sample All Layers options are both disabled.

  3. Make sure that the top layer, Background Copy 2, is still active (selected). First, you need to define the area in the image that will be sampled as a reference texture for the Healing Brush operation; Alt-click / Option-click a smooth area on the left cheek. If you were to switch to another tool and then back to the Healing Brush, you would need to repeat this step.

  4. Draw a short horizontal stroke under the left eye. As you drag, it may appear that the brush is creating a strange effect, but when you release the mouse button, the color will be blended and natural skin tones will fill the area.

  5. Continue to smooth the skin on the face with the Healing Brush. Avoid areas very close to the eyes, shadowed areas, and the hairline. You can also reduce the worst of the shine caused by the harsh flash. As you work, re-establish the reference area occasionally by Alt-clicking / Option-clicking in new areas of the face to sample appropriate skin tone and texture. Press the left and right bracket keys ( [ , ] ) to decrease or increase the brush size as you work. Be sure to remove the moles on the woman’s right cheek and the spots on her left cheek and just below the lower lip. You can use the same techniques on the neck.

Long strokes may produce unacceptable results—especially near shaded areas where the darker tones may spread. If that happens, choose Edit > Undo Healing Brush. Try setting the brush to a smaller size or reversing the direction of your strokes. If the problem is related to the shadowed areas beside the nose or at the sides of the face, try stroking toward the shadows rather than away from them, or temporarily changing the mode for the Healing Brush tool from Normal to Lighten in the tool options pane.

  1. Choose Window > History. In the History Panel, every action you perform is recorded in chronological order, from the earliest at the top to the most recent at the bottom of the list. You can use the History panel to quickly undo a series of steps or to assess the success of your edits. To restore the file to an earlier state, simply select an earlier (higher) action in the History list.


Until you make further changes to the file, you can still return the image to a more recent state by selecting a step lower in the list. Once you’ve used the History panel to restore a photo to an earlier state, any change you make to the image will replace all the actions in the more recent history.

Refining the Healing Brush results

The Healing Brush tool copies texture from the source area, not color. It samples the colors in the target area—the area that you’re brushing—and arranges those colors according to the texture sampled from the reference area. Consequently, the Healing Brush tool appears to be smoothing the skin. So far, however, the results are not convincingly realistic.

In this exercise, you’ll make your retouching work look a little more natural by altering the opacity of the layer you’ve been working on, and then use another of the texture tools to refine the resulting blend.

  1. Click the Navigator tab in the floating panel group. In the Navigator panel, use the zoom slider and drag the red frame in the preview to focus the view in the image window on the area around the woman’s eyes and mouth.

Extensive retouching can leave skin looking artificially smooth, looking a little like molded plastic. Reducing the opacity of the retouched layer will give the skin a more realistic look by allowing some of the wrinkles on the unedited Background layer to show through.

  1. In the Layers panel, change the Opacity of the layer Background Copy 2 to about 50%, using your own judgment to set the exact percentage.

We opted for quite a low setting, intending a fairly natural look for this photo of a friend, but the opacity value you set will depend on the extent of your retouching and the purpose for which the edited image is intended.

The opacity change restores some realism, but three noticeable blemishes have also made a reappearance—one on each cheek and one just below the lower lip.

  1. In the Layers panel, select the layer Background Copy to make it active.

  1. Set the brush size for the Healing Brush tool to 20 px and click once or twice on each blemish. Gone!

  2. In the toolbar, select the Blur tool (common65.jpg). In the tool options pane, set the brush size to approximately 13 px, the Mode to Normal, and the Strength to 50%.

  3. With the layer Background Copy still active, drag the Blur tool over some of the deeper lines around the eyes and brow. Use the Navigator panel to change the zoom level and shift the focus as needed. Reduce the Blur tool brush diameter to 7 px and smooth the lips a little, avoiding the edges.

Compare your results to those below—the original, the version retouched with the Healing Brush, and final refined version. Toggle the visibility of your retouched layers to compare the original image in your Background layer with the edited results.

  1. Choose File > Save As. Make sure that the new file will be included in the Organizer but not in a version set. Name the edited image 07_04_Retouch, to be saved to your My CIB Work folder in Photoshop (PSD) format.

  2. Make sure that the Layers option is activated, and then click Save.

  3. Choose File > Close.

In this exercise, you’ve learned how to set an appropriate source reference for the Healing Brush tool, and then sample the texture of the source area to repair flaws in another part of the photograph. You also used the Blur tool to smooth textures, and made an opacity change to achieve a more realistic look. You’ve also gained a little experience in working with both the History and Navigator panels.

7. Removing unwanted objects from images | Next Section Previous Section

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