Portrait Retouch Using Only the Brush Tool
by Aaron Nace
October 30, 2018
With nearly 70 different tools in Photoshop, it can be easy to forget how much you can do with just one. In this tutorial, Aaron proves that he’s the MacGyver of Photoshop using ONLY the Brush Tool to remove blemishes, dodge & burn, color tone, and completely retouch an image from start to finish.
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The One Tool to Rule Them All
It’s no secret that Aaron loves the Brush Tool. From masking to retouching, he often calls on it for a variety of techniques that require natural blending. When pushed to do more, it’s amazing how much this single tool can handle!
We would be the first to tell you that this is not the ideal way to work in Photoshop–there’s almost 70 tools and for a very good reason. This is a great exercise to learn exactly how much you can get out of just one tool, all while helping you learn everything there is to know about it.
The key to skin retouching with the Brush Tool is maintaining the natural texture and variation that exists in a person’s skin. Where tools like the Spot Healing Brush tool can intelligently recreate details without much effort, the Brush Tool will require you to zoom in to the pixel level to paint those important pieces in.
Once you’re zoomed in to the point where you can distinguish individual pixels, it’s just a matter of using the Brush Tool to Sample colors and then paint with them over any blemishes you wish to remove. We recommend having Point Sample selected in the Sample drop-down box. This will make sure that you can select the color of any individual pixel from the skin. Also be sure to use a low Flow. This will allow you to build up any effects while giving you much more control over how subtle they appear.
To recreate realistic skin texture, be sure to Sample colors very near to where you’re painting. Grab highlights, midtones, and shadows and try to mix them as randomly as possible. And zoom out regularly! You won’t be able to see how well things are blending together until you look at the image as a whole.
Dodge & Burn
Dodging & burning with only the Brush Tool is actually much simpler than it might sound. You can get a realistic dodge & burn effect by painting with black and white with a very low Flow (about 5%), the Soft Light blending mode, and using a variety of brush sizes to match the areas where you’re painting. Then paint white in any areas where there should be highlights and black in any areas where there should be shadows.
You can use this technique anywhere! Skin, hair, and you can even zoom in and use white and black to create more detail and contrast in the eyes.
Color correction only using the Brush Tool? You bet. If there is a color cast or if the white balance of the image is off, simply select the complementary color of the color that is most prominent in the image. In our example, the subject has a bit of a green color cast. By painting a magenta onto a new layer and changing the blending mode to Soft Light, it will help to offset the green and return the subject’s skin to a more natural-looking tone!
The key here is identifying the color you want changed and using the complementary color to balance it out. We recommend using a lower saturation to make sure the colors aren’t too overstated.
Once you’ve corrected any color, you can use this technique to go in to further enhance any details or bring out more color in the subject’s skin, hair, or eyes.
Remember, this isn’t the way we would normally approach tackling complex tasks in Photoshop. We still recommend giving this challenge a try! Exercises like this will really help you master individual tools while also developing the creative problem solving skills you’ll need to knock out your biggest projects!