Retouching A Portrait - Photoshop Tutorial by Jennifer Farley

Photoshop Tutorial: Photo Retouching With The Layer Mask

Earlier in the week I posted a tutorial showing you how to use a layer mask to create a pretty cool special effect with gradients. Today’s tutorial again features the layer mask but this time we’re looking at a technique often used by photographers to give subtle sharpening to a portait.

In this case what we’ll do is duplicate an image, sharpen up the copied layer, then add a black layer mask to the sharpened layer and finally paint back in the sharpness where it is required, usually the eyes and the lips.

1. Open a portrait style image.

Retouching A Portrait - Photoshop Tutorial by Jennifer Farley

2. Duplicate the background layer by pressing Ctrl + J (Windows) or Cmd + J (Mac).

3. Make sure the duplicated layer is selected in the layers palette and then choose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Use the Amount and Radius sliders to increase the sharpening on the image. Overall, the image may look too sharp, but that’s ok because we are going to hide most of it with a mask. (For the purposes of demonstration I’ve COMPLETELY oversharpened here.)

Retouching A Portrait Oversharpened- Photoshop Tutorial by Jennifer Farley

4. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) the Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers palette to add a black layer mask, which hides the entire layer. You will now paint with white to add the image back—to work additively you bring the image back into view.

Retouching A Portrait Mask Applied - Photoshop Tutorial by Jennifer Farley

This is because the black layer mask is hiding the contents of the layer. You’ll now paint in the eyes and lips using white.

5. Make sure the foreground colour is set to white. Then select a soft round tip and use the paintbrush to paint over the eyes and lips. Notice the black mask thumbnail shows exactly where the white paint has been used and the areas where the mask is see-through. The eyes and lips on the image should now look nice and sharp.

Retouching A Portrait Painting On Mask - Photoshop Tutorial by Jennifer Farley


  1. K8 says:

    Heee! I just did up my friend’s wedding photo, enhancing not just her eyes and lips but all her bling too 🙂

    She was delighted!!

    So many photographs to play with… so little time 🙁

  2. Jennifer Farley says:

    Good stuff! I hear ya on the so little time. I could spend days playing with images, unfortunately reality gets in the way.

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