He looks okay, but we’re going to make him look better. First, duplicate layer; never work on the original in case you screw up and need to start over. Leaving the original layer alone also gives you a point of comparison to see how you’re doing.
First thing we do is adjust contrast, meaning lights and darks. Ctrl+M in PS brings up curves. As you can see, we got rid of the muddiness in the photo.
Next, I run it through Topaz, a plugin filter, and choose “Clarity” which bumps the contrast a bit more and does some of the light painting for me. If you don’t have Topaz and don’t want to get it, no problem. He’ll look almost as great by simply adjusting curves, as noted above.
I like the highlights on his face, but if you don’t, you can tone them down later, using the black brush for lowlights.
Looking good! Now for some final touches to highlight the parts of the photo we want the viewer to notice first.
We want to add an additional layer, but in a particular way. In the layers window on the right, click on the small icon all the way to the right in the top line. It’s a bunch of short lines with a downward-pointing arrow to its left. Alternately, press Shift+Crl+N. Choose “New Layer.” Then plug in the settings I show below.
If you want a more subtle effect, you can choose blending mode of “soft light” or go to even more extreme by clicking on “hard light.”
You will now see a layer filled with gray above your second layer. This is where the fun happens, and keep in mind, anything you do here is non-destructive. Delete the layer and your picture is unaltered.
Change to the brush tool. Change to default colors of black and white; reverse so white is on top. Dial back the opacity of your brush to 3 (or 4 or 5; use what works for you) and make sure it’s set to maximum softness.
Making sure your gray layer is highlighted, brush a stroke or two across his hair in the direction it grows. Choose the section above his forehead. Notice how it lightens where you paint? The effect is subtle, and you can build it with additional strokes.
Try to hit areas already highlighted to brighten them. Keep it natural looking. While I was at it, I made my brush the exact size of his eyes and lightened them a little too.
Hit anything else you want to highlight with the white brush, then switch to black to do lowlights. This is where you’ll tone down his face shine if you choose to. Make your brush very large and use it sparingly. I left them alone.
I’ll darken the eyelashes a bit but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape. Remember, if you go too far, simply reverse brush color to white and lighten again.
His eyes are pretty, but look a little washed out. When I zoom in, I can tell they’re green, so making sure I’m on the picture layer (not the gray layer), I select the eyes and adjust hue (Ctrl+M). I’m famous for saturated colors, but in this case, I left that slider alone. It wasn’t necessary. You want your work to look natural.
Wow, he’s cute. I think I’m in love. 🙂
Continue to play with the photo until you deem it finished, then merge all layers.
Last step is always to remove noise, but as this is a 72 dpi pic from online, removing too much “noise” will make him look weird and smooth his skin in unacceptable ways. I ran it through the filter at the lightest possible setting. I use Topaz DeNoise.
And here’s the finished portrait.
And to show you just how much change we effected in only a few minutes, here’s a before/after.
Easy, right? And a lot of fun. Now his eyes are the focus of the photo, as they should be.