Learn fast & easy ways to retouch your portraits, whiten teeth, edit hair, and more using Photoshop.

This article will get to the heart of the most frequently used retouching techniques. You’ll learn how to easily whiten teeth, edit hair, and fix red eye and blemishes in your portraits. Not only will it elevate your overall skill set, it will make quick work of fixing common problems that may have seemed too complicated.


How to Whiten Teeth in Photoshop

Using selection tools and adjustment layers, this simple process can brighten the smiles of your subjects without looking fake, which should always be the goal when retouching.

How to whiten teeth in Photoshop

Step 1: Make a selection around the teeth

We need to isolate the teeth to make adjustments, so we’ll make a selection with the Lasso tool. Hit L on the keyboard, or select Lasso from the Tools window. Click and draw a line around just the top teeth. Then hold Shift and do the same on the bottom row to add it to the existing selection. You don’t have to worry about being exact because we’ll feather the selection to soften the edges.

Use the Lasso tool to make a selection around the top and bottom teeth
This accuracy level is just fine. No need to slave over the initial selection.

Step 2: Feather with Select and Mask

Click the Select and Mask button at the top of the Application Window. Then choose On Black from the View menu at the top right corner of the window. In the Global Adjustments section beneath that, adjust the Feather slider until the selection shows the teeth but is softened enough to eliminate jagged edges.

Use select and mask function to feather the selection and make it more subtle
Well Feathered, but still shaped accurately.

Depending on the resolution and dimensions of your image, you want the Feathered edge to look fuzzy, but still maintain the shape of the original selection. The goal is to make a soft, subtle transition that also fixes any sloppiness in your selection path. For this image I set the amount to 11.0 px but yours may be smaller or larger.

Hit OK, and you will return to the image with the modified selection.

Step 3: Create a yellow Saturation Adjustment Layer

For the next steps we’ll use Adjustment Layers with Masks. These are fantastic ways Photoshop lets you make detailed adjustments without committing to them; as long as you don’t flatten or delete the layers, they will always remain editable if you save them as layer files.

Create a hue/saturation layer

At the bottom of the Layers window, click the half-shaded half-white dot in the middle, Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer. Choose Hue/Saturation from the drop-down menu. Choosing this will place a mask above the current layer using the live selection, only showing and allowing the selected area to change.

In the Properties window (if it doesn’t automatically open, go to Window > Properties), click the drop-down that says Master, and choose Yellow. This way, any of the selection that runs into the gums or lips won’t be effected, as there is very little yellow information in those areas.

In the layer properties window, select master and choose yellow

Drag the Saturation slider to the left, to where the teeth aren’t gray but the yellow is significantly reduced. We want to maintain a natural tooth color.

Step 4: If necessary, fine-tune the mask

Take a final look at your work. If you notice that areas either outside or inside the teeth are also brightened, you need to paint that out with the Brush tool.

Make sure the Layer Mask Thumbnail is selected, and hit B on the keyboard, or select the Brush tool from Tools window. Make sure the Foreground Color is Black at the bottom of the Tools window.

Right-click in the image to bring up a temporary Brush Settings window. Adjust the Size to match the level of detail you want to apply when changing the mask. Adjust the Hardness to between 50% and 75%.

Fine tune the mask by painting it away

Now just paint the errant mask out to hide that part. This blocks the adjustment from being applied to the image. If you hide too much or make a mistake, simply change the Foreground Color to White by hitting X on the keyboard, or clicking the Foreground/Background switch icon at the bottom of the Tools window. Then reveal the area until you have good definition.

Refine the mask by revealing layers under the mask

Step 5: Create a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer

Hold Command on the keyboard and click the layer mask thumbnail for the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer in the Layers window. This will reselect the teeth area with the feathering intact.

Create a brightness/contrast layer and make the teeth brighter
The Layer Mask Thumbnail is the black rectangle icon in the Hue/Saturation layer.

Click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers window again, but choose Brightness/Contrast from the list. Make sure the Brightness/Contrast Layer appears above the Hue/Saturation Layer, so it affects the overall image and not just the original. The stack order of Adjustment Layers can make a pretty significant difference. If you’re not getting results you like, try reordering layers before seeking a different solution.

Make sure layers are arranged correctly on top of each other

Make these next adjustments very carefully. If the person has a blindingly white smile, you’ve gone too far. In the Properties window move the Brightness slider to the right very slightly. You usually won’t need to adjust the Contrast, but if you want to see if it helps, move it even more delicately than the Brightness to maintain a natural look.

Be very careful with the brightness and contrast controls

These steps will improve the appearance of teeth in the majority of images. Just try to keep it natural, using low values in the Adjustment Layers, and only you will know why their smiles looks so great.

Before and After of how to whiten teeth in Photoshop

How to Select Hair in Photoshop Like a Pro

Selecting hair in images used to be a nightmare: it was nearly impossible, took hours to finish, and you rarely got it to look right. Now we have the Refine Edge Brush Tool and life just couldn’t be better.

Selecting hair against a similarly colored backdrop is not the nightmare it once was – not even close.

To start, make a selection around the hair as best as you can. Don’t labor, just get what is gettable with the Magic Wand, Lasso, or a combination of the two. Now hit the Select and Mask button at the top of the Application Window, or hit Command + Option + R.

The Refine Edge Tool helps you finesse hard-to-reach selections
The View Mode is set to “On White,” which makes the hair easier to see.

In the top left of the window is a small tools window. Click the Refine Edge Brush Tool. Start painting the edges of the hair a little at a time. It helps to set the View Mode to either On Black or On White, with Opacity set pretty high, to track your progress.

Select a View Mode in the Refine Edge Brush Tool properties to see your selection better

After you’ve used the brush on all the edges where the hair meets the background, click the Output Settings section to expand it. Under Output To: you have choices. You can either choose Selection to return to the image and keep working on other areas of the selection, or you can make a new mask or layer or combination straight from Select and Mask.

Before and After of how to select hair in Photoshop
Unbelievable. Witchcraft? Artificial intelligence that is now tracking my every move? I don’t care, thank you Mr. Photoshop!

How to Fix Red Eye in Photoshop

Yes, even in these modern times we are still dealing with “red eye” — the photography problem where the flash of a camera reflects off the back of the subject’s retina, causing a disconcerting red glow. Fortunately, we have a solution that includes a couple variable parameters to get custom results.

This technique works for people, too.

With your red-eye image open, select the Red Eye tool from the Tools window. It’s within the sub-menu headed by Spot Healing Brush Tool.

The red eye tool is in the spot healing brush tool menu

All you have to do is click in the red area of the eye. If you are not satisfied with the results, there are two setting in the upper left of the window, Pupil Size and Darken Amount. These let you fine tune the tool.

Adjust the red eye tool with pupil size and darken amount properties
Pupil Size 80%, Darken Amount 50%

Pupil Size will set the coverage of the dark center within the total red area of the eye. This sort of rebuilds the natural pupil area. Then you can set the Darken Amount to match the photo’s overall tone.


How to Remove Blemishes in Photoshop

Removing blemishes, whether natural or from specks of dust on the scanner, is crucial to creating great images. Lucky for us, Photoshop includes several tools to do accomplish this. The easiest to use is the Spot Healing Brush. This tool will work in probably 90% of the cases you’ll need it.

Great shot – but those dust specks under her eye needs to be fixed.

Activate the Spot Healing Brush by clicking on it in the Tools window. You can cycle through all of these tools by holding Shift and hitting J on the keyboard.

Adjust the size appropriate to the blemish you need to fix by hitting the open bracket key [ to decrease, or close bracket ] to increase. Then either click on the blemish or swipe across it in a short stroke.

The spot healing brush tool gathers information from pixels around the blemish to create a perfect cover up

Either method will gather the texture and color information from nearby to replace the blemish with similar pixels. Swiping works when one click doesn’t yield satisfactory results. It even works in tough areas, like where the cornea meets the iris in an eyeball.

With these techniques you’ll be retouching your images with skill and speed, like a pro. Be sure to click on the links in each section for more in-depth articles on the tools used here. Those will give you even more info on how to become a Photoshop guru.


Looking for more on using the tools in Photoshop? Check these out.

Top image via Look Studio