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How to Perfectly Retouch Makeup for Beauty and Fashion Photography

This post is part of a series called Photoshop Portraits.
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

There is a true artistry behind great makeup. And, for photographers, understanding this process can prove hugely beneficial while retouching your photos.

In this article, you'll learn five ways to dramatically transform any makeup with a few key retouching tips using Adobe Photoshop.

Makeup for Beauty Photography

Along with wardrobe, props, and backdrops, makeup is one more component that affects the impact of your photography. This is especially prevalent in beauty and fashion photography, where makeup is often highlighted for added emphasis on style and drama.

For the purpose of these tips I'll be showing you how to dramatically transform the image Woman Stock from Envato Market. Keep in mind that I'm trying to replicate actual makeup techniques, which will cause a considerable shift in the appearance of our model.

Original Makeup Stock Photo
Woman Stock from Envato Market.

How far you choose to take photo retouching is ultimately up to you, so feel free to dial back and adjust your approach to fit your needs.

1. Analyze the Photograph

The Problems

Before you fix any image, asses the issues first.

Original Makeup Face Closeup
Take a look at the original makeup. The smeared eye shadow and lifting lashes don't do justice to the model's beautiful face. We can repair this with strategic retouching in Photoshop

Here are the present issues with the makeup application:

  • There's not enough base foundation to even out skin tone.
  • The sun may be causing the makeup to melt, or smear.
  • The general application is sloppy in areas.
  • The colors aren't right for the woman's skin tone and hair.

As a photographer, you'll eventually run across some of these issues. Even if you enlist the help of a professional, there are still a number of outside factors that could affect the quality your model's makeup throughout the duration of your shoot.

There is a beautiful artistry behind makeup that you can apply to photo retouching. So if you're a beginner, take a few minutes to learn the process from beauty gurus on YouTube, or learn more about this art in our course: Makeup Basics for Photo and Video

The Look

It always helps to have a game plan. For this look, I want to emphasize the model's beautiful eyes, so I've decided on a standard smokey eye with a bold red lipstick.

Create a Face Template Before Retouching Makeup in Photoshop
Create a face template or download one online to try out different makeup looks.

Professional makeup artists use face templates to practice their technique and style with actual products. Create your own face template and experiment with different looks until you land on the one that is the best fit for your model and photograph.

Now that we have a clear idea of what we want, let's tackle this image in Photoshop.

2. Start with a Clean Slate

Create Balance and Symmetry

From an artistic perspective, my immediate goal with this photograph is to create more symmetry and balance. To do this, I'll create a duplicate of the original photo and place it into a New Group. Select the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) and Rotate the image counter-clockwise so that the woman's face is more centered.

Rotate the Photo to Center the Face

Liquify also becomes an important tool in creating symmetry. However, don't tamper too much with the uniqueness of your subject's face. The following adjustments were made using the Forward Warp Tool (W). Keep a copy of the new centered photo on a separate layer in case you need to start over.

First I adjusted the lighting on the model's nose. Her nose ring casts an angular shadow across the bridge making the nose appear slightly crooked. Combat this by pushing the light to the right side.

Liquify Before and After
Use Liquify in subtle ways. Smooth out the neckline and adjust the lighting on the nose.

Next, smooth out the neckline by pushing the hair to the edge in order to create a clean line. Finish the subtle warping by raising the nostrils and slightly tucking in the left corner of her nose.

Remove Imperfections

Every makeup artist will tell you that the first step to an incredible look is smooth, clean skin. Acne, a blemish above the surface, creates a shadow that is almost impossible to cover up.

This is when Photoshop comes in handy. Use the Healing Brush Tool (J) and the Stamp Tool (S) to target specific areas like:

  • Acne and clogged pores
  • Veins in the eyes
  • Wispy strands of hair
  • Facial hair
  • Freckles
Remove Imperfections from the Photo and Skin
Remove imperfections from the photo using various tools. Don't worry if it isn't perfect just yet because you still have room to fix the skin.

Take this opportunity to retouch the rest of the image, focusing on minimizing the look of stray hairs as well as any remaining facial hair. I want to create a sleek and sophisticated look, which is why I want to clean up the photo in it's entirety.

Create Smooth Skin

To create the appearance of smooth skin I'll be using the technique of Frequency Separation to separate the texture in the image from it's color and tone. This will allow me to target specific areas, and use Gaussian Blur to smooth the skin without losing its natural texture.

Before and After Clear Skin
Before and after. Use Frequency Separation for beautiful, smooth skin.

Learn more about Frequency Separation and ways to digitally retouch skin with the tutorials below.

3. Repair the Makeup

With an even complexion as the perfect base, begin repairing the issues we originally assessed.

Fixing False Lashes

False eyelashes are hard enough to apply but even harder to fix in Photoshop. A lash band curled too hard starts to lift away from the natural lashes, revealing the illusion behind large, sultry eyes.

Look at the right eye. Notice how the lashes are not that bad. Let's use this side to repair the left. Select the Lasso Tool (L) and create a selection around the right lashes and eyelid. Then Right-Click to select Layer via Copy. Flip the new lash layer by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, and move the lashes into place. Finish up by using the Eraser Tool (E) to blend the edges of the layer into your revised photo.

Before and After of Fixing False Lashes
Utilize what's already on the canvas. Simply copy and flip the right eye lashes for the left side.

Creating Full Brows

They say that eyebrows frame the face, so never underestimate the impact of the right brow shape. After you've digitally plucked away the stray hairs, fill the sparse areas in using the Stamp Tool (S). Hold Alt to clone pockets of hair before painting them onto each brow. Follow up with the Burn Tool (O) to intensify and darken each shape.

Repair Eyebrows using the Stamp and Burn Tools
The model's original eyebrows (top) versus her new full ones (bottom).

Color Correct with Layer Blend Modes

The last major change we'll make is removing the blue eye shadow. Not only is the shade muddled, but it doesn't fit the natural skin tone of our model. To change the color of the eye makeup, create a New Layer set to Color. Use the Eyedropper Tool (E) to set the Foreground Color to her natural skin tone and start painting brown over the blue makeup with the Brush Tool (B). 

Color Correct Makeup with Layer Blend Modes

Instantly the blue color disappears, almost as though it was never there. Continue color correcting the eye shadow while trying to avoid discoloring her lashes.

4. Apply Digital Makeup Realistically

Contour and Highlights

In order to apply makeup realistically, it's important to understand the actual process. During real-life makeup application, makeup is applied to contour and highlight the features of the face. Darker shades help to define the bone structure and lighter shades are used to bring those features forward. All of this is used to create more dimension and defined angles.

Do the same during your retouching. Set a New Layer to Soft Light to begin painting a lighter skin tone color using a Soft Round Brush to the areas shown in the image below. Then set a second New Layer to Linear Burn, and use a muted purple color to define the cheekbones.

Apply Contour and Highlights to Your Subject

Creating the Smokey Eye

Switch over to a Hard Round Brush to clean up the black eye liner. Then lower the Hardness again to 0% for the eye shadow. Whatever you do, don't paint with brown.  Layer Blend Modes will cause any browns to show up with a rich, red undertone, so you want to use a slightly muted purple to achieve the effect you want.

Applying a Smokey Eye to a Photo

Focus on creating subtle drama and intensity. Study magazines to understand the way professionals apply makeup to the eyes.

Applying Digital Lipstick

For the lips, we'll be switching from the original nude color to a rich red lip. If matched improperly, nude lips can often make a model appear sickly. Use a Hard Round Brush to paint red lipstick on a New Layer set to Linear Burn. To make the lipstick look realistic, paint a darker shade around the edges for a nice gradient effect.

Applying Lipstick on a photo in Photoshop
For realistic lipstick, create a gradient effect with a rich deep color.

5. Finish With Adjustment Layers

No retouching would be complete without a few Adjustment Layers. By tackling the skin and makeup first, we can now create the mood we want for the photo.

The Adjustment Layers used for this photo were Curves, Gradient Map, and Levels. First I tweaked the contrast with Curves, then set a gray Gradient Map to Luminosity.

Use Adjustment Layers to Finish Photo Retouching

Finish this image with a New Adjustment Layer of Brightness/Contrast. Add a warm summer glow by bumping up the Brightness. Here is the final image:

How to Retouch Makeup in Adobe Photoshop


No matter your budget, you can create sensational beauty photos with a little Photoshop magic. Study the artistry of makeup, and learn how to correct any mistakes for a natural look.

Try these techniques for your next photo shoot and feel free to show us what you come up with!

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