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How to Retouch a Portrait in Acorn Photo Editor for macOS (Photoshop Alternative)

If you're just starting out on your photography journey, or just simply tired of paying a monthly subscription indefinitely to use Photoshop, take a good look at Acorn Photo Editor, an image editing program for macOS. With the one-time purchase price of $39.99, Acorn is a very attractive option for your go-to photo editing suite. It has a 14 day free trial.

In this tutorial I'm going to give you a look at a basic portrait retouch using Acorn, to show you just how easy it to use and get great results.

1. Open Acorn

Let's get started, open up Acorn.

2. Open an Image

Here, I've opened a RAW photo from my Canon camera, which is a .CR2 file type. Like Photoshop/Adobe Camera Raw and Affinity Photo, Acorn defaults to a 'Camera Raw' type of window to interpret the RAW file and create a pixel-based image, and this gives you the chance to make corrections and adjustments to how the raw photo looks before diving in on your retouch.

Make your White Balance or Exposure changes here but — most importantly — set this file up properly. Select the sRGB Color Profile if you plan to use this photo on a screen, ie Instagram or LinkedIn.

Once you've made your adjustments, click OK and we'll be into the main workspace of Acorn.

3. Crop the Portrait

Find a crop that works for your composition.

Here, I wanted to get rid of the reflector in the shot, and find a crop that works with the line of the table heading off-frame.

4. General Curves Adjustment

You'll find all of Acorn's adjustments, or as they call them, fx in the top right hand corner of the workspace. Click the plus icon (+), and in the sub-menu of Color Adjustment you'll find the Curves adjustment.

Here I've applied an 'S-curve' in my general Curves adjustment. This makes the highlights brighter, the shadows deeper, and keeps the midtones where they are. This is a really great method to fine tune the exact amount of contrast that suits your retouch.

5. Local Curves Adjustment

While the general adjustment made the overall feel of the image much better, I think now the face could use a little extra help. I used the Free Select tool (Shift-M hotkey) to make a selection of the face, and I added a Feather of 20 to soften the edges of my selection.

Again, I used the Curves adjustment, although now it's only affecting my selection of the face. I brought up the midtones in the Curves to help the face emerge from the background — and then, adjusting the Red Channel independently, neutralized the Reds to bring down the slight red tint in the skin.

6. Vibrance and Saturation Adjustment

The Vibrance adjustment is a powerful tool for retouching portraits as it effects skin in a much more natural way than Saturation.

Here, I've applied a -0.5 vibrance adjustment to the entire portrait.

7. Make the Eyes POP!

Eyes are the secret sauce to so many portraits engaging the viewer. Here I've made another Free Select selection, of just the eyes, again, with a Feather of 20 to soften the edges of my selection.

Again, using the Curves adjustment I've applied an 'S-Curve', although a different one for this selection. The highlights in the eyes are what I really needed to pop, so I've lifted those quite a lot.

7. Done

And that's a finished portrait edit to me!

Thanks for following me through this retouch. Acorn is a very easy to use platform, and, even though it is a one-time purchase and not a monthly subscription, offers so much of the power and quality you'd expect from a top-tier image manipulation program like Adobe Photoshop.

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