A Complete Guide to a Popular Children's Portraiture Retouching Look

If you look at a lot of children's portraiture, you'll probably notice a popular look that is the signature of quite a few photographers, namely natural light, shallow depth of field,  and an airy, soft, and vibrant retouch. This awesome and comprehensive tutorial will show you how to replicate that look in your own work.

Coming to you from Unmesh Dinda of PiXimperfect, this video will show you how to retouch a children's portrait from start to finish to achieve the popular soft and vibrant look. The first thing to note is that these images are typically shot with a longer lens at a very wide aperture (the 200mm f/2.0 is a surprisingly popular choice), and while you don't need to go to those extremes, having an 85mm or 135mm lens with a wide maximum aperture will help a lot in getting the right initial photo to head to the editing stage with. Beyond that, it's a great tutorial to try out, as you'll exercise a ton of essential fundamental Photoshop retouching skills, including dodging and burning, skin retouching, color fills, and much more. So, grab your kid, find a nice field, and make it a weekend project! 

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25 Comments

Elan Govan's picture

I am a great fan of Photoshop, but I draw the line when facial expressions are manipulated in this manner. I spend the best part of 40 years supporting people with disability and it very tempting to use Photoshop to iron out every single human imperfections. There is value is sharing images as it is.

There's an obvious difference between changing an expression and ironing out imperfections. My "line" is between what's temporary and what's permanent. Blemishes, an expression of a child (at the direction of the parents), sunburn...yes. Nose is too big, "sleepy" eyes, thin lips, scars...no, unless directed to do so by the subject. There's also value in making people feel good about themselves. All this, of course, is situational and subjective.

Elan Govan's picture

Thanks for your though Sam, but we just have to agree to disagree. Leave things at that.

You could have done that by not replying. I serve my clients, not my ego.

Elan Govan's picture

Again...agree to disagree.

Timothy Turner's picture

I think this will start an argument, however if you get right in jpeg the first time, you can save a lot of time and money on post processing software

It is always balance between time and money.

Should I wait for the sunset to have some natural-looking flare?
Should I wait for autumn to have yellow grass?
Should I buy 200/2 to have even more extremely shallow depth of field?

It may definitely save me at least 10 USD every month + costs of storage (40MB raw, 30 floppies vs 4 MB jpeg) and 47 minutes in postprocessing.

That's entirely dependent on your goal. It would be impossible to achieve this affect in camera.

BTW, I went to Savannah a couple years ago. Beautiful city!

Matthias Dengler's picture

The moment I saw that this dude Piximperfect talking, I knew exactly what to expect.
It is very representative for the cheap industry editing. He has tutorials called "1 minute HIGH END skin retouch". High-end skin retouch takes hours. There's nothing to replace it with. What he does to skin is a shame, blurring it and making everyone look like a puppet. I'm honestly speaking a bit disappointed to find such bad tutorials on fstoppers, as I consider fstoppers a source of high quality content.
I think there's no doubt, this guy is a very bad retoucher. I work as a retoucher and what my company does not, is done in South East Asia, as it is cheaper there. And the reason it is cheaper, because people apply such weird methods, claiming to have found a secret way of replacing a professional workflow with a few clicks.
Sorry for the "hating", but such a skin retouch is unethical - especially on small children who have a soft skin already - and should be stopped

Puppet skin to the rescue... so bad! Uargh.
I don't think you are hating mate, I think it is reasonable criticism. Alex did you actually watch the tutorial before you posted it? If so why did you post it?!?

Alex Cooke's picture

Of course I watched it, and yes, I agree, the skin retouching is heavy-handed. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of valuable information in the tutorial, as it provides you a huge guide to this look; you just have to show more restraint to your style at a single step. Retouching tutorials often overdo it, and I normally end up using their techniques at half-strength in my own work. Unmesh has a deep understanding of Photoshop and not only how to do techniques, but why they do what they do; that’s why you often see his videos here.

Donna Macauley's picture

Deleted comment

Got your point Alex but his technique still is arguable... at least it's not how I would do it. I guess his tutorials are pointed towards beginners.

Sometimes, and I've heard presenters say this, you have to be heavy handed when your goal is a video, rather than the end product, so the edits can be seen.

There are different levels of retouching depending on time and budget. I think rather than "good" and "bad", you might think "appropriate" and "inappropriate".

Eric Gould's picture

I like this guy.

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

No worries Matthias, there are more people like you who thinks the same :) Count me in if you need a vote :)

Michael Kormos's picture

Over half an hour spent on a single photo? This is borderline silly.

Alex Cooke's picture

If I was making a couple thousand in prints on this photo like certain photographers do, I would gladly spend 30 minutes on it. ;)

Michael Kormos's picture

Uh. If I was that child’s mother, I would certainly hope I’m getting royalties.

Alex Cooke's picture

I’m talking about print sales to the family.

Michael Kormos's picture

Yes but you make the edits before anyone commits to any print sales. It’s a gamble. A child’s portrait shouldn’t take this long to edit. It’s not going on the cover of Vogue. Instead of focusing on the fundamentals during the shoot, there is a growing, persistent school of thought that you can fix it in post. Everything from head swaps, to changing the colors of shirts, etc. I feel bad for all these photographers starting out who fall onto the bandwagon of buying actions and tutorials from established names that ultimately lead them down a path of “shoot now, worry later” philosophy.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I've spent 3-5 hrs on a single image many times. Every time it was worth it, every time it wasn't because I couldn't get it right in camera and every time it produced a shot so stunning everyone commented on how great it looked.

I think photographers get too hung up on making changes. Photographers have been manipulating images long before PS.

I take a simple view - I'm merely creating an image. My camera and CF card are my canvas to start the work, but from there on I'll do what I need to create the final image in my head.

No one complains at painters, and they rarely deliver an exact duplicate of what they see.

If I'm shooting for news, then it will be basic manipulation of the RAW file, (even then, our eyes "see" a different image to the camera, so do we adjust locally in the RAW image for contrast/exposure etc...?)

But everything else - I'm creating an image, and the rules are out.

This is a great tutorial. If you guys are so pissed check out people like bitton, holloway etc who charges hundreds of dollars making one edit like this. And they are in the US. They also smoothen, liquify the skin. There are a lot of other photographers who do the same look, charge a lot and does it in the same way he has show it for free. Also he makes the basics easy. He make you understand what each tool does. This kind of editing is very big in the kids line of photography. The dreamy, matt, smooth skin and even liquify. Also he has so many tiny tips in here that is very useful for beginning Photoshop editors. As you get better you get faster.

Cherylyn Soltero's picture

I have to agree with Tim. I understand the professionals perspectives on this kind of retouching, but as an amateur, I am seeing that a lot of ordinary people who know nothing about photography, are wanting this kind of look. I don't think it's about getting a 'true' photograph. It's about a fantasy... Having your child or partner or even yourself in a picture that looks like it came from fairyland. These kinds of pictures are more like paintings. They aren't meant to look real... At least not completely and I'm excited to learn the processes of achieving that look in my own work.