Perfect Face Anatomy With Photoshop's Liquify Tool

Perfect Face Anatomy With Photoshop's Liquify Tool

There have been many books written on the subject of face anatomy and how it impacts not only our perception of someone but our reaction to them as well. There are features we deem as authoritative, feminine, funny, somber, and so on. With over 7 billion people in the world we've got quite a few unique faces out there, and yet, certain features and proportions are universally and subconsciously interpreted as "appealing". As you can imagine, face anatomy is a crucial part of commercial photography, especially when marketing anything in the beauty industry.

In this article, I want to explore with you what some experts deem to be the "perfect" face anatomy, and how we can take a regular face that doesn't exactly conform to this standard and turn it into one that does using Photoshop's liquify tool. The image I have chosen to work with here is from a recent shoot. It is a 100% crop from a much larger image and it was just a lighting test, so the quality ain't the greatest. But because this image would have been discarded, it serves our purpose quite well. Also, keep in mind, that while I did do some minor skin correction and color adjustments, this is far from a retouched photo. I only hope to show you the direction this photo could take.

So What Is The Perfect Face Anatomy?

Well according to many experts, this is it:

Face Mask

After many years of research and studies, some facial experts have determined this mask to represent what our brains deem as "beautiful". Everything from the proportion of the lips to the distance between the eyes has been precisely calculated. Makes it seem a little cold and robotic doesn't it? However, our brains really do like order and proportions, so it would make complete sense that a face anatomy which conforms to our ideas of order and good proportions would be deemed as "beautiful".

I won't get into all the nitty gritty here, because I want to keep this article somewhat concise, but if you follow the link I provide here you can read all about how this face anatomy was determined to be the "one". Keep your eye out for the very interesting tidbits about the golden ratio's in face structure, which as some of you may know, also apply to photography in general:

So What Can We Do With This Mask?

The face anatomy mask provided here can serve as a guideline to help you visualize the changes you need to make with the liquify tool in order to achieve a pleasing result. Many people will simply go ahead and slim the face without any regard for proportion. This can easily lead to unrealistic results that don't make the face any more pleasing then before we started. With this mask we can begin to understand face anatomy and make focused changes that will actually benefit our images.

Let's get started! This is the original image we will be working with.

Face Liquify 0

As you can see, our model has striking features, but how do they stack up to the "perfect" face anatomy?

Face Liquify 2

Not too bad actually, but there is clearly room for improvement. Let's break it down, point by point, on the areas of focus.

Face Liquify 1

1. The Chin And Jaw

This is where we see the biggest difference between our model and the face anatomy mask. Our model has a very wide jaw giving her a rectangular face. This face shape is good for portraying a strong and dominant personality but it can also be interpreted as mean and angry. By softening the jaw and bringing it in line with the face anatomy mask we instantly get a more feminine and friendly face. This is something that is extremely important in commercial photography because we want the face to be inviting and warm.

While we are changing the shape of the jaw, we also want to minimize the chin ever so slightly. Not too much, or it will be pointy, but as we soften this models wide jaw, we don't want the chin to become overbearing. The face anatomy mask has a good guideline with rings around the chin area to give you a sense of perspective and how gradual the slope should be. This is something you could further emphasize with dodging and burning to create the right protrusion of the chin and jaw area.

2. The Nose

The nose should be kept as symmetrical as possible. You want to focus on slimming the bridge of the nose and straightening any curvature it may have. In our example here, the right side of the nose is ever so slightly higher then the left. The bridge is a little wide, and it curves slightly towards the right. The length of the nose however is right on point, so we do not need to make any changes there.

3. The Eyes, Brows, And Cheek Bones

Our model happens to have a great pair of eyes. They needed very minor adjustments. They are perfectly spaced and the exact shape and size they need to be. We needed to make small adjustments to the eyelids, because the eye on the left has an eyelid that slightly droops at an angle steeper then the right eye. Again, we want to keep the eyes fairly symmetrical, so any glaring differences should be corrected.

The brows were left untouched because they slope at an angle that is just about perfect and they are also quite well placed. Things to correct here would be brows that slope too much (forwards or backwards), brows that are too small or too large, and brows that are too far apart or too close together.

The cheek bone placement for our example is perfect. You will notice, it is the line that protrudes and stops half way across the cheek, just under the eyes. That denotes where the cheek bone should begin to raise. On a very wide or very narrow face this may need some minor adjustment.

4. The Lips

The lips are such a crucial part of face anatomy. They convey so much emotion. In our example, the lips appear a little wide, but more importantly they are down turned. This makes it appear as if our model is a bit sad. In order to correct this, we adjust the lip length and pulled their placement just a little lower to fit the face anatomy mask. We then straightened the lips and upturned the edges ever so slightly to get away from the sad expression our model was conveying.

5. The Neck

The neck is a big focus area. We want to elongate and slim the neck. While this is not part of the mask anymore a slim and elongated neck is classier and more elegant then a short and wide neck. It also puts more emphasis on the face because the neck doesn't take up as much real estate in the image. In our example we had to slim the neck and we were able to elongate it by eliminating some of the excess under chin that we could see.

The Result

After making all those changes, and a few skin corrections that were bugging me, this is the result we have achieved.

Face Liquify 3


Not bad for a quick example. Sure further improvements could be made if one really had the time, but you can clearly see here that the liquify tool in Photoshop is extremely powerful when used properly and not excessively.

Let's take one last look at how the new image stacks up to the face anatomy mask.

Face Liquify 4

There you have it! I hope this little tutorial gives you all an idea of where to focus your liquifying corrections and the proportions we are supposed to aim for. Now that you've read all this, it is important I tell you that this is NOT the only way to do things. Unique facial features are beautiful and while this face mask has the potential to expose our primal instinct of what is beautiful, it also has the potential to turn things bland. Use your own judgement, because as the photographer, we see the world you choose to show us!

Hope this helps. Feel free to visit me anytime at Peter House - Commercial Photographer to follow our work. Till next time.

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Zach Sutton's picture

Great advice. However, in before the argument starts on this one...

I think the key here is subtlety. Certainly, the model wants to look like her, so its important that you maintain that aspect of her face, while improving it slightly. There is absolutely a science behind physical beauty, and if you're a fashion/beauty photographer, you look for that in your subjects. As shallow as it is, you need to use that science to your advantage and if that means altering things a little in photoshop, so be it.

Peter House's picture

Thank you Zach. Yes, I hope folks do realize this is all in moderation. This example is on the drastic side, more so meant as a guideline to proportions, but also a thought experiment on what we deem as "appealing".

As much as we strive for perfection in advertising, we need to keep our models recognizable for future clients!

RUSS T.'s picture

:) I aint no pro.
But maybe if ya get time, show the NON drastic "AFTER" look?
it should shut the nay sayers up. and show whatcha really mean.

BM Photography's picture

This is not subtle at all! It looks like another person.

Tristan Cook's picture

What he meant by subtle was that if you had only seen the finished image and never seen the before picture you would have never guessed that her face had been altered. Subtle=Natural

Peter House's picture

Great explanation. Thanks!

Tim van Wessel's picture

The only thing bugging me is her unnatural long neck. For the rest if the model likes these changes why not do them?

BM Photography's picture

You are absolutely right, thanks for the explanation! :)

alreadyupsidedown's picture

I understand what is being said here, I haven't missed the point. But still... would it not be better to simply shoot the model from an angle that enhances her features? She is not unattractive by any means, but the base photo is taken from an angle that does not do her strong jaw any favours. Even if manipulation still come into play, such drastic measures wouldn't need to be taken... If you MUST have that angle... Why not hire a different model?

Oh, and in raising the chin, you've made her neck look a little too long..

Peter House's picture

You are completely correct. The main reason I chose this particular image to work with was because it was shot at an unflattering angle. For the purpose of contrast it was easier to use something that would offer a more drastic difference. In a real scenario we would of course do everything to minimize post. Thanks for the input!

alreadyupsidedown's picture

Fair enough man! Interesting article.

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

As a working beauty and fashion photographer and a professional retoucher, I just couldn't ignore this comment.
Here's a list of things anti-retouching and pro natural-beauty people say:

1. Why not shoot at a better angle,

2. She is already beautiful why change anything

3. Why not hire another model

And here's a list of real-world scenarios that commercial photographers deal with on a daily/weekly basis:

1. The client (a company) hires the models and you have to make them pretty. You often don't have a say in this and those models are often not Cindy Crawford. How you deal with that may affect whether or not this client will hire you again.
2. Your models are not sitting or standing still, they are not statues, so they move as you shoot. And often an image your client selects to retouch was not "shot at a better angle". How you deal with that may affect whether or not this client will hire you again.
3. You just never know to what degree your private client may ask you to "enhance" her photos. I work with female clients 99,9% of the time, trust me when I tell you that most women do want to look beautiful, and they don't care how subtle (or not) retouching makes them that. And, of course, how you deal with that may affect whether or not this client will hire you again.

Bottom line - photographers who are educated on the things that Peter describes in his article, who also are highly skilled in retouching to make heavy retouching look like it wasn't touched at all, win every time.

Peter House's picture

What a great reply Julia, thanks for posting! This is exactly it. The more you educate yourself, and open yourself up to various concepts, the more tools you will have at your disposal when creating images. Commercial photography is a very competitive field and a commercial shoot has so many variables that understanding complex concepts and studying subjects that go beyond regular photography is often required.

As a professional, you know very well the demands of clients!

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

I am 1000% with you on this, Peter!

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

I will take the liberty of guessing, most of people who comment and criticize anything retouching, are actually not commercial photographers and don't know what it's all about working with demanding and well-paying clients.

Cesar Marquez's picture

wow i cant believe how many people are getting butt hurt over this article. I appreciate it for the fact that it shows how much you can use liquify to manipulate an image if you NEED to. And as far as commercial photography, your absolutely correct, they are the highest paying clients and what they say goes, regardless if you like it or not. If you want to get paid and hired again you give them what they want. If your all about "natural" beauty then start a photography business in that and tell us how well that works out for you.

suǝddıʃıɥԀ ǝʞıW's picture

It's unnatural. Get a model that complies with these silly 'demands' and don't play Dr.Frankenstein with your tools. It insulting to the model. And it looks horrible too...

EnticingHavoc's picture

What a letdown. This crap literally defaces the models face insofar has it has gone from natural with distinct features to the ubiquitous supernatural non-human beauty face, featured on every skin care product. Pathetic. That is no progress.

Peter House's picture

Thanks for the comment. I'm sure you must have heard about the handful of retailers who are pushing against this sort of editing. Some are going so far as to disallow retouching beyond color correction and sharpening. There is certainly a reason why this level of retouching is used, but its very refreshing to see a higher level of realism in advertising.

EnticingHavoc's picture

The main issue with PS is the fact that there is a strong tendency to completely overdue all sorts of modifications. Like there STILL (!) is a wrenching and excruciating trend towards super skinny ailing models just to fulfill some sick fashion designers dreams.
It's all too much because of saturated senses craving for an ever increasing dose of whatever.

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

"skinny ailing models just to fulfill some sick fashion designers dreams" - fashion designers are not sick for selecting skinny models, a lot of garments look better on skinny models. And fashion designers, like any artists, want to present their work in the best possible light.

Have you ever created a garment of your own and showed to thousands of people at a fashion show, so you can judge them?

Peter House's picture

Even among today's "plus size" models there are still VERY strict guidelines to be met. The fact is, as you pointed out Julia, clients want to display their work in the best light. If a garment hangs better on a skinny model, that is what they will demand. If a cream is meant to fight aging, they want beautiful skin and perfect pores. It's just the nature of the industry.

Joël Trousset's picture

Hopefully, when human cloning begins, we won't need to spend so much time on Photoshop...

Aaron Tsuru's picture

I know this is just a "how to", but damn she looks like a plastic barbie doll now. Creepy.

Tobias Solem's picture

You succeeded in making the model look more like a robot, and less like a human being. Was that the plan? If so, mission success.

Mr Blah's picture

Starting with an image not shot at chin level would help ALOT.

Norshan Nusi's picture

Well, the face anatomy mask can be used as a general rule, one of it I mean.

Different races has different perfect anatomy mask, or more that one I presumed.

Why don't you ask the woman in the picture to chin down a bit?
Will make her chin smaller...

Peter House's picture

The image was chosen in part because of the poor angle. It would serve to exaggerate the contrast between the initial image and the final product. In a real situation, this would not be the image we would choose, and the face would be shot more "chin down". Makes a good image for a case study though.

Also, if you read through the link I provided about the mask, they actually suggest that these features are universally "appealing" going beyond race. Interesting study.


Chris Janzen's picture

Are edits this drastic fairly common in the industry? I don't know much about it but it sounds like a good portion of dramatic adjustments are directed by what the client asks the retoucher to do.

It's impressing how much you can change a face to a "perfect" face but I'm also curious if a model would look at this picture and still identify themselves with it? It's like looking in a warped mirror, you get the idea of what you look like but it's an interpretation of reality.

Peter House's picture

incendiary, yes they are. Not always to such a drastic extent, but some clients can have very strict guidelines, especially in the beauty industry. They are in the business of selling perfection after all. As a photographer I try to get it as close to perfect in camera, but real life is never "perfect".

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