Scott Kelby's Portrait Finishing Technique | MD Portrait Photographers

September 29, 2011

Scott Kelby, Photoshop Guru of the World, writes, “One of the questions I get asked most about my portraits is how do they look so sharp, but at the same time have a soft quality to them?” He’s kind enough to share his trademark technique and now I’m sharing it (in excruciating detail, because I’m a beginner photoshop user!) with you.

Kelby calls this a three step method.  As far as I can tell, it’s a lot more than three steps – he breaks it into seven steps and I’ve got it broken into 17! – but there are three layers that we’ll work with.  We’ll do extreme sharpening on the first layer, extreme blurring on the second, and create a soft outline on the third.  The three layers work together to give the desired outcome of a soft, glowy portrait with sharp details.

We’re starting with this little photo. It does have some hard edges, which are especially bothersome to me in the contrasty areas of his cheeks. 

First we’ll do the extreme sharpening on the existing background layer.

Go to Image -> Mode -> Lab Color

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 1

View the Channels Panel and select the Lightness channel – Scott says this creates the sharpening only in detail areas, not in color.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 1

Go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Unsharp Mask

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 3

Enter the settings that Kelby suggests – Amount: 120%, Radius:1, Threshold:3.  Kelby makes a special point of saying that these are only for high res photos.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 4

Step one – Extreme Sharpening – is almost complete.  Just switch back to RGB color mode by going to Image -> Mode -> RGB Color

 Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 5

STEP TWO: Extreme blurring on a second layer. 

Duplicate the background layer with the shortcut Ctrl-J. 

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 6

Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 7

Enter the recommended values (again, only for high res files): 20px.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 8

Now use the opacity slider on the layer panel to change the blurry layer’s (Layer 1) opacity to just 20%.  I kept it at 24% because I really like to put my own creativite stamp into my work.  Haha.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 9 

To complete step two, just merge those two layers together.  I took the long route just because I felt like there really weren’t enough pictures in this post and I wanted to *show* you this step… but CTRL-E is much shorter 🙂

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 10

Now the parts that should be sharp – like eyes and hair – are still sharp.  But a lot of those contrasty edges, like in his cheeks, are soft and romantic.  Yay.

STEP THREE – Create a nice softn vignette around the edges. 

Create another background layer again (Ctrl-J)

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 11

Change the blend mode of the layer to multiply – this makes it darker, which you obviously want for vignetting.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 12

Get the rectangular marquee tool and draw a rectangle about a half to an inch inside the edges.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 14

Click Refine Edges up in the Options Bar (if you look in the screen shot above, find the big leaf next to Joshua’s head and just look up… that’s where the Refine Edges button is).  Scott recommends dragging the feather slider all the way to 200.  Again, just to be super creative, I chose 175.

Scott Kelby Portrait Finishing Technique 16

Now press Backspace and that inside spot will be filled with the background layer.  The white spaces will remain as the darker layer.  So you get a nice little vignetting effect.  If you’re into that thing.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no, right? 

Ready?  TA-DA…

Joshua Finished With Scott Kelby's Technique
I like it.  The before and after is below.  I think, however, that sometimes its hard to appreciate these things – or even form an opinion – until the portrait is blown up to 16×20 and hanging on my wall!

Scott Kelby Finishing Before and After

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