The first step toward making your social media presence more professional is your avatar. An avatar can be just about anything: a logo, an icon, or a photo of yourself. And while many people use a photo of themselves as their avatar, most don't take the time to make that image look as good as it could. Luckily, you have Adobe Photoshop CC, and with that and this tutorial, you can edit and retouch your portrait in minutes.
First you need a decent head shot. A professional photo shoot isn't necessary: It can be as simple as asking a friend to take your picture using a real camera. Camera phones and webcams don't count (see Figure 1).
If you plan on replacing the background, make it easier on yourself by standing in front of a contrasting wall (see Figure 2). A simple contrast rule is to use a light background for dark hair and a darker background for light hair. Don't use a complex or distracting background unless you want that background to be in the final image.
Bring the headshot file into Photoshop. First duplicate the background layer (Command+J for Mac OS or Control+J for Windows). If things go wrong, you can delete the edited layer and start over with the original background layer.
Next evaluate areas that require retouching. Think like a plastic surgeon and create a blank layer on which you can mark up the portrait to help identify what you want to touch up. I want to adjust the color of my skin, reduce the bags under and above my eyes, remove the sunburn from my cheeks, and darken my hair a little (see Figure 3). Of course, your image may not need the same corrections. Once you have a plan, you can hide or delete the marked-up layer.
The lighting in the room where the photo was shot was a little too yellow, making me look jaundiced. To fix this, I adjust the image's color cast.
To experiment without permanently losing any image data, I add an adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer). I start with Color Balance for a subtle adjustment. This lets me adjust the color for the shadows, midtones, and highlight areas separately. Just a little shift in the balance will make a world of difference to neutralize the yellow in the image (see Figure 4).
This technique works well with all skin types. Adjusting the tonal ranges using Color Balance lets you neutralize any color cast caused by environment or lighting.
For acne, facial blemishes, and other small areas of correction, I like the Spot Healing Brush (see Video 1).
Video 1. See the Spot Healing Brush in action (no sound)
For best results, don't rely on the default settings. I set my brush hardness to 50%, which gives me the proper amount of blending using the Spot Healing Brush and Healing Brush tools.
To change the brush size, use the left or right bracket keys. If you have CS5 or later, you can hold Command+Option while you click (Mac OS) or Control+Alt while you right-click (Windows) and drag left or right to change the size.
Choose a brush slightly larger than the flawed area, position the brush over the flaw, and click. This replaces the flawed area with a blended local sample of the area around the flaw, giving the appearance of a clean removal. Continue until you've covered all small flaws (see Figure 5).
Next I need to hide the bags under my eyes. Since this is a larger area of repair, the Healing Brush is a better choice than the Spot Healing Brush. Again, I change brush hardness to 50% and adjust the size. I then designate a source area using Option+click (Mac OS) or Alt+click (Windows) and paint the new texture over my flawed area.
Pay close attention to the skin textures around your face (see Figure 6). Each area has a different look to it, and you want to match each specific area as closely as possible. My source area is my cheek.
In one smooth stroke, I paint the new texture over the flaw — in this case, the bag under my eye (see Figure 7). Then I repeat on the other side.
I can use the same Healing Brush technique above my eyes (see Figure 8). The results look strange, but I'll take care of that later.
To tackle the redness on my cheeks, I switch to the Patch tool and select the flawed area (see Figure 9).
In the options bar, I choose the Content-Aware setting and select Very Loose as the adaptation.
Then I drag the selection to a clean area of texture (in this case, the other cheek) and release. The Content-Aware Patch tool heals the area using the source provided (see Figure 10). If I'm not happy with the results, I can undo and try a different adaptation setting in the options and repeat as needed.
Now I look like I've had some work done. To fix that, I'll bring back some of the contours I removed.
To finish the results, I need to blend back in some of the original contours contained on the background layer. I'll use layer masks to do that (see Video 2).
Video 2. Learn how layer masks can blend some original detail back into your retouched photo (no audio).
I start by adding a layer mask to the Retouch layer (see Figure 11).
I select the Eraser tool and type D on the keyboard to default the colors to a white foreground and a black background. Then I select a soft brush for the Eraser and change the opacity to 33% (see Figure 12).
I erase one of my contours to show a faded version of that contour; for instance, starting at the nose, I drag across the bottom of the eyes to show the lower wrinkle (see Figure 13).
I repeat the step again, but this time, I only go halfway across the wrinkle. This will double the opacity to 66% (see Figure 14). I work from the center of the face outward so that the nose area is the highest opacity and the effect fades away toward the outside of the eye.
Finally, I erase the wrinkle closest to the nose for 99% opacity at this area. Now the wrinkle has a more realistic faded transition from the original to the retouched layer (see Figure 15). I then repeat for all other flaws. In some areas, you may want to reduce the opacity depending on the severity of the wrinkle or flaw.
I use another adjustment layer and the Levels tool to darken my hair. Figure 16 shows the results.
While the background of my headshot is acceptable, you may want to replace your background. To do that, you need an accurate selection of your head (see Video 3).
Video 3. The excellent selection tools in Photoshop CC make this step a lot easier than it used to be (no audio).
Starting with the Quick Selection tool, I select my head and shoulders, being careful not to bring the brush into the background. Figure 17 shows the resulting selection.
Remember, this is the Quick Selection tool, which is not necessarily 100% accurate. To clean it up and pull out some detail, you can use the Refine Edge settings. Click the Refine Edge button in the options bar to access the panel.
Start by selecting the Smart Radius option and moving the Radius slider about halfway across. You should start to see hair and finer details appear as you increase the value (see Figure 18).
If there are any missing details, use the Refine Radius tool to paint over areas to add those details to your selection (see Figure 19). There is also an eraser under this tool in the panel that enables you to remove fringing caused by the Radius controls.
Finally, choose your output. I'm using a layer mask to preserve the original layer's integrity.
Now adding a new background on another layer will be easy (see Figure 20). For interesting organic backgrounds, check out Russell Brown's Paper Textures extension for Adobe Photoshop CS6 and CC.
The ultimate size and shape of your avatar depend on the social media channel you're targeting. While most social sites have built-in cropping and resizing tools, you may prefer to retain control and do it yourself.
For details on profile image requirements, explore the following links:
To resize, save your original PSD file and then crop your image using the Crop tool in Photoshop. I like to deselect Delete Cropped Pixels in the options bar so I can crop an image to different sizes again and again without destroying the original image.
Next, flatten your image from the Layers panel fly-out menu. Then choose Image > Image Size and resize your image to 72 ppi and use the dimensions (in pixels) required by the social media site you're targeting (see Figure 21). If you have Photoshop CS6 or later, select the Automatic Resample option. For CS5 and earlier, I suggest the Bicubic Sharper Resample option.
Save your flattened, resized image as a JPEG file. Be sure to set the Image Quality to Maximum (12).
Now it's time to post your professional-looking avatar. May your social media ventures be successful.
Portrait retouching is a popular topic, and photographers all have their own tricks. For example, Julianne Kost shows you how to soften skin and sharpen eyes and lips, while Terry White focuses just on eyes. If you prefer to edit photos in Lightroom, check out Terry's tutorial on portrait retouching in Lightroom 5.
Kevin Stohlmeyer is an Adobe Certified Instructor, user group manager, and Adobe Community Professional based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been teaching Adobe products since 2000, both in higher education and at C2 Graphics Productivity Solutions. He has been featured in Photoshop User Magazine and is a NAPP member. You can find Kevin on Twitter @kstohl or on Facebook at facebook.com/kevin-stohlmeyer.
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