Turn a Snapshot Into a Portrait Using Photoshop Magic

Some photos start out looking like snapshots, even if they were meant to be a portrait.  If the lighting and feel of the photo is strong, you can transform them using various techniques and Photoshop actions. This photo, submitted during a private training class, was taken by Maggie Ford.

The image had so much potential but due to the soft focus, centered composition, and slightly inaccurate colors, I would consider the straight out of camera more of a snapshot. I wanted to help enhance the photo, turning it into a photo she would be proud showing.

Here is the before and after – plus a list of what I did to get there.

black and white

Here were the steps we took:

  1. I wanted to really enhance this one and add some drama.  I started by using the Crackle Photoshop action (similar to defogging) which is part of the Quickie Collection.
  2. What an amazing face!  I just knew I wanted to make her eyes the focal point. Using the Eye Doctor eye enhancing Photoshop action, I enhanced the catchlights and sharpening the eyes.
  3. Then I lightly smoothed her skin using Powder Your Nose from the Magic Skin skin smoothing Photoshop action at the default opacity. I just painted the smoothing on where needed.
  4. Her face had some shiny areas near her nose, and I used the Shiny Skin Vanisher from the Bag of Tricks action set.
  5. I decided that I wanted the image in black and white. I used my favorite black and white conversion, Vanilla Ice Cream, from the Quickie Collection.
  6. And for the finishing touch… I used the Free Photoshop action – Touch of Light/Touch of Darkness.  I used the Light layer on her face with a 30% opacity brush.
  7. And lastly, and for this image, probably the most important, I cropped it.  In Photoshop CS5 there is a rule of thirds guide and I placed the eyes at the top 1/3 mark and placed her off center for a most more desirable crop.

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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  1. 1


    Nice trick.. I’ve used it myself to recover a botched exposure into something useful. The image attached was a victim of shooting at 1.4 with strong lighting which washed out the entire image due to lens flare. My conversion was done completely in Lightroom 3 by building on the blown out look. A different look than just B/W.

  2. 8

    shannon says

    Thanks so much for the step-by-step.
    What a difference from the sooc!
    She is a gorgeous girl. Those eyes remind me of Twiggy.

  3. 11


    wow that is just beautiful! I just love what you can do with post processing! Thanks for sharing your tips:) Happy 4th!

  4. 13


    That is one of the best before and after shots I’ve ever seen! It is motivating and makes me want to go back and look at all the photos I ruled out because I didn’t like the “snapshot.” Thanks for sharing!

  5. 14

    robin cornett says

    Really impressive before/after… made an OK image into something really striking. One of my favorites from the blueprints series!

  6. 15

    Sarah says

    I’ve never done any post-processing and full photoshop is not in my budget, but, how much use is elements? Can something similar be achieved with that? Thanks!

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