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Turn a Snapshot Into a Portrait Using Photoshop Magic

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

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.
Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
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  1. July 2, 2010 at 9:14 am —

    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. July 2, 2010 at 9:18 am —

    Mike, That’s really cool. If you ever have time, I would love a quick tutorial for my blog on a before and after on that image. What a great save and unique edit.

  3. Regina White
    July 2, 2010 at 9:29 am —

    WOW! I am super impressed. For me I would have deleted that image. Nice.

  4. July 2, 2010 at 9:35 am —

    OMG, that’s gorgeous!! I LOVE everything about the after!! What a beautiful woman as well. Great job!

  5. Tiffany Parrott
    July 2, 2010 at 10:32 am —

    Do you have this Vanilla Ice cream for PSE 8 by chance?

  6. July 2, 2010 at 11:12 am —

    It does not work in elements, sorry. Check out the “Take My Color Away” which is in the Complete Workflow and is elements compatible.

  7. July 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm —

    Wow Jodi, that is an amazing transformation!!! The end result is absolutely stunning.

  8. shannon
    July 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm —

    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.

  9. July 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm —

    What a great resource!

  10. July 3, 2010 at 1:13 am —


  11. July 3, 2010 at 8:45 am —

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

  12. July 4, 2010 at 10:58 pm —

    Gorgeous transformation

  13. July 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm —

    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!

  14. robin cornett
    July 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm —

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

  15. Sarah
    July 19, 2012 at 9:08 am —

    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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Turn a Snapshot Into a Portrait Using Photoshop Magic