In a recent personal photo shoot with my father-in-law, I wanted to take a realistic photograph that captured his true and realistic self without much editing manipulation.  I’ve been asked quite a bit to explain the process I took to get this look of minimal editing.

First of all, I took this photo underneath a covered patio with a natural reflector of a cement flooring coming from the bottom angle.  I wanted to make sure that his skin was very clear but the background was blurry. With him being so close to the background, I had to use a wide open aperture (f1.8) with my 50mm lens to blur the background.


While I like that this shot above shows the character of his skin and the multiple details of his face, I don’t really think it necessarily looks like a editorial-like portrait.  So I first observed the coloring and wanted to cool down his skin without losing his warmth.

Over on the left, I selected the “Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer” icon and clicked “Solid Color”.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 2.00.53 AM

Once you click on the Solid Color tab, a color palette will pop up.  Since a lot of red and warm tones consume the photograph, I chose a brighter blue to add to the coloring.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 2.01.25 AM

Once you click on OK, a solid color layer will cover your frame.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 2.04.37 AM

If you then double click on the Color Fill layer, you will have multiple blending options of what you’d like to do with this Color Fill layer.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 2.08.59 AM

I usually choose Overlay or Soft Light which allows different levels of light from the blue Color Fill color chosen.  Once you choose your blending mode, I then toggle the Opacity between 20-40%.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 2.21.13 AM


I then added layers of Vibrance and Curves to bring out a pop of color and contrast.


You might have a different preference in coloring and tone but these are the tones I prefer because this is truly how I see my father-in-law.  If you look at the before and after, you’ll see a pop of color and tonal change that can be brought out by utilizing the Color Fill layer  and blending options.


If you have other tips for changing skin tones and creating a realistic portrait, let us know in the comments below.


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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Simple and nice tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you.

    My pictures often tend to be too warm. Like if I take photos inside and use our indoor lamps (I try to avoid blitz as much as I can) there will always be a red or yellow feel to it.
    And I’m not that good in editing yet. So this helped me a lot :)

  3. Great edit/tutorial Melissa, I would make sure if the shirt is white, it stays white. If this were a photo of me as we’re probably close to the same age, I like the non-reflective skin on your original image.

    Thanks for all your doing, great stuff and better than many if not most of the more popular sites currently available.


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About MelissaNiu

Melissa Niu is a storyteller at heart. Niu's work ranges from her Broadcast Journalism experience at NBC in Seattle to her recent work as a co-founder and host of the photography platform, [FRAMED] Network. Her passion for photography, music and journalistic skills harvests into a massive need to tell a good story. As a mother of three daughters and running multiple businesses, Niu is constantly seeking balance, health, laughter and progression.


Commercial, Portrait, Technique & Tutorials, Your Focus