Easy newborn retouching using the Photoshop patch tool (plus an editing video)

Photo retouching is a sensitive subject for a lot of people. No one hires a photographer to change her loved ones into something they are not! Yet at the same time, no one hires a photographer to highlight the perceived flaws or blemishes that are simply unavoidable at times.

This conundrum is especially present in newborn photography. In all of their perfect newborn cuteness, babies sometimes arrive with spots and splotches that don’t allow their perfect little faces to shine the way we would like. As such, my approach to newborn retouching always aims to stay as true to reality as possible while removing those things that are temporary and potentially distracting.

As a newborn photographer, I typically see babies in the hospital for Fresh 48 sessions and then again at home/in studio for their newborn session.

Before and during a newborn session it is always wise to ask the parents if there is anything specific they would like edited out of the images. Sometimes they will see little things that you would miss!

Most commonly I am asked to remove the scratches, milk spots, flaky skin, and baby acne from newborn photographs. All retouching decisions are ultimately left to the parent.

When tasked with removing those temporary skin bumps, scrapes, and flakes, utilizing the Patch Tool in Photoshop is one of the easiest, most effective tools in your repertoire. These are my steps for removing common baby skin concerns using this versatile Photoshop tool.

Step 1: Ask the parents if they would like specific things removed

This is the most important step of the entire process! Sometimes a parent will be upfront about wanting something removed, and other times you will have to ask directly. Most parent assume you will remove those little spots so that their babies are perfectly smooth, but there are others who want you to keep those realistic details in the photos. Asking will ensure that you do not offend your clients and that you set-up realistic expectations for the results of your newborn session.

Be sure to let the parents know that there is no right or wrong answer on how a photograph is retouched. It is truly a matter of personal preference! As a rule, everything that I retouch is not permanent to the newborn.

Related: 4 fresh perspectives on lifestyle newborn photography

Step 2: Duplicate your background layer

Always edit on a duplicated layer! All this means is that you have made a copy of the background layer and are making edits there, but not to the original base layer. This way if something happens and you mess up (it happens to the best of us!), you haven’t altered your base layer and can easily go back and start the edit again.

To create a duplicate layer in Photoshop, you go to the top menu Layer>Duplicate Layer. This simple step now can save you from hours of unnecessary work later.

Step 3: Select the Patch Tool

Head over to your tool bar in Photoshop. You will be able to select either the Spot Healing Brush Tool, Healing Brush Tool, Patch Tool, Content Aware Move Tool, or the recently added Red Eye Tool using the drop down arrow on the healing tool button. You can find this tool easily with the shortcut (J). From these options select the Patch Tool.

Step 4: Draw a circle around the area you would like to correct

Once you have selected the Patch Tool (it looks a little bit like an actual patch), head on over to the spot you would like to fix. Zoom in as much as you need to really see the area you want to correct and be able to select it effectively. You will select the blemish by drawing a circle around it with the cursor. You will want to have the blemish fully within the area you select but will also want to be certain not to draw around other features that you might not want affected. Once you have drawn the circle you can let go and see the patch outlined with the a dashed line that blinks (often referred to as “marching ants”).

Related: 20 must-use editing tools in Lightroom and Photoshop

Step 5: Drag your circle to a nearby source

Check the area to make sure you are including only what you wish to retouch. Then lick in the middle of the selected area and drag it to a nearby area of skin that is clear and free from blemishes. Once you release your mouse or pen, you will notice the circled area has been replaced with the clean area to which you moved the selected area.

When choosing your clear area, be sure to do your best to match both colors and textures. If either is off too much, your replacement will look off with a harsh line, odd color, or mismatched texture in the patched area.

Step 6: Evaluate

Take a good look at the newly retouched area. Ask yourself, “Does it look clean? Are there edges that are really noticeable in the circle? Is it too dark? Is it too light?” Be mindful if you use the Patch Tool on a textured area to match up lines!

I recommend blinking once or twice and rechecking the area to see if you can find evidence of the edit. Sometimes a quick walk away from the computer screen can allow you to see things you might otherwise miss.

If you do notice something looking a bit off, you will want to try again. You can go to the menu bar and select Edit>Undo to start over or you can simply try to move the selected area to a new clean spot for better results.

Step 7: Repeat

Repeat these steps on any spots that you wish to retouch. The Patch Tool is an easy and effective tool to remove all kinds of distractions and I know you are going to love using it!

About the Author:

Kristina McCaleb is a mother of two and firefighter wife in Dallas, TX. She loves to use what is around her to capture the lives of kids.

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