How to Make Colors Pop in Photoshop for Stand Out Portraits

Photo by Charlie Howell on Unsplash

This easy-to-follow tutorial will teach you how to make colors pop in Photoshop for stunning and realistic portraits every time. Simple techniques in photo editing using the right tools can transform a portrait from being dull to very dramatic. In this short guide, you will learn how to select and edit parts of the photo like the hair or skin tone, to enhance the color and bring the image to life.

To be able to go from (BEFORE) to (AFTER) in the image above, you will need to use the following tools in Photoshop.

  • Quick Selection Tool
  • Select and Mask
  • Refine Edge Brush Tool
  • Create Groups and Masks
  • Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer
  • Use the Brush and Eye-dropper Tool

The most important part when retouching a portrait and making your colors pop in photoshop is to understand how to select the area you want to retouch or make adjustments. We can’t get into too much detail in this tutorial on how to use the Quick Selection Tool, but it is not that hard to use it even if you’re a beginner.

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In this ‘How to Make Make Colors Pop in Photoshop’ tutorial, we’re using the latest version of Adobe Photoshop 20.0.1. If you don’t the application installed, you can download it via the Adobe Creative Cloud App you will find in the official Adobe website. For more information visit adobe.com.

How to Make Hair Look Better in Photoshop

Step 1: Pick the Quick Selection Tool from the left sidebar and begin selecting the hair. The selection doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make sure you choose the most critical part around the head and some edges. You can hold down the ALT key for Windows users and Option key for Mac users (you will see a minus icon in your cursor) to make corrections if you miss a spot or select a different part of the image accidentally.

Selection of the hair using the Quick selection tool in Photoshop
Selection of the hair using the Quick selection tool in Photoshop

Step 2: After you have selected the hair, click at the top where it says Select and Mask. A new window will appear showing the hair selection. Pick the Refine Edge brush tool from the left sidebar and brush over the area you want to do an edge detection to separate the hair nicely from any other part of the image. When you finish, click OK.

Improving the hair selection using Refine Edge Brush Tool
Improving the hair selection using Refine Edge Brush Tool

Step 3: Create a new Group and then add a new Vector mask on the selection. Double click the name of the Group and name it Hair. Then create a New Adjustment Fill Layer and select Curves to increase contrast. Now, by making an “S” curve you increase the lighter parts and decrease the darker parts as well. Make sure the Curves is inverted from the Curves Display Options as it is shown in the example PICTURE X (Curve Option -1,2).

Enhancing hair to make colors pop in Photoshop

Step 4: From the field Create a New Fill Layer, you can also click on the Hue/Saturation tab. You can add a little bit more saturation if needed (raise the bar to +10).

How to Correct Skin Tones

Step 1: The same as with the hair, select the skin using the Quick Selection Tool from the left sidebar after you have clicked on the background layer. When you finish with the selection, click Select and Mask. On the left sidebar, you will find the Refine Edge Tool. Go through the same process as with the hair and when you finish press OK.

Step 2: Create a New Group and New Vector Mask. Name it Skin. Pick the Eyedropper Tool and point to a part of the skin that is not too dark or too saturated but has good color.

Use the eyedropper tool to select a skin color that is not too dark or too saturated but has good color.
Use the eyedropper tool to select a skin color that is not too dark or too saturated but has good color.

Then click Edit > Fill and press OK (leave the options as is).

Fill the selection with the color from the eyedropper tool.
Fill the selection with the color from the eyedropper tool

As you can see the layer is flattened. Go ahead and turn this layer into Color. This has completely taken all the color out. You also can decrease the Opacity to 70 or 50% (depending on the type of your portrait subject’s skin).

Enhancing skin tone in portraits to make colors pop in Photoshop

Step 3: Select the Brush Tool (50% Opacity). Select White color and start painting the areas you feel they need to be retouched making the skin tone clear and getting rid of some blotchiness. This evens out the skin tone a little bit. You can also add contrast (not too much) by using the Curves adjustment tool. Do the “S” curve again, just enough to see a difference.

Touching up skin tone in Photoshop.

How to Make Eye Colors Pop in Photoshop

Step 1: Select the background layer. Create a New Group. Name it Eyes. Then add Curves and brighten up the whole image until you see the eyes look much brighter. Don’t worry about the rest of the image, just ensure that you make the eyes brighter. You can also add Vibrance and Saturation to really make colours pop in Photoshop for a striking effect.

Brighten up the image and eyes to make colors pop in Photoshop

Step 2: Click the Mask button by holding the ALT key on your keyboard. It will add a black mask to the Eyes layer.

Then, zoom in at 100% so you can work on the eyes. Take the brush tool, adjust the size so it can fit around the eye, and at 20% Opacity start to paint in the eye. Make sure you evenly do both eyes (one stroke on the left eye, one on the right).

Be careful don’t make the white area too bright because it will make the eyes look like a vampire’s.

If you think you overdid it, just hit X on the keyboard and it will invert to black color. You can paint the white now just enough to make it a little bit darker. You can also adjust the opacity in the Eye Group to 80% or lower, depending on the results you’re getting.

Editing eyes in portraits for stunning results.

How to Process Mouth and Lips

Step 1: Select the background layer. Click the “Q” on the keyboard to select the Quick Mask. Choose Opacity 100%.

Zoom in to 300% and select the mouth and lips area. If you make a mistake click the “X” button on the keyboard to select the black color and undo the area you drew over. Click the “Q” button again when you’re done.

Make colors pop in Photoshop for beautiful lips.
Make colors pop in Photoshop for beautiful lips

Step 2: Select the Mouth group and create a New Fill Layer > Curves. Adjust the curves accordingly until the preferable result using once again the “S” curve. You can also lower the opacity if you think it is oversaturated or overexposed.

Overall Image Brightness and Contrast for Making Colors Pop in Photoshop

Final Step: Select the background and create a new fill layer Brightness / Contrast. In our portrait, I had to increase brightness to +6 and contrast to +8. Not all images look the same, so you should adjust the values accordingly to your conditions.

Final Thoughts

The more you play and tweak the settings, the more you will understand what needs to be changed or not. If you think you have made a mistake, head over to history panel and select the previous step or press CTRL + Z on the keyboard. Make sure you save your work on .psd files so you can edit your files and make more adjustments later on.

If you understand how the layers and masks work, the process will be easier for you. You just need to understand what each tool does each time you use it. Then you can play with curves and add more fill layers to your personal preference. You’ll soon be making colors pop in Photoshop like a pro!

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Author Details
Hi, I am John Mak a self-taught landscape, sports and event photographer from Greece. I love nature, traveling and cooking. I’m also a freelance writer. I create content for photography websites and other small businesses. I use Mirrorless Cameras, lenses, gear and I share more about it in my personal website. You can also find me on Instagram @johnmakphotography
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Hi, I am John Mak a self-taught landscape, sports and event photographer from Greece. I love nature, traveling and cooking. I’m also a freelance writer. I create content for photography websites and other small businesses. I use Mirrorless Cameras, lenses, gear and I share more about it in my personal website. You can also find me on Instagram @johnmakphotography
How to Make Colors Pop in Photoshop for Stand Out Portraits

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