In this tutorial I am going to show you my process for cleaning up my first year baby photographs.

Even using lovely lighting techniques there will usually be distractions in the background, forgeound and on the subject. I personally dont like high key white backgrounds, instead I use an un-lit white background that gives a mid grey toned background in the final images.

There are three elements to my clean-up; background clean-up, close-up clean-up and softening the foreground and background.

Shooting in RAW I firstly like to use Photoshop lightroom to do my first edit. This typically involves adjusting white balance, exposure, contrast and shadows if necessary. You can see from the following screenshot the image I am going use is a very straight forward photograph of a one year old sitting on a rocking horse. The main light was positioned in a typical 45 deg postion to the right of subject.

The RAW file didnt need much adjustment in lightroom with the resulting exported image shown below.


The image above is a perfectly acceptable image but I like to clean up the shadows caused by the backdrop and remove any distractions in the image.

The first think I do is try and reduce the shadowed line of the backdrop cutting through the subject. To do this I firstly create an editing layer, this way what I do is not destructive and its effects can be reduced using the layer opacity.

My tool of choice is the 'Patch Tool'.


With the patch tool selected I select the area I want to change and drag and drop the area to another area to reference or clone from. Youhave to be very careful to use a good reference point for the cloning or you will not get a clean effect at the source. If the effect is too strong you can reduce it using the opacity window in the layers window to the right.

At this stage i have a look and see if there are any other distractions in the image such as the screw marks on the horse legs, again by getting in close the patch tool can be used to remove these.

Once you are happy with the background clean up you can flatten image as per below.

Now to get in close and clean up the subjects face from bogeys, stray hairs and anything else that may cause a distraction in the final image.

As you can see below I create another clean up layer before doing any editing.

There are two methods I use for cleaning the face area of a child; the patch tool as before and the healing brush tool. The trick to cleaning up the face is to take your time, get in close and be precise. Dont over do the clean up or it will be noticeable in the final image.

The opacity tool can be your friend for the close-up clean-up, try reducing to 80% and 60% to see if this creates a better balance.

Once you are happy with the close-up clean-up flatten your image.

The third element of the clean up is to blend or soften the foreground and background of your image.

Create a new layer and select an area around your main subject, preferably not too close to the subject.

Once selected inverse your selection so the boundary is from outside in. We need to feather the selection and in photoshop we use the 'Refine Edge' tool shown below.

The window below shows the 'Refine Edge' options. The main one is to have feather right up to 250px, play with the other options to get the effect that you like best.

We now use a graduated blur to the image using the Gaussian Blur tool shown below.

Again there is no right or wrong setting for this, too much will take away every detail so be careful as it needs to be subtle to feel right.

Because the boundary has been feathered the edges will overlap with the subject a shown below. We dont want a blurred subject so we will need to remove the gaussian blur layer from any areas of the subject that has been effected.

Create a 'layer mask' on your soften layer.

With the layer mask selecetd we select the brush tool, ensure you have selected 'black'.  We now get in close and brush over the areas of the subject which have been blurred. You will see the mask layer change, this is showing you where you have masked the effect on the image.

That is the three clean-up elements complete and you can concentrate on your other editing techniques. I personally dont do too muchmore to my images, maybe adjust curves and saturation and off course I love black white images which will be covered in another tutorial.

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