Want better portraits? Rotate your canvas while retouching.

Apr 9, 2017

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

Apr 9, 2017

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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Once, the idea of rotating my canvas when retouching was jarring to me. I knew it was something my peers were doing but I just couldn’t be bothered to try it myself.

After a few one on one lessons where I was “forced” to do it by David Neilands, I actually found a surprising improvement in not only the end result but also in identifying problems quicker with fewer revisions.

Rotating the canvas is actually a technique that was popularised by Pratik Naik of Solstice Retouch. The guy knows his stuff, he won retoucher of the year last year!

Rotating the canvas in photoshop can be done in two ways, permanently and temporarily. If you wish to rotate the canvas permanently (not my suggestion) you can do so by going to Image>Rotate Canvas.

If you wish to be able to rotate the canvas on a pixel level (no hard stops or set degrees) use the “rotate” tool. (It’s hot key “r” as default). Press “Esc” to quickly reset the canvas.

This is the best way in my opinion as it allows us to smoothly rotate the image using a Wacom tablet by simply clicking and dragging.

I wanted to run you guys through what I notice while an image is in 4 positions, rotating the canvas by 90 degrees each time. Ideally, you will want to be more fluent with rotating and rotate at any angle that suits the movement of your hand to be most comfortable.

By this, I mean rotating an image so that the problems you try fixing to allow your hand to move up and down in its natural circular arc instead of horizontally.

I’m right handed, so here’s an example of my natural wrist movement:

The reason I’m showing you this is because we wish to (generally speaking) only move our hand in this direction, for both comfort and efficiency. So when we find problems on the image, rotate the canvas so that the angle of the problem is the same as your natural wrist movement. So in short, if the problem you’re trying to dodge and burn curves like the letter C, rotate the canvas upside down and work on it that way!

Obviously, we won’t always do this, but stick to it as a rule of thumb and you’ll find much better results!

First things first, prepare your image for DB work by healing the subject (I heal more than I Dodge and Burn and have been finding much better results). My poor model was really ill and worn down after a long trip of travelling. Though it did provide a perfect opportunity to practice retouching :D

Here is the first round of retouching: Healing Before and After:

Now it’s time for the markup – prep work for Dodge and Burn. (Eventually you’ll probably do this on the fly and in your mind rather than note it down, but it helps to understand the process internally.

I turn on my helper layer from the retouching toolkit (which looks like the below). Though you can achieve the same thing by simply filling a blank layer with black and setting it to color blend mode.

Here is an image where I identify the problems upon each rotation. The first being marked in blue, then green, yellow and finally magenta (you will see the colors at the end, as it’s much cleaner for you to see in black and white first).

Image orientation at default

And here is a comparison of what I noticed at first glance and after rotating the canvas 90 degrees clockwise:

Adding markups at 180 degrees:

And lastly adding things that I see at 270 degrees of rotation (or -90 in Photoshop if using the rotate canvas tool):

So let’s do a comparison of what I picked up on first glance vs after rotating the canvas (keep in mind I don’t do this 4-step process, I rotate constantly though gently and wobble backward and forwards with the Rotate tool (default hot key is R in Photoshop).

As you can see, I’ve picked up a lot more from the image and it’s allowed me to create a really solid map of the problems before starting the retouch.

The moral here is that you can seriously benefit from rotating the canvas and changing up the default view, our eyes are so used to the way things are normally that we can often “bypass” problems unless they are glaringly obvious, and even then sometimes we can overlook it.

What difference does it make to an image? Here’s the same retouch after doing the blue marks (first markup) vs retouching the marks from all the rotations:

Doing things such as rotating the image/canvas and using helper layers, allows us to see the image in a new way and pick up further problems. Saving us time, revisions (and ultimately clients).

Once you get this down it’s easier to rotate in little bits rather than a strict 4-way system, but I thought that a 4-way system would be the easiest method to illustrate my point and allow you guys to try it for yourselves.

Here is the final Before and After (color work included etc):

Hope this helps!

-JP

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Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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6 responses to “Want better portraits? Rotate your canvas while retouching.”

  1. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar
    TheInconvenientRuth

    Well that was actually an interesting and useful read, thanks. I do regularly flip my canvas horizontally to double-check overall balance. But I never considered doing this during Frequency Separation and Doge/Burning.Will certainly give this a try, it makes sense. Nice one.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      No problem! I only used curves (dodge and burn, colour) and the healing brush here. Frequency Separation is great for replacing texture or fixing blown out highlights! Glad to I could help and thank you for reading!!!

  2. Stereo Reverb Avatar
    Stereo Reverb

    Great explanation of why this is a useful retouching method. I’ll def give it a go on my next exits!

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      NP at all! Thanks for reading!

  3. Paul Manuel Avatar
    Paul Manuel

    Photoshop has a dedicated tool for this operation – the Rotate View Tool, which shares the flyout menu with the Hand Tool.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      Yeah, I’ve mentioned this in the article and included the default hotkey (r). Thanks for sharing though!