Business Portrait Retouching: Practical Demonstration

Retouching business portraits, once perfected, should be a quick and simple process that results in subtle yet effective enhancements.

In this photography class Karl explains and shows you how to approach changing the background colour of a business portrait without affecting the look of the subject before demonstrating useful Photoshop techniques to ensure that the background is smooth and even.

At the end of this class you’ll have seen how to use a number of useful techniques such as the Color Replace command, how to work with layers and layer masks, and understand when and why to use filters such as Gaussian Blur and Noise.

Download the work-along file

In this class:

  • Photoshop tutorial: How to retouch business portraits
  • Retouching tips for business portraits
  • How to use the Color Replace command in Photoshop
  • How to make colour adjustments in Photoshop
  • Understanding blend modes in Photoshop
  • Using layers and layer masks
  • When and why you should use filters
  • Gaussian blur filter
  • Noise filter

To learn more about how to take business portraits, watch our live show here.

If you have any questions about this course please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Andréanne

    Thank you Karl for this lesson. I’m a new in the plateform and I appreciate a lot !! I have a question: why do you use the “Replace Color » function instead of « Tint, Hue, Saturation » one to change color of the background ? Is there more advantage ?

  2. what is the technique to shot subject with glasses? I have many times the blue reflection..the cpl has no effect…the soft box to the light give me not the light that I want (also if it is in a higher position)…a white reflector give me an uncontrolled light…I am in troubles.

    1. Hi, I’ve just seen your email. You will find this chapter useful which fully explains about masks in detail and at around 20:30 I mention the backward slash key to show the mask area as a colour, you can choose the colour you want the brushed area of the mask to show as by holding ‘alt’ down on the layer mask and telling photoshop what colour you would like the mask to show as.

  3. Hi Karl,

    When I use the colour replacement tool and then pick the background colour range it select large parts of the businessman as well unlike in your demonstration where the businessman stays black except for his tie

    1. Hi Afshin, in this instance the background of the businessman was quite different to the man himself so it was an easier selection for PS. If the background is too similar in tone then try using the ‘focus area selection tool’ or the ‘Magic Wand’ selection. All the best Karl.

      1. Hi Karl, I understand what you’re saying but I was using the photo of the businessman that i downloaded from you and my colour replace tool still selects the face and the suit as I get towards the darker corners of the background. Ive tried several times and each time as I use the plus + colour picker it also selects the businessman himself. Unlike your demonstration with the same photo

        1. Ahh OK well you don’t need to use the ‘colour select’ to get all the way to the corners. You only need to get the area immediately around the businessman, then you switch to the ‘lasso’ tool in ‘plus to selection’ mode and quickly draw the selection of the outer areas.

  4. Hi Karl,
    Firstly thank you for producing a fantastic course. I have been following along with your examples religiously, making sure that I understand every step. Unfortunately though I am a little stuck on this example. When I go into the Gaussian blur tool my preview pane shows me the canvas checkerboard pattern rather than the photograph background. I thought I had understood all the material up to now but obviously I have missed something along the way. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong please? Thank you very much.

    1. Hi, at what point in the video are you up to or stuck on? Is it possible that you created an empty layer and didn’t copy the background area onto a new layer? I’m guessing as you are trying to apply the gaussian blur that you are trying to blur the background but don’t actually have it as a layer yet?

  5. Hi Karl, I hope you are doing well. I’m really happy with your courses, it’s a well invested money. I saw your video and in one part of it, where you talk about the Gaussian Blur filter, you mention that it expands the subject (business man in this case). Here is my question
    If you apply gaussian blur filter and then choose the eraser tool to remove the filter from your subject, with a small flow (5%) to make the effect on the subject edge smooth does it still expand the subject?

    1. Hi Alfredo, I didn’t say it expands the subject I said it expands the background that you blurred over your subject so you need to erase it or mask if from your subject. If you do it on a new layer as in the tutorial it is easy to mask and switch on and off to see how far over your subject it has blurred and what you need to remove.

  6. I don’t have backwards slash key on my macbook’s keyboard. How do I hide and show the mask with the background?

    1. Hi, you should have, I’ve got one on mine? Is your language different? If so try the hidden keys that are accessible with alt key.

  7. Great stuff. One technique I found to be useful, in the part where you were paint brushing the color back to the subject via the mask, was to use the object selection tool (or magic wand), so that the subject is automatically selected and then use the paint bucket to fill in the area selected.

  8. new versions of photoshop have a “select subject” option – it saves a lot of time when I do dozens of images!
    Banding can be avoided by using 32bit mode. Not all filters work in 32bit mode – so beware. Once done, you can go back to 16bits.

  9. Hi Karl,
    I have been struggling for some weeks now to get rid of some nasty reflections in some persons’ eye glasses, can you please advise what steps should be taken in Photoshop to remove that glare?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Bogdan, my usual procedure is to first look at what the issue is, often it is simply a case of the reflection being brighter but the eye and skin is still visible. Sometimes it may also be a little bit green from the tint of the glasses. Make a selection of the area with a selection tool, create a new curves adjustment layer and then use the highlights end of the curve and pull it down on the right. If there is a green tint then pull the green curve down a little from the mid point. Then change the feather of the mask or rework the mask with your brush for best effect. If the detail is difficult to recover then you may need to consider duplicating a layer of just the affected area and using multiply blend mode to build it back up.

  10. MortonVisuals

    So this video was all about fixing a background. I was *really* hoping you’d show how to fix that wrinkled shirt! That’s the challenge I often have – maintaining the texture of the shirt while “ironing” it.

      1. MortonVisuals

        Thank you Karl! I’ve tried this but haven’t been successful with a clean edit yet. Edges show, transitions are apparent…I’ll review the other video again and keep practicing. Thanks!

  11. In the video, when you are about to smooth out the background, you mention that you didn’t blur the entire image and then mask out the gentleman because of the spread of the blur.
    Would this also happen if you turned the layer into a smart object before applying the gaussian blur?

    1. Hi, the idea of this is simple the man needs to be removed before the blur takes place otherwise the man will blur into the background too.

      1. Hi Karl,
        Thanks for the answer, I think my formulation might have been insufficient, let me try again;

        Would turning the gentleman into a smart object before applying the blur effect reduce the blur onto the brackground? Turning him into a smart object makes the effect non-destructive and automatically creates a masking layer to control where the effect is applied – would this work, or does the falloff into the background still happen in this example?

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