Retouching hair: removing strands

by Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby shows you how to add highlights, remove strands, fix gaps, change color, darken a part line, and hide roots when retouching hair in Photoshop. In this episode, Scott will tackle adding highlights to otherwise dull hair.

Scott Kelby photo retouchingScott writes:

quoting This is another one of those little things that makes a big difference, and once you take the few extra minutes to remove stray hairs, when you see portraits where the photographer didn’t take the time, they stick out like a sore thumb. Luckily, this one is much easier and faster than you might think (as long as the stray hairs extend outside of your subject, which is usually the case. If they cover an eye, or extend onto their face or clothes, be prepared to become a very patient person). end quote

removing strands of hair

Step One: Here’s the image we want to retouch, and if you look closely, the subject’s hair is...well...it could use some anti-static retouching—mostly on top, and a bit on the side, and there’s one hair extending onto her forehead we should probably fix while we’re there, too. Start off by duplicating the Background layer by pressing Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J). We’ll be doing all our stray hair removal on this layer (which not only gives us an out if things get really squirrelly, but it’s a great way to see a quick before/after).

my tool of choice for this is the Clone Stamp tool

Step Two: Because we’re going to have to trim right up to the sides of the hair, the Healing Brush isn’t going to work well on this retouch—it would smear the edges when we got up close to the outside edge of her hair. So, instead, my tool of choice for this is the Clone Stamp tool (S), with a hard-edged brush, like the one you see me choosing here from the Brush Picker. Now, it’s time to zoom in (to at least 100%) and get to work. (Note: If your background isn’t an even color, you may have to start with the Healing Brush tool, and switch to the Clone Stamp tool as you get closer to her head.)

Step Three: The actual brush size you choose should be just a little bit larger than the hairs you want to remove, so don’t just go with the size I’m using here for your other projects. Look at the hair strands and choose your brush size based on that—a little larger than the strand you’re trying to remove.

Now, pick a starting point where you can follow around the head and not miss any spots (I’m starting on the lower-left side of the photo here). Here’s what to do now: press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and click once just outside the strand you want to remove, in a clean area without any hair. It needs to be pretty darn close, so the color, tone, and texture you’re sampling here are nearly identical to what’s around the strand you’re about to remove.

use the clone tool (rubber stamp) to carefully cover hairs

Step Four: Start at the end of the hair farthest away from the head, and follow along the path of the hair, almost like you’re tracing it, and stop when you reach her head (as seen above, right). The little plus sign to the left of my brush tip cursor shows you how close to where I’m painting I sampled (Option-clicked) in the previous step. Don’t sample so close that you clone over yourself (and repeat some of the hair you’re trying to remove), but get fairly close. If you make a mistake, just press Command-Z (PC: Ctrl-Z) to Undo your last stroke and try again. If you need to undo more than one stroke, press Command-Option-Z (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Z) up to 20 times to undo your last 20 steps (that’s all you get by default). If you think you’ll need more undos, then you and I need to have a talk (kidding!). Go to Photoshop’s Preferences (under the Photoshop menu on a Mac, or the Edit menu on a PC), to Performance, and where it says History & Cache, type in a higher number of History States. It takes up more memory, but you get more undos.

NEXT: Now using this process, let's fix other problems in this image...

... continues on the next page!