How To Make Youthful, Glowing Portraits In Under a Minute

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You’ve seen it in magazines, photo websites, advertisements, and loads of other places—that romantic, almost saccharine look applied to an image to soften skin texture and create “glowing” portraits. Here’s how to get that supermodel glow in under a minute.

You can apply this effect to nearly any image, but it will probably do its best work improving portraits or pictures of people. But if you’re like most of us, you probably have a lot of these kinds of pictures. Open up some of them, and see how ridiculously easy it is to apply that warm, professional-looking glow effect.

Getting The Soft Glow Look From Any Image

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You can achieve this look with any image with good contrast, detail, and nice highlights in facial areas, like this one. Today’s demo is in Photoshop, but the core of this howto is GIMP friendly. Start with an image that could benefit from some added drama, like this one.

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Duplicate a copy of your Background layer by right clicking and selecting “Duplicate Layer.” You should have a direct copy of your background as shown above right.

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Adjust the levels on your new copy. Use the levels tool by pressing ctrl L and adjusting the middle and right side sliders.This creates more highlights and brightens midtones. You should try to brighten your image without washing it out completely. When you’re happy with your adjustment, click OK.

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After adjusting levels, navigate to Filter > Gaussian Blur. Blur with a low-medium number that softens detail without completely making the image unrecognizable. Click OK when you’re done.

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Find your layers panel and adjust your “Blending Mode” to “Screen” as shown above.

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And there we have it. Our image is brighter, the skin texture is smoother, and the portrait has a warm glow to it. But let’s take a minute and see if we can’t tweak what we have to get a slightly richer look.

Changing the Seasons, Brightening The Image

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Adding a adjustment layer with a levels effect on top of your other layers can help you soften the image and give it a slightly vintage look. Here, we adjusted the output levels to make our whites more gray and make our midtones brighter. In Photoshop we add an adjustment layer by clicking the adjustment layer in the layers panel. In GIMP, you will have to merge your layers, since it doesn’t have adjustment layer ability.

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Here’s our image with our new levels added. Click the sshot-418 in the “Adjustments” panel to add a “Photo Filter” and change the quality of light the image has. You can create similar effects to the “Photo Filter” adjustment layer with GIMP, but you’ll have to do it manually..

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It’s easy to apply a warming light to the image with a setting like this one.

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And we can create a cooling, almost winter-like feeling with this one.

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Bold users might even try adjusting each channel’s levels (Red, Green, and Blue) separately to get a fun vintage effect. If you’ve never done this, you can check out our older article on adjusting contrast like a pro to see how got it done in either Photoshop or GIMP.


Seen any professional photo effects and you’d like to see us feature here? Have any tricks of your own you think are better? Tell us about them in the comments or email them to us at ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com.

Image Credits: Pretty Girl I Know by Phil Hilfiker, Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 03/5/12
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