Tighten Up the Loose Ends: Liquify Tool in Photoshop CC 2017

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Tighten Up the Loose Ends: Liquify Tool in Photoshop CC 2017 with Dustin Lucas

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When you retouch clients, your changes can’t be noticeable. When it’s obvious that an image has been altered from reality, it’s just tacky. The sensitivity of your client should come into play as well. The last thing you want to do is make them look 30 pounds lighter because you think they will be happier with their images. This is a bad move unless your client requests it.

If I haven’t lost you with the title of this article and you think your clients should remain untouched, as they appeared through your lens, think again. Your lens distorts reality. Stop saying your photography is pure, and get up to speed with the industry. This article takes you through the do’s and don’ts of Liquify and how to navigate through the Liquify panel in Photoshop CC.

Reader beware: We are going to thin real clients and show what else this tool can do. Put your feelings aside and consider using these tips for your post-processing.

Start With the Right Workflow

You are probably wondering at what stage in the post-production you should start retouching. Make your life simple and edit from the Raw file that has been merely color-corrected for basic exposure, color and tone adjustments. Consider this workflow even when you have delivered creative edits to your client. Let’s jump into Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and review our settings.

I typically leave Clarity and Vibrance set to zero when retouching images. Another important element is Lens Correction. We want to remove lens distortion altogether before we start slimming the face and body. Checking this box can sometimes be half the battle. For pincushion distortion, it’s going to make the subject wider. Let’s keep moving.

After making our basic color correction adjustments, we need to adjust some Workflow Options before opening our Raw files in Photoshop. Access these by clicking on the text at the very bottom of the ACR screen displaying color space, bit depth, resolution, camera sensor size and PPI. You’ll notice Adobe 1998 is default and is a suitable color space for a working image in Photoshop. I set resolution to 300 when I’m planning to print images. Don’t worry about this—we are not adding or subtracting pixels here. I leave Output Sharpening unchecked because I will manually sharpen in Photoshop later.

As part of the most important feature of Photoshop, there is a checkbox for Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects. Here is a quick breakdown of what this unique file type does for us. Let’s check this box and begin exploring. After your image opens, you’ll notice the size of the document is larger than normal. This doesn’t mean you just won free pixels from Photoshop. These Smart Object-type image files will get rather large; hopefully you have some decent processing power. Check out Adobe’s website for recommended computer hardware.

Start by double-clicking the preview of your image on the base layer, and you are taken directly back into ACR with your settings still saved. This is an awesome feature that allows for a nondestructive edit all the way back to your Raw settings. This is quite different from the Camera Raw filter in that you have to start from scratch since it’s editing without the previous metadata applied.

Remember, with Smart Objects, you are limited to certain pixel manipulation tools like Content Aware Scale. Why would this be a concern? You can use the very simple Transform tool for thinning, quickly accessed by holding Command and the “T” key. While holding the Option key, click on the centered square on the right side of your image and drag slowly toward the center of your image. We instantly can start slimming down your client. That’s pretty easy.

Now we need to extend our edge back to the original image dimensions. Enter the Content Aware Tool by going to the menu bar and clicking Edit. You’ll notice this tool is grayed out. You must rasterize your layer first. This is why working on separate layers is so important. Always duplicate your base or background layer. Click on the layer you want to duplicate and hold Option + Command while striking the “J” key.

You could simply create a layer mask on your transformed Smart Object layer and paint in the base layer. I think this is a little sloppy unless you have a seamless backdrop. Instead, right-click on the layer and choose Rasterize Layer. Now we can access the Content Aware Tool by holding Shift + Option + Command and striking the “C” key. While holding the Option key, you can click on the centered square on the right side of your image and drag slowly toward the edge of your image. Once you drag to the edge, hit Enter. The last step is to right-click on the layer and click Convert to Smart Object. I’ll explain why next.

Masking Made Easy: Bring Out the Brushes

With your newly converted Smart Object layer, hold Option + Commend while striking the “X” key. Now we are ready to explore the Liquify tool. This panel has individual tools on the left, with settings and sliders on the right. Your mask tool has two options, Freeze and Thaw. The Freeze masking feature is accessed by striking the “F” key. This masks out areas you do not want to affect while using the Liquify tools. Hold the Option key to access the Thaw mask feature. Thaw simply removes the mask altogether for refining your masked area.

Now let’s put this tool into action by drawing the desired curve onto the subject’s body. In this pose, we can simply make the dress and her slightly more shapely. Be subtle with this. Don’t shrink the waist or simply enlarge the chest. I strike the “F” key and draw on my mask by starting at her chest and making the ideal curve down her torso to her hip. I tuck in her dress to give a slightly more flattering curve. Fill in this mask to the center of her torso so the Liquify tool does not distort other unmasked areas. You can invert your mask to draw in a realistic mask. If you are planning to do this on both sides, you can essentially paint on a new dress.

Once I am satisfied, I choose the Push Left Tool by striking the “O” key. This tool operates by clicking-and-dragging upward to push pixels to the left and clicking-and-dragging downward to push them to the right. I suggest enlarging your brush to more than double your widest area being pushed, and start at the bottom of your mask. Center the brush on the area and click-and-drag upward. You should not follow the curve of the mask; instead, drag straight up, and that’s it. If you find yourself clicking and refining the Liquify tool, start over and make your brush bigger. This tool should get the job done in one run.

Now we need to turn off the mask. Do not waste time “thawing” it. Click None on the right side under the Mask Options panel. We can now adjust the image more accurately with the Bloat Tool by striking “B.” This tool bloats, or causes a bulging effect, from the center of the brush. I can use it to fix some of the areas where the Push Left tool overworked the torso. By holding the Option key, I can toggle the Pucker tool. This puckers, or shrinks, an area from the center. In the Brush Tools Options panel on the right side, I can lower the rate of this effect to allow more subtle adjustments. A bigger brush works best.

Let’s look at the Reconstruction and Smooth tools. These allow you to brush back in the original image’s pixels. I love this feature because I can fix some of the overly edited areas that now look soft. This tool is accessible by striking “R.” This is important for working on a Smart Object layer. We can apply the Liquify tool by clicking OK and then come back to the original whenever we want. This allows more flexibility than using a duplicated background layer and having to mask areas in or out. It’s a huge upgrade for this tool.

The original Liquify tool is called Forward Warp. This is a free Transform-style tool that allows you to click and push pixels around. This works well for every slimming application. I applied some to the arms of the client and fixed any areas where we pushed in the waist. This tool works really well for reshaping the face to create a slightly slimmer jawline. For an image like this, we would have to do it by hand since the Face tool is not detecting the client’s face.

Move Those Sliders 

Let’s go back to the first image that we edited with the Transform tool and Content Aware Scale. We can twirl, or rotate, the entire face and specific areas with the Twirl tool. By default, this tool rotates clockwise, or counterclockwise by holding Option. I start with the entire face, then work the specific areas to align the face with the shoulders and make the facial positioning more appealing. It is helpful to use a brush sized bigger than the area you want to affect so it looks cohesive. When I move eyes around, I cover the entire eye socket.

Strike the “A” key to access the Face tool. At last we have detected a face to begin processing. As we hover the cursor over each feature of the face, we can start clicking-and-dragging to transform the shape of the face, cheeks, eyes, nose and mouth. This tool does an amazing job of slimming and elongating the face. Just be careful to not alter the essential look of your client’s face. Fix the distortion of the angle and pose rather than reconstruct someone’s face.

We can lengthen or shorten the forehead by clicking at the top and dragging upward and downward. You’ll notice the slider panel following suit. The same goes for the Chin Height found at the bottom of the highlighted face. The Jawline and Face Width can both be adjusted from the sides. You have to be careful when slimming the face because this does not adjust the neck. Adjustments need to be proportionate to other areas of the body. This is where the Forward Warp tool comes back into play: to lengthen the neck and adjust the width for the slimming of the face. Treat the Liquify tool like a scale, and maintain balance.

You can open up the eyes if they’re slightly squinted to bring them closer together. Rotate the eyes with the Twirl tool. I like to balance them as well. Eye Tilt can fine-tune this for you as well. Adjust it by clicking between the eye and the edge of the face and dragging upward or downward. You can do this in the slider panel on the right side of the screen as well. When you adjust the height of the squinted eye to match the other, compare how much larger the iris gets. Use the Bloat tool to increase the iris of the other eye to better balance them.

Perform a nose job for the client with two simple adjustments of width and height. Again, focus on proportion with the rest of the face. This is a similar rule for the mouth except you can dramatize the smile. Let’s exaggerate the smile on another image. This feature drags the corners of the mouth upward. Now we need to increase the size of the lips. Make sure you are happy with the Face Width and Jawline, because we will need to adjust those first. Adjust the neckline with Forward Warp to make the slimming effect more proportional. Click OK, and you are done.

The Results

You can spend a day trying to make a client appear more flattering than the pose and lens captured. Your clients do not need the level of Photoshopping typical of an editorial shoot. Keep it more natural. Remember: The more you warp the client, the more work you create. Liquify can be a dangerous tool. Keep it simple, and you can’t go wrong. Start with the Transform trick, and work your way to the Forward Warp tool.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.