Ok, just a bit of a warning to start off with. This tutorial is lonnnnnnng. Did I say long? It’s almost endless. But it’s good info if you’ve never used an action in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, or if you’ve never used layer masks.

If you just need a refresher, you might start with the sections on Adjustment Layers, Layers Masks and Selecting a Brush. And you might need to refer back to those sections throughout the tutorial.

And don’t get discouraged. Stick with it, because Rita’s latest free action is awesome. It is truly all you need for making a portrait extra special.

Install and Run CoffeeShop Perfect Portrait Free Action

  • If you don’t already have CoffeeShop Perfect Portrait, download it.  See these instructions for installing actions in PSE 4, 5, 6 & 7 on Vista and XP if you need help.
  • Open Elements, and open a portrait that you would like to spruce up.  Make sure the image is flattened (only has one layer).  If not, right click on the Layers Palette and select Flatten Image
  • Make sure you are in the Full Edit workspace (see image below).
  • Press the button in the Effects Palette that says Photo Effects when you hover your mouse over it (see image below).  (These last two steps, among others, may vary according to the version of PSE that you own.  Instructions for accessing your installed actions in your specific version of PSE are on the installation help pages.

Photoshop Elements Workspace


  • Scroll down in the Photo Effects Palette until you see the CoffeeShop Perfect Portrait Thumbnail.


  • Double click on the Perfect Portrait thumbnail and you will get this message from Rita:

Welcome to CoffeeShop Perfect Portrait!  Please adjust color/contrast when the level’s adjustment layer pops up.  Then let the action run and make final adjustments after it is finished.

Adjust Levels

  • Click Continue, then OK in the New Layer Dialogue Box.
  • Next, the Levels Adjustment box opens.  All the pros say that just about every picture can use some levels work.  But, if the colors in your picture look correct, click OK to proceed to the next section.
  • If you do want to adjust your picture’s color tones, click on the black eyedropper, then click on something that should be black in your image. The key words here are should be.  The beauty of Levels is that you identify what should be black and what should be white and Elements will set black and white points, plus all colors in between, accordingly.

 Levels Adjustment box


  • Now, if you need to set the white point also because the color still doesn’t look right, you can click on the white eyedropper and then click on something that should be white.  Keep clicking with both eyedroppers if you’re not happy with the results. 
  • You can also adjust the Input Levels sliders to fine-tune your color adjustments.  The left slider (above the number 0 in the image above) adjusts shadows, the middle slider adjusts mid-tones and the right slider adjusts highlights.  I often use the eyedroppers for shadows & highlights (blacks and whites) and use the slider for the mid-tones.
  • You can hit Reset if you don’t like your adjustments and want to start over.  However, if you click Cancel, you will have to start over with the whole action.  Click Ok when you are happy with your adjustments.

Adjust Brightness and Color Saturation

  • The action will complete its processing.
  • Look at your Layers Palette, usually on the right hand side of the screen.  If you can’t find yours, pull down the Window menu at the top of the screen and put a check next to Layers.
  • In the Layers Palette, you should see 13 layers (from bottom to top):
    • Background
    • Sharpen
    • Brighten
    • Vivid Color
    • Color Pop
    • Urban Grit
    • White Teeth
    • White Whites
    • Eye Define
    • Bright Eyes
    • Soft Skin
    • Dodge/Burn
    • Vignette


Notes on Using Adjustment Layers and Layer Masks

Looking at the image of the Layers Palette below, a few notes will be helpful before we continue. 

  • First off, the active layer is the layer that is darker gray – the Color Pop layer is active in this case.  You can activate any layer by clicking on it, and you can’t make changes to a layer unless it is active.



  • The eyeballs on the far left of each layer indicate that the layer is turned on.  Clicking on the eyeball will turn the layer off and hide its effects.
  • Each layer has an opacity that can be adjusted at the top right hand corner of the Layers Palette.  The current opacity of this Color Pop layer is 50%.  That means that the strength of the effect is 50% of its potential.  0% means that the effect isn’t showing at all, and 100% means that it is showing at full strength.
  • The Blending Mode is the box near the top left that says Soft Light for this particular layer.
  • Each of the layers in the image above have a black or white box almost in the middle of the layer.  This is the Layer Mask.  (Note that not all layers created by the Perfect Portrait action have layer masks.)
  • Layer Masks are used to mask (hide) any given effect or enhancement from part of your image.  Where the Layer Mask is white, the effect shows through.  Where the Layer Mask is black, the effect is hidden.  And if there is a shade of gray on the Layer Mask, the effect is partially revealed.  So you can see from these layer masks that the completely white ones are showing the effects of that layer on all parts of the image.  And the black layer masks are hiding the effects on all parts of the image. 
  • To “unmask” part of an image hidden behind a black layer mask, we will use a white paint brush to paint whatever we want to be affected by that layer.  And we will paint in black over parts that we don’t want to affect.


Select Color Options and Use Layer Masks

  • Perfect Portrait has one layer for brightening an image and three variations on color and appearance (Vivid Color, Color Pop and Urban Grit).  You can use any or all of these on any given image, although I usually use Brighten plus only one of the others.
  • Also, I usually apply the layer mask to constrain the effect to part of the image rather than the whole picture.  Skin in particular often isn’t improved by the Vivid, Color Pop or Urban Grit treatments.  You can also paint in white where you want the full effect, and paint in light opacity black (= gray) where you want a muted effect.  More on light opacity below. . . . Following is an example of using a layer mask on the Color Pop layer.
  • I want to enhance the color of my daughter’s dress, but don’t want her skin to change.  First, I make sure the layer is active by looking for the eyeball on the Color Pop layer.  Then, I click on the Layer Mask itself to activate it – an active layer mask will be on a layer with a darker background than the other layers, AND the layer mask will be outlined in white.
  • This step is very important and is worth repeating.  The Layer Mask thumbnail must be outlined in white, otherwise the mask isn’t active and won’t work.  See the white line around the Color Pop Layer Mask thumbnail in the image below on the right?



  • On my activated Color Pop Layer Mask, I’m going to first fill the entire layer with black, because the part of the image I don’t want to “Pop” is bigger than the part I do want to “Pop” (my daughter’s dress).
  • To fill the layer with black:
    • Press D to set the colors to Default Black and White
    • If Black isn’t the foreground color (see image below), press X or click on the double-headed arrow between the two color swatches in the tool box.
    • Click on the paint can tool in the Tool Bar.
    • With the Color Pop Layer Mask active, click once on the image itself and the effect will be hidden.
  • Now, we’re going to paint in white on the dress, so that the “Pop” will return just to that area.


Selecting a Brush

  • Press B to select the Brush tool, or click on the Brush Tool icon in the Tool Box.  If your brush doesn’t look like the one in the image below, right click on the icon and select the Regular Brush Tool.
  • Press X to change the foreground color from black to white.

 Tool Bar


  • After selecting the Brush Tool, choose a soft round brush by clicking on the drop-down arrow in the Tool Options Bar near the top left corner of your workspace.  Select the Default Brushes category.  When you hover your mouse over a brush tip, the brush’s name will appear.  The number under the picture of the brush is its size in pixels. 

Brush Options


Brush Selection


  • You can adjust the size of your brush at any point using the menu at the top of your workspace in the size field.  Also, make sure here that the mode is Normal and Opacity is 100%. 
  • Using this brush, I’m going to paint in white over the parts of the picture where I want the color to Pop.  Double check that the Layer Mask thumbnail is outlined in white!  Are you tired of hearing that yet?
  • When brushing, use short strokes, releasing your mouse frequently.
  • To help you locate what you have painted already, click on the layer mask thumbnail while clicking shift + alt.  The masked area will be red.  Click + shift + alt again to turn off the red masking.
  • As an alternative to the brush, you can use a selection tool to select the area that you want to Pop, and fill that area with white using the Paint Can tool.  On my picture, the Quick Selection Tool worked very well to select the dress.
  • After masking the effect as needed, adjust the opacity of the Color Pop layer by using the Opacity Slider at the top right hand corner of the Layers Palette.  Click on the arrow next to 100% and the slider will appear.  100% means that the effect is showing at full force and 0% means that it isn’t showing at all.
  • Here is a screen shot of my layers palette after masking the Color Pop layer.  The white part is Popped, and the black part (everything except the dress) is masked.  You can see from the Opacity box at the top right corner of the Layers Palette that I’m using this layer at 35% opacity.



Sharpen Layer

  • If you want to sharpen your photo, turn on the Sharpen layer by clicking on the eyeball square.  You can use the opacity slider to reduce the amount of sharpening, if you don’t like it at 100%. To adjust the Sharpen layer, make sure you click on it first in the Layers Palette to activate it. 
  • The Sharpen Layer has a mask, so that you can sharpen only certain parts of your image.

Whiten Teeth

  • Click on the White Teeth Layer Mask in your Layers Palette to activate it. 
  • Zoom way in to enlarge the teeth, using the magnifying glass tool at the top of the Tool Box.  (I zoom in until the teeth are as large as they can be without losing detail due to pixelization.)
  • Select a very small brush.  It should be smaller than each tooth and small enough that you can follow the curves of the tooth without “going outside the lines” of the tooth.
  • Make sure that the brush Blending Mode is set to Normal, using the Brush Tool Options Bar.  (See image above – this is not the same as the layer blending mode.)  If your brush Blending Mode is not set to Normal, click on the arrow to pull down the menu.  Normal is the first option at the top of the list; however, sometimes you can’t see it and there are no scroll bars to move up and down.  If you can’t see Normal, use the up arrow to navigate to the top of the list.
  • Make sure that white is your foreground color.
  • I like to paint with the brush at 100% opacity, which looks terrible.  After painting, I dial back the layer opacity to a low level.  Alternatively, you can paint with a low opacity brush and keep the layer opacity at 100%.
  • Using your mouse as a paint brush, sweep over each tooth individually to whiten.  Undo (control + z) if you go outside the lines.  You could also change your brush to black and paint over any changes that you want to delete.  If you want to ditch all your changes and start over, go to the Edit Menu, select Fill Layer and select Black from the drop-down menu in the Contents box.  Set the Blending Mode to Normal and opacity to 100%.

Whiten Eyes

  • Click on the White Whites Layer Mask thumbnail to activate it.  Make sure that the black Layer Mask thumbnail on this layer has a white outline around it.
  • Zoom in to enlarge the eyes.
  • Follow the steps above to choose brush settings, or use the same settings from the Whiten Teeth step.
  • Paint in white over only the whites of the eyes to remove redness.
  • Adjust the layer’s opacity as needed.  I used about 50%


Eye Define

  • This layer will sharpen the eyes and help them pop.
  • Click on the black layer mask thumbnail of the Eye Define layer to activate both the layer and the layer mask.  Double check that the layer mask thumbnail has a white outline around it.
  • Use a brush no wider than an eyelash, or decrease the size of the brush when you are ready to define the eyelashes.
  • Make sure the foreground color is white.
  • Brush over the entire eye, including the rims where the eyeliner would go.  Brush up each eyelash individually.
  • Adjust the layer’s opacity if needed.


Bright Eyes

  • Click on the Bright Eyes layer in the Layers Palette to activate it.
  • Select a brush, as noted above.  I used a very small brush at about 10% opacity.
  • With white paint, paint over the colored part of the iris only.  Avoid the pupil and rim of the iris. 
  • If you want to delete your changes to this layer and start over, fill the layer with 50% gray, as explained in the Whiten Teeth section.
  • Try switching the color to black (type X) and paint over the pupil, rim of iris, eye liner lines and each individual lash.
  • Adjust the Bright Eyes layer’s opacity to taste.


Soft Skin

  • Click on the black layer mask thumbnail box of the Soft Skin layer to activate both the layer and the layer mask.  (Notice that I didn’t say double check that the black box has a white outline around it here?  Oops, guess I did!)
  • Select a brush.  I used a small brush at 15% opacity in the normal Blending Mode.
  • Make sure that the foreground color is white.
  • Brush over the areas where you would like the skin to look softer and smoother.  It might take more than one pass with the brush to achieve the desired effect.  You can also use this layer, possibly with a higher opacity brush, to slightly blur the background.
  • Adjust the layer’s opacity if needed.


Dodge/Burn Layer

  • Use the Dodge/Burn layer to darken or lighten highlights and shadows of your image, if necessary.
  • With a black brush, paint over areas that are too light or that you would like to de-emphasize.  Adjust the brush’s opacity, as needed.
  • With a white brush, brush over skin or other dark parts to brighten it up (you should probably increase the brush size before working on the skin).  Special tip straight from the brilliant Rita at CoffeeShop:  A very low opacity (5-10%) brush can give you that light porcelain skin tone that is so popular these days.


Vignette Layer

  • Running the image turns on the Vignette automatically.  You can turn it off by clicking the eyeball.  To adjust it, click on the layer to activate it.  Reduce the opacity if needed.  Also, you can experiment with blending modes on this layer.  Multiply will increase the  effect.  I sometimes like Soft Light or Overlay as well.


Flatten the Image

  • That should do it!  To flatten the image, right click on one of your layers in the layers palette and select Flatten.  Flattening is especially useful is you want to apply further edits to your picture.


1st Birthday