Generate Smiles With Photoshop’s Face-Aware Liquify Tool

Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool
About a year ago Adobe updated Photoshop CC to add some tremendous portrait retouching capabilities to the Liquify tool, namely, what Adobe’s designers call Face-Aware Liquify. Liquify, you may know, has always been useful for pushing and pulling and expanding and contracting and generally reshaping image elements. It’s such a powerful way to modify images. (Check out Digital Photo’s recent debate on the merits of the new Lightroom changes.)

A lot can be done with the plain old Liquify tool, whether you’re working with portraits or anything else. But Liquify really excels when you employ the seriously amazing tools of Face-Aware Liquify. The application automatically understands facial features, enabling photographers to simply adjust sliders for elements like eye size, shape and position, as well as many other facial features. It’s pretty cool stuff. Here’s how it works.

Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool

To use Face-Aware Liquify, simply open the Liquify tool under the Filter menu. The Face-Aware controls not only are built right into the same Liquify interface, but they’re featured prominently at the top. It’s likely the first place a portrait photographer is going to visit when using the Liquify tool. You can select which face in the image you would like to modify (if the image contains multiple subjects) by clicking the dropdown menu above the first set of sliders.

Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool

From there, the Face-Aware tools are broken down by facial feature, followed by the sliders for each adjustment. So, for instance, under the Eyes heading are sliders for adjusting Eye Size, Height, Width, Tilt and Distance. Dragging the left slider up or down adjusts the left eye, plus or minus. Clicking the Lock icon between the two sliders makes the adjustment uniform between eyes. In this way, the tool is useful for correcting issues where one eye is slightly larger, or more open, than another, or when a subject squints too much when they smile, or simply when they would like a little work done to their eyes. I find that portrait subjects regularly request this sort of fix.

Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool

Another thing portrait subjects often request is to thin their face (which can be done with the tools under the Face Shape heading in Face-Aware Liquify), to shrink their nose (which can be adjusted based on height and width) or to modify a mouth shape—rectifying thin lips, for instance, or a smile that’s not quite right. With smiles, actually, there are some especially powerful adjustments that can be made with Face-Aware controls; you actually can make a portrait subject smile.

Under the Mouth heading, you’ll notice that the first slider is for Smile. Adjusting it to the right will enhance a smile by turning the mouth up at the ends, while moving the Smile slider to the left will shrink a smile, turning the ends of the mouth down slightly. It’s amazing how well these subtle adjustments work, and how they can dramatically change the subject’s expression, much less the entire shape of their face.

When it comes specifically to adding a smile with the Liquify tool, I do add two more subtle adjustments outside of Face-Aware Liquify. I like to use the standard Brush tool in the Liquify palette to manually push around the features of the smile—namely, turning it up more specifically at the edges as needed, and generally reshaping the mouth into a more natural-looking smile. I then turn my attention to the eyes, because a real smile requires cooperation of the eyes, as well. I find that manually turning up the outside corners of the eyes, as the facial muscles do with a real, sincere smile (a term sometimes called a “smize,” for smiling with the eyes, or kind of like a “squinch” because of the way the eyes squint with a real smile), is a great way to add a bit more believability to your manmade smile.

Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool
Before applying the Face-Aware Liquify tool
Photoshop Face-Aware Liquify tool
After applying the Face-Aware Liquify tool

All of the Face-Aware Liquify tools can be accessed in another way that some photographers might prefer since it’s technically a more “hands-on” approach. By clicking the silhouette of the head and shoulders on the left-hand Liquify tool menu, you can access the Face-Aware Liquify tools by hovering the mouse over the image element you’d like to adjust. Move to the eyes, and you’ll see a group of eye-adjustment triangles appear. Move to the mouth, and smile adjustment triangles appear. Grab these little triangles and move them around to make subtle adjustments with direct clicks and drags.

Remember, with these tools, a little goes a long way. Less is often more, and even subtle adjustments will make a big impact and are less likely to render an image unusable due to pushing it too far. Between traditional Liquify tools and Face-Aware Liquify, there’s almost no end to the big-time adjustments you can make to a portrait subject’s face. That it can be done so easily is really impressive.

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