Removing unwanted stray hair from a portrait is a regular part of photo retouching. To tackle all the small individual strands might seem like a daunting task at first, but with a few techniques you can master fixing them in a matter of minutes. If you are ready to improve your retouching workflow, this tutorial will teach you how to remove stray hair using Photoshop and show you what methods work best and what mistakes to avoid.
Once you open your image in Photoshop make a copy of the background layer so you can always return to the original image. You can quickly do it by using the shortcut ‘Cmd + J’ (Ctrl + J for Windows); make a habit of doing this with every image you work on. Also, since part of removing hair will involve working with layer masks, you will need an underlying layer for it to work.
The example image used for this tutorial shows a young woman with striking dark hair, unfortunately, the hair was a little messy during the shoot, and the only way to fix it is to remove the unwanted strands to create a neater image.
The Clone Stamp Tool
The first and perhaps the most popular way to remove stray hair is to use the clone stamp tool – shortcut ‘S’ on the keyboard. By using this tool you sample a selection from an area in the image where there is no hair and by painting cover unwanted hair with the selected sample.
When using this tool it is important to select a sample of the background that will blend in seamlessly when replacing the hair. In the case of the example image it works perfectly, since the background is uniform; however, with more cluttered backgrounds you will have to be careful when selecting your sample.
There are three options to consider for the clone stamp tool that you have to be aware of. The hardness – controlling how soft the edges of the selected sample are. The opacity – adjusting how opaque or see-through your sample is. The flow – how quickly the sample get painted on top of the image. There is not one correct setting for the tool and it will require a bit of trial and error to find the right setting. Likely the hardness of the tool will be a lower value to make the sample area blend in seamlessly with the surroundings. The opacity can vary greatly from area to area; however, beware that although at lower opacity levels you have the benefit of retouching the hair in small steps, it can quickly result in texture loss in that area.
Another useful trick is to use the clone stamp tool in different layer blending modes. The best layer blending mode will highly depend on the background and the hair color of the image you are retouching. For darker hair on light background, usually the Lighten mode will work best; for lighter hair on dark background – Darken mode will have the best effect. Once you will find the optimal blend mode you will notice that you can easily remove the hair, without affecting the background extensively.
The Healing Brush Tool
This tool can come particularly handy when working with finer detail, it also can be helpful in correcting the imperfections left by the Clone Stamp tool. You can access this tool using the keyboard shortcut ‘J’. The Healing Brush tool will attempt to recreate an area based on the surrounding texture, color and luminocity.
Similar to the Clone Stamp tool you have the option of setting the size and hardness for the healing brush. The further three options that can significantly change how the healing brush works are Proximity Match, Create Texture and Content-Aware options – for the purpose of removing hair strands the Content Aware option will have best results.
Using Surface Blur Filter
This approach is slightly different that the first two. In this case you will create a new layer, shortcut ‘Cmd + J’ (Ctrl + J for windows), and apply the right amount of Surface Blur, so that none of the stray hair are visible any more. To find the blur effect, go to Filter section of the Photoshop toolbar, find the Blur filters section and select Surface Blur. To effectively remove stray hair, only the Surface blur filter will work, because unlike other blur filters it leaves a sharp edge between high contrast areas.
When you open the filter a new dialog box will open requiring to set the radius and threshold for the filter. Your goal is to find the setting that remove all individual hair strands effectively only leaving the background visible. Usually the radius will be somewhere around 30px, but will depend on the size of your image. The threshold will effect how far you want the blur to disperse – in our case it should be small since we still want a sharp edge between hair and background.
Once you apply the filter, create a mask for this layer by clicking the layer mask icon in the layer panel and invert the mask using the shortcut ‘Cmd + I’ (Ctrl + I for Windows). Your image should now look the same as when you started.
Your goal is to carefully paint the Surface blur filter on top of the image by applying the Brush tool on the mask. Using the white color brush will allow for the layer to show through, and using the black brush will hide that part of the layer.
Surface Blur technique is a very quick method to erase large sections of stray hair; however, you will notice that it also erases noise and texture. To make the erased areas blend in seamlessly with the rest of the image, you will need to add noise to those areas to match that of the original image. To add noise, go to the Filter section of the Photoshop toolbar again, find the Noise section and select ‘Add Noise…’.
This will open a dialog box where you will find similar adjustment to that of the Surface blur filter. Increase the amount of the noise until you see it match that of the original image and click ‘OK’ once you are satisfied.
Aspects worth considering
One of the most common mispractices of applying this kind of edits is the unreal effect applied to the photograph as a consequence of trimming out the hair without much thought. Of course, I’m not meaning going all the way like if we were using the eraser tool or chopping out hair with Paint, but simply sometimes people abuse of these editing effects to end up making a disaster.
Selection sample area for the clone tool is crucial, as sampling from a too far area where the lighting conditions aren’t the same is the main reason why people instantly assume the image was edited. Instead, zoom in and “lose” time going in detail to the areas that need your focus.
Did you find this tutorial useful? Learn how to retouch a portrait further in our comprehensive step by step tutorial.