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Digital Painting Lesson: How to Create a Photo Realistic Portrait

Digital Painting Lesson: How to Create a Photo Realistic Portrait

Have you ever wanted to learn how to digitally paint?

I don’t blame you, it’s an awesome skill to have!

Digital painting can really let you show off your artistic side, and by being digital and therefore non-destructive can be a very forgiving progress when done right.

Whilst a lot of the techniques you’ll need are similar to traditional drawing, the workflow can be quite different.

In this tutorial we are going to digitally paint a photo-realistic portrait of a model in photoshop. This tutorial explains the simple steps behind creating a complex digital art work.

Tutorial Requirements:

1. Wacom Bamboo or Intuos.

2. Basic knowledge in Photoshop.

3. Proficiency in Traditional drawing and painting skills.

Final Outcome:

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Resources Used In This Tutorial

Step 1

Open a new canvas in Photoshop and fill the canvas with colors #dedcdd and #4e4c4d gradient.

Step 2

Before going further with the tut go to Window>Arrange>2-Up Vertical. Now you can have the reference image and workspace side by side, so that it would be easy to review your progress with the reference image.

- Create a new layer and draw a rough outline sketch of the model as shown.

Step 3

In this step we will be painting rough structure of the model, which will be the base of whole process.

1) Using the color #b7b7b7 paint the skin area of the model as shown.

2) Now by using the Black color paint the hair of the model.

Step 4

Create a new layer under the base color layers and paint dark shades behind the shoulders as shown.

Step 5

Now paint the eyes and lips of the model as shown in different layers. Just remember, this is the initial concept stage so you can keep the shapes rough because we will work on every part in detail later.

Step 6

In this step we are going to work on the details of the hair.

1) Select a hair brush and paint the dark black hair over the previously painted hair shape. Make sure the sharp edges of the hair shape are not visible.

2) Now by using the same hair brush paint the shade part of the hair with white color as seen in the reference image.

3) Paint the details of the hair roots and scalp on the head as shown.

Step 7

Create a new layer above the skin tone layer and paint the light shade on the body of the model as shown using the color #dbdbdb.

Step 8

In this step we are going to paint the nose. Nose is one of the vital parts of the face, which could define the whole beauty of the image, so we need to concentrate and take time in painting it.

1) Using the soft round brush paint the nose as shown with the colors Black and #dbdbdb. This is where your traditional drawing and painting skills are put into serious action. People proficient with pencil shading could find this easy.

- Use of Wacom Bamboo is required to get this right. Wacom Intuos5 is recommended as it has 2048 pressure levels, which could help you get much better result.

2) Now paint a thin shadow on the left side of the nose as shown.

3) Using the Soft Round Brush paint dark shadow under the nose as shown in the reference image.

Step 9

Now paint the shade of the upper lip fold as shown. Every small facial detail is vital while trying for photo-realism.

Step 10

In this step we are going to paint the shadow under the lower lip.

1) Using the Soft Round Brush paint the shadow under the lower lip as shown.

2) Now darken the lower lip shadow to define the shape of the chin bone.

3) In a new layer paint the light shades as shown and reduce the Opacity of it’s layer to 41%.

Step 11

In this step we will be working on painting the eyebrows.

1) Create a new layer and paint the basic shape of the eyebrows as shown. Make sure the shape of the eyebrows is accurate with the reference image.

2) Now darken the eye brows using the Black color with Soft Round Brush in a new layer.

3) Now duplicate the previously created dark eyebrow layer and go to Filters> Blur>Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 2.9px.

4) Group all the eyebrow layers into a single folder and create an Exposure adjustment layer to it and set the Exposure level to -7.82 and Gamma Correction to 0.23.

Step 12

In this step we will be concentrating on refining the facial details.

1) By using the Soft Round Brush paint the shadow of the eyelids and the nose bone as shown.

2) Now darken the previously painted shadows to make them more visible and match the reference image.

Step 13

In this step we are going to paint the cheeks shadow to define the cheeks shape.

1) Create a new layer and paint the cheeks shadow as seen in the reference image. This shade is very crucial as this defines the shape of the whole look of the face.

2) Now create a new layer and paint darker shade on the cheeks as shown.

Step 14

In this step we are going to define the body shapes by painting the shadows on.

1) Create a new layer and paint the body shadow as shown. Be very careful while defining the shoulder, chest and neck bone shapes.


2) Now darken the body shadows in a new layer as shown.

Step 15

In this step we are going to work on detailing the armpits.

1) Using the Soft Round Brush darken the armpits as shown.

2) Now by using the same brush paint the dark curved shadow as shown to depict the shoulder joint.

Step 16

In this step we are going to work on the Neck.

1) Create a new layer and paint dark shadow on the sides of the neck as shown.

2) Now paint the shape of the throat in the center on the neck as shown.

Step 17

In this step we are going to work on detailing the body and neck.

1) Using the Soft Round brush enhance the shadows and light shades near shoulder bones, neck and chest.

2) Now duplicate the previously created shadow-enhancing layer to make the shadows look a bit darker.

3) Create a new layer and paint dark shadow on the sides of the neck as shown to make it look darker.

Step 18

Create a new layer and paint the dark shadow under the chin as shown. This defines the accurate shape of the chin.

Step 19

Now paint the hair shadow on the left side of the face as shown. This is one of the small details that add great value to the portrait.

Step 20

Select the eye layers and add a Gaussian Blur of Radius 2.4px, to make the eyes shape blend with the portrait rather than leaving it to look distinct with sharp edges.

Step 21

In this step we will be painting the details around the eyes.

1) Using the Soft Round brush paint the wrinkle under the eye as shown.

2) Now enhance the shadow over the left eyelid and eyebrow as shown.

3) Similarly paint the dark wrinkle under the right eye and enhance the shadows over the eyelid.

Step 22

In this step we are going to paint the eyeballs and eyelashes with every minor details involved.

1) Using the Hair brush paint the eyelashes as shown over the eyes, then by using the Soft Round Brush paint the eyeballs as it is in the reference image.

2) Now create a new layer under the previously created eyeballs layer and paint a slight gray color on the right eye as shown.

3) Merge all the eyelids and eyeball layers into a single layer and add a Gaussian Blur of Radius 1.0px.

Step 23

Select the Skin Texture Brush and paint the skin texture all over the body as shown to make the skin look natural rather than leaving it smooth.

Step 24

In this step we are going to work on the details of the lips.

1) Using the Soft round brush make the lips look darker with black color.

2) Paint the lip-gloss on the upper lip as seen in the reference image.

3) Now paint a thicker dark shade in-between the lips as shown.

4) Now create a new layer under the lip-gloss layer and paint the lips texture using the lips brush.

5) Similarly paint the lip texture on the upper lip as shown to make the lips look natural.

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

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About the Author:

I'm a freelance graphics designer and the Founder of Zillionarts and ZillionArts Workshop. Here we ought to provide the best training on Digital Painting and Visual Effects host by the experienced pros from the Hollywood and Gaming Industry. I work constantly to explore more possibilities and techniques to bring my imaginary worlds to live. You can follow me on Deviantart.

Leave a comment

8 Comments:

  1. Papiya says:

    Great tutorial. You have done really a awesome job. This tutorial is very much helpful for the beginner.

  2. Eric Vasquez says:

    Cool tutorial! I enjoyed reading through this one as someone who has been studying and trying my hand at digital painting for a little while now. The steps are easily broken down into parts and they are well written. I think Model Mayhem is a great source for reference and love the image you chose for the lesson. The one thing about the final image that keeps distracting me is the hard outline on the bottom of the nose. In the reference it appears to be a bit softer, maybe darker as well? I think perhaps just softening or blurring that hard edge would help since skin doesn’t usually have too many hard shadows because it’s not as reflective as other types of materials. That being said, it’s just something that I noticed but I love the final outcome! Great job.

  3. Krishna says:

    Fantastic Tutorial and guide you have provided here, I personally liked this, and also created my own digital painting (still copy paste everything which you told in post) Thanks!

  4. Wanda aka Fanta! says:

    When the first time i look at this tutorial, i just can say “WOW!Its fantastic and interesting! i have to read and practice by myself!”
    So, after i read this, i feel so excited!
    You make me so curious about this drawing technic… I will try it soon!

    Thankyou!

  5. engy says:

    Thank you so much for this great tutorial:)
    It was clear and detailed

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