Amazing Digital Makeup Transformation by Master Retoucher Katja de Bruijn

Amazing Digital Makeup Transformation by Master Retoucher Katja de Bruijn

With nearly a decade of professional experience shooting beauty photography, pro photographer Katja de Bruijn has evolved into a master Photoshop retoucher.

Her expert work has been selected by ad agencies around the world, printed in countless beauty and fashion magazines, even published by the Dutch version of Playboy.

Katja has intelligently defied common Photoshop trends that leave models looking fake and plastic, choosing instead to develop a realistic retouching style that allows enhanced beauty to remain natural and imperfect. By editing mindfully to avoid an over-processed image, Katja’s work is more authentic, more human, much more real.

She was kind enough to share with us some of her inside tips for applying digital makeup in Photoshop. Read on as Katja de Bruijn personally walks us through her digital makeup process, step by step.

Why Apply Digital Makeup?

Obviously the applications are quite limited. Digital makeup can never replace conventional makeup—just think of the added cost! A makeup artist needs an hour to work on a model while a retoucher will require at least an hour to finish just one photo.

But digital makeup poses an interesting challenge and is a good skill to practice. These Photoshop techniques will be useful as you edit future work.


About The Original Photo

The choice of model and photo was deliberate. First of all, I needed a photo completely without makeup. This was no problem as the whole purpose of the shoot was to apply digital makeup afterwards, so we started with a clean face. Secondly, I wanted the extra challenge of a face with freckles! Finally, I needed a photo from the front with the right crop. As for lighting, I lit the image with an umbrella.

The Photoshop Edit

Retouching The Skin

I started to edit the skin layer by layer:


Each stage of the digital makeup application.

  • With the Primer Layer, we smooth the skin a bit. A normal primer reduces shine and makes the skin more even in color and texture. In Photoshop, use a very low opacity brush of the skin color in the Normal or Darken Blending Mode. Add a small curves adjustment to brighten the skin a little.
  • The Foundation Layer is an opaque layer, similar to real foundation. The Photoshop tools are the same as the Primer Layer, but more intense. Use a low opacity Healing and Clone brush to reduce blemishes (but don’t remove them completely).
  • The Powder Layer reduces the shine. Use a subtle brush with color in the Darken Blending Mode to only affect the lighter spots.
  • The Concealer Layer is for me usually a Dodge action applied to the area around the eyes, nose and lips.

Digital Makeup For The Eyes

Next we’re going to work on the eyes. This is also done layer by layer:


  • Lights Shades layer is nothing more than Sharpening of the skin around the eyes and increasing the contrast.
  • Smokey Group includes a dark eyeshadow (Levels Adjustment), a layer with blue accents (another Levels Adjustment) and Eyeliner (Black brush on an empty layer)
  • The next layer (moving up in the layer tree) is Eyebrows Lighter here we brush over the eyebrow hairs with a low opacity brush.
  • Blush Layer is a simple Curves Adjustment to make her cheeks darker and redder.
  • Next we have the Lashes Group, where we reconstruct new eyelashes by drawing on an empty layers and borrowing them from other photos.
  • The Lips Group contains multiple layers to soften the texture of the lips. A highlight on Cupid’s Bow accentuated the shine. I borrowed this from another photo. The shine from the lower lip was also borrowed from another photo.


All the make-up layers were placed in the “LOOK” group to quickly toggle the before and after:


I have to add that digital makeup is something best attempted when you already have a good basis in Photoshop and conventional makeup. There are many different approaches to working on colors and textures, creating different effects, and applying those to other aspects of the retouching process with which you are already familiar.


My greatest inspiration, if you want a cheat sheet, in the well-known book Makeup Your Mind by Francois Nars. In this book you will see a lot of before and after faces with every detail perfectly photographed. You will see different skin types. It’s very useful for a retoucher to study how a face really changes under makeup. What happens with the skin? How are the textures? Furthermore, it explains exactly which products were used. In short, with this book open, I started to experiment with makeup in Photoshop.

Five Digital Makeup Tips

  1. Applying digital makeup is best done according to the same protocol as when you do it in real life. In other words, layer by layer, applying the products, but now in Photoshop. Perhaps not everyone will agree with me, but I really believe it is the right way.
  2. Always work in layers and save them till the end. I am not usually in favor of working with layers (I only do that for customers sometimes), but with this kind of process it is important that you can always correct things. That’s the first principle of non-destructive work.
  3. Keep your layers organized and named. For example, create layer groups, such as “Lips”, “Eyes”, etc. This way you can always easily find what you are looking for. Also if another team member has to work on the same files, they will always be able to find what they’re are looking for in a mountain of layers. Unnamed layers is bad practice.
  4. If you want to apply digital makeup realistically you should also learn how to use conventional makeup. You don’t have to become a makeup artist yourself, but the more you know about physical makeup, the more confident you’ll feel during this process. So carefully follow what your makeup artist does during shoots and buy a few books on makeup. Or just watch YouTube tutorials on makeup, they’re good enough.
  5. It’s certainly useful to occasionally borrow from your other photos, especially when you can’t figure out how to create a particular effect manually. For example, I borrowed lip gloss and a few lashes in this photo from my other photos.

Thanks again to Katja de Bruijn for her expert beauty retouching tips! You can see more of her outstanding photography and retouching work over at Iconogenic.

Photo credits
© Katja de Bruijn

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Written by Hillary Fox

Founder of OnGoingPro, Hillary Fox is a travel and lifestyle photographer working throughout Europe and Africa. Visit her site at

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