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Tips & Tricks

How To Fix & Whiten Teeth In Photoshop The Right Way

By Kishore Sawh on October 2nd 2014


Good dental hygiene. It’s just so important. Not only because teeth are, after a point, very unforgiving and costly to repair, but also good teeth and a bright smile are immensely attractive. So there really is no substitute for taking care of your teeth – or is there? Well, in the realm of Photoshop, physical flaws are only an inconvenience waiting to be made right, and Aaron Nace is just the hygienist to take a Quasimodo grin, turn it into smile worthy of a Cosmo cover, and show you how it’s done. Won’t do anything for your breath though…

Joking aside, just as in person, and perhaps more so in a photo, discolored and misshapen teeth can be the crumbling pillars of an image. From being just a pesky distraction, they can steal all the attention from an otherwise wonderful image of a pretty person. To achieve the look you are going for in Photoshop, there is no set path, but the route Aaron demonstrates is a bit more in depth than what I find many do, and the resulting finished product is that much more appealing.


While it seems to some that simply desaturating teeth to remove stains is the easy and acceptable fix, it should be noted that there is more to be done once a closer inspection of teeth is taken. Aaron approaches teeth by viewing them with 3 different layers which need to be addressed separately: the outer sheen, inner white and then darker areas, and he shows how just using layer masks and some blending tools the three can be quickly dealt with.

After administering the adjustments to color, you’ll see how using the liquify tool can take some disorderly teeth, and make them into something worthy of flashing for paparazzi.

[REWIND: F-Stops & T-Stops? Which One Matters To You & Why]


Thoughts & A Word On Thinking About Details

Aaron, as always, does a wonderful job breaking down the steps, and teaching little tricks along the way, having you arrive at a finished product quicker and easier than you may have thought possible before. I’d just like to offer a second of insight into analyzing before you begin retouching.

This is the sort of detail that many miss because they don’t take the time to really look at what’s in front of them. The best way I can think of to explain is to compare a child’s drawing of a person to that of an art student. The child (or person who has never drawn much), sees a head as a basic shape that is somewhat round, and knows generally that there are two eyes, a nose beneath it, and a mouth beneath that. Proportions are drawn to what they believe are correct, but the end result never really ends up looking like a real head and face.

An art student, however, has spent more time looking or studying the head and realizes it’s important not to draw what they think should be there, but what really is. They begin to learn or notice ratios – that the space between the eyes should about equal the width of another eye; that the nose is about halfway between the eye-line and chin, and that the ears fit close to neatly between the nose line and the eye line. We don’t typically notice all of this since we have a tendency to generalize and render what we think should be there.

My advice for better retouching is to really get in close, maybe turn the image upside down, and instead of ‘drawing’ what you think a feature should look like, think and render in terms of shapes and shades, and what’s actually there.

It’s worth mentioning that this is all a matter of taste, and your adjustments needn’t be as drastic, but knowing how to do it is a great skill to have. I’m forever seeing headshots which would otherwise be beautiful portraits, ruined by a total disregard for retouching the teeth. Possibly worse, is when retouchers drag all the saturation out of the teeth and what’s left is a sort of gray, dark, unnatural mess. So don’t be oblivious to the effect teeth can have in your image, and when retouching them, give them an extra minute of thought.

As always, if you are a fan of Aaron’s teachings (and who isn’t?), be sure to check back here for updates, and follow along with Aaron on YouTube and Phlearn. You should also consider becoming quickly adept at Photoshop with the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 201 sets as they are extremely comprehensive, and will have you quickly doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    thanks for this article

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  2. tavyn gibson

    i don’t know if im doing something wrong but when i create the mask it is deselecting automatically. :/ im working with photoshop CC. any help would be appreciated! thanks :)

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  3. Clare Havill

    Another great video from Phlearn.

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  4. Herm Tjioe

    This suits my professional interest. More work than the cookie cutter dental programs that cost hundreds, but it”s eminently more customizable.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well put Herm. I agree

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    • Herm Tjioe

      The prices of those dental softwares these salesmen throw at me are ridiculous. The more naive dentists would buy it with the computer/monitor as a package deal. Throw in an annual upgrade path with tech services annual fee, you have yourself a modern day highway robbery.

      This does require a rather steep learning curve for a complete non-Ps user. With this tutorial, that dentist would easily save himself $ 5,000 out the door.

      To be fair though, some of those wares can show instantly cosmetic what-if’s from mishapen, missing, and crooked teeth. But still, I like to keep some good money for photo/video toys instead.

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  5. Asad Qayyum

    Bookmarked. Aaron is awesome (always)

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