This is an attempt at making a realistic looking portrait. For this exercise, I chose Olivia Wilde in the modern version of Tron. I will try an write a short making of of the process so that I dont forget for the next one ūüôā
This is the photo I chose to copy. It simple and with well defined edges, and does not have a too complicated background.
The first step is to take this photo and get some kind of guideline to start drawing. For that, I turned it into black and white first: Image -> Mode -> Grayscale.
Next, in Image -> Adjustments -> Levels, I brighten the image a bit in preparation for the next step. I want to extract the contours of the image to have as the base to start applying values. Once I brighten the image, I go to Filter -> Stylize -> Find Edges. Once more, with Image -> Adjustments -> Levels, and a soft round eraser, I clean a bit the image until I am left with more or less a kind of sketch which I will use as guideline. Once clean, I create a new layer, place it under the sketch and fill it with gray. With the sketch on top, I set the layer mode of the sketch to Color Burn. The result is below. This will help me in getting things in the right places.

From this point onwards, every layer I create will go in between the sketch and the gray layer at the bottom.
Now, I take the original photo in grayscale, and start selecting tones from it. First I select a mid tone, and I start filling the different areas. I do it with a soft round brush, but this could be done with the Paint Bucket or even the Gradient Tool (first select with the Lasso tool the areas to fill). The idea is to fill the different areas with some base colour. In this case, I have three main parts; the hair, face and neck and suit. I fill each using a different value of gray. I didnt create a mask for each one of these areas, but it could be done for easy selection of the different areas later. The only division I made in this respect was to keep the hair in one layer and the face and suit in another layer.
With each layer filled with a base colour, I take again the soft round brush and start getting out brighter and darker areas. At first I select different tones of gray from the Swatches, but as soon as enough values are placed on the image, I use the Color Picker as I go along and select colours from the image itself. Initially I chose a higher opacity for the brush, and as I progress I tend to reduce the opacity of the brush to around 20-10 %. In this first stage I aim for a smooth transition of values. I prefer to use the soft round brush, but the Smudge tool will work in places. Textures will come later.
Once the face starts to get shape and starts to look like a person, I select a more interesting brush to get some texture here and there. I downloaded the brush for this from somewhere, I didnt make it. The brush works very well. The main feature about it is that both Shape Dynamics and Transfer are set to work with pen pressure, which gives you control of how much and when to apply paint. Below is an example of some strokes and the kind of edges it leaves when painting, which if applied in the right places, give lots of depth.
This is really a matter of taste but this step of making the grayscale image can take as many hours as you want, and there is nothing to it other than to look at your reference photo and try to reproduce what you see as best you can. After many hours working on grayscale on the face, hair and suit, this is where I get to and where I decided I had enough. Before I move onto the colour, I use the Dodge tool in certain areas (like the eyes balls, lips and cheeks) to get some strong highlights.
The next stage is adding the colour. For this, I set a new layer in colour mode over the grayscale image and start applying colour. I still need to get use to working with a layer in this mode, because initially it is difficult to work with. At first I could not get the right tones. I find that you have to select a tone and the set its saturation high. The hinger the better the colour will stick to the underlying layer, but on the other hand the more difficult it is to get a handle of the overall look. At some points it looks like you are painting a clown because the colours are too bright and saturated, but this will correct almost itself if you are patient and keep adding hues to the mix. Also, it can be corrected later using a Hue/Saturation layer, but I prefer to corrected adding hues. I was surprise as well to see that you really dont need to be that careful with the colour layer. Below you can see the two Color mode layers I have (one for the face and suit and another for the hair) set in Normal mode. I could work on them more, that its true, but just with that little, the results are already good, as you can see in the next image of the zoom of the face where these two layers are applied over the grayscale one set in Color mode. In my opinion, it is more important to have a good grayscale base to work with. If you see that you cannot get the brightness or darkness you want to achieve when working in the color mode layer, I find that what actually needs adjusting is the grayscale layer below. So go back to it and lighten or darken that particular area without touching the Color mode layer. Also, as the last stage of adding colour, I like to soften edges in this layer by using a soft round brush, the Smudge tool or even the Blur tool. It is best not to leave big contrast or marked textures in the Color mode layer (a matter of taste).
The background in this case is very simple, so I wont go into it. I simply had under the grayscale layer of the figure another layer also in grayscale with the very few simple forms shown in the image, which are done with the Lasso tool and applying Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur at the end to get that effect of distant you see in the original photo.
So to finish up the image, I did a few things.
On top of all the layers (which now include, two grayscale layers which contain the background and figure, and three Color mode layers for background, hair and face), I set a Cyan Photo Filter layer. The whole photo has a bluish tone, so this will do. On top of the filter layer, I create a merge layer of all the layers below. That is, click on the Photo Filter layer, and press: CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E and a new layer will appear with the merge image. With this layer marked, go to Image -> Adjustments РBrightness and in the panel that appears set the Brightness to -150. This creates a dark version of the image. Create now a mask on this layer and paint over it with black using a soft round brush covering the areas you want to brighten. I find this a good way of creating depth by exposing bright areas over the darkest image and also leaves you with a cleaner image that if you try other methods for giving highlights. Again this is a matter of taste as to how dark and bright you want things to look or what method to use. Once happy I create a Levels Adjustment layer over this and play with it to get a bit more of contrast. Once more, on top of everything, I create a Red Photo Filter layer since some areas of the photo have reflected red light, and mask out some parts. Before saving, I apply some noise by going to Filter -> Noise -> Add Noise to the image to match it with the photo. Also, this is good to get some skin texture. The level of noise I add is not too high, around 4%. With this, I call it finished and you can see the result below.
I know that comparing the photo with the image I made you can see many differences. My goal was to simply learn the process and also to get use to using the Color mode layer, which is difficult to get use to initially. And as I said, if I were to spend another so many hours on this image, I am sure I would get closer to reality, but for a start, I think it went well. I am moving on …….