Retouching portrait photos is often referred to as 'Photoshopping', but you don't need to splash out on Adobe's premium software to make your images look amazing.
Paint.NET is a completely free photo editor that's just as capable as many full-price programs. It was originally created as an upgrade or replacement for Microsoft Paint, but has evolved from those humble beginnings into a powerful tool for editing images and creating your own artwork from scratch.
1. Airbrush flaws
Editing out blemishes is easy with the stamp tool - hold [Ctrl] and click a nearby area to take a sample, then click and drag to 'paint' over the flaw. Like all the tools in Paint.NET, the stamp is fully configurable and can be adjusted using the options at the top of the main window. For a natural look, enable antialiasing and reduce the hardness of the brush.
When retouching portrait photos you might need to take several samples and to make sure the colours line up with the contours of the face. The clone stamp is also very useful for editing out flyaway hair, or specks left by dust on the camera lens.
2. Smooth and slim
Like Photoshop, Paint.NET supports plug-ins, some of which are specially created for retouching photos. Installing plugins is easy - just download the ZIP archive, then extract the DLL file to Program Files > Paint.net > Effects.
One of the best for photo retouching is Liquify, which you can download from the Paint.NET forums. Just like the Photoshop tool of the same name, it lets you distort images by clicking and dragging, and you can use it to smooth out bumps, slim down noses and tighten jawlines. Keep your changes subtle, and bear in mind that the background will also be distorted by Liquify, so avoid using it near any lines or regular patterns.
3. Refine colors
Like any photo editor worth its salt, Paint.NET includes a levels editor (under Adjustments), which you can use to adjust the contrast in your image. Tweaking the diagonal line into a gentle S shape will increase contrast and make your picture look more dramatic, but you might find decreasing the contrast yields a more flattering effect.
For a more dramatic change, try the Soften Portrait tool (under Effects > Photo). This softens skintones in your picture and lightens colours to obscure imperfections (a little like deliberately over-exposing a photo). It also adds a flattering warm color cast. The default setting is a bit strong for retouching portrait photos, so tweak the sliders until you're happy with the result. The Vignette effect (also in the Photo menu) is worth a try too - it adds an Instagram-style retro camera effect that draws attention to the subject.
With so many dedicated functions and filters, plus user-created plugins that replicate the most popular features of premium retouching tools, Paint.NET is an essential tool for perfecting everything from selfies to wedding portraits - and it's completely free.