So, let’s say you’ve done a great photo shoot, you’ve got some mad photos of some beautiful women* and you want to make them look their best for your portfolio and theirs. Problem is, their skin? Not so good. Great make-up but there’s a little too much in the pore department? A little mottling from too much sun? Dreaded acne breakout that couldn’t be hidden with a trowel’s worth of foundation and concealer?
Easy to fix. Photoshop to the rescue. Again.
Take this picture for instance…
(Stock image found here: BerlinElliott aka Shai – I didn’t take the picture!)
This is Shai. Shai is GOR-JUSS. Seriously. But her skin… There’s a few scars, a few pimples, a few more bumps and discolourations than she’d like, I’d bet.
Here’s a close-up of the image at 100%:
See? Like I said. Not so good.
So let’s fix it!
By the way this method works really well for younger women. Older ladies with life lines need a little more specialised work which I’ll cover in a future tutorial sometime.
* Not really for the men folk. You WANT texture for men. The girls always look better softened, especially for glamour shoots (in the author’s opinion, ahem).
What you want to do first off is duplicate your original photo layer, just so you’ve got something to flick back and forth with so you can see the changes you’ve made more clearly.
Rename the new layer to something else… like “surgery”, because that’s what we’ll be doing next; a little surgery.
On this new layer, you’re going to want to use a combination of your Patch and Clone tools. The patch tool can be found in the Healing Brush tool option. (Hint: The healing tool is the one that normally looks like a band-aid, but you want the tool that looks like a hobo patch – click and hold on the healing tool to get the extended tool options and select the patch tool.)
Oh, now would be a good time to tell you that if you don’t know how to use these tools, go look up some info. There are really cool descriptions of how it works and how to use it all over the web. And if you don’t know layers, look them up too.
Ok, back to Shai.
It’s at this stage that you want to get rid of all the major blemishes, leaving the skin texture intact however, because we’ll need that in a few steps’ time.
After all my cloning and patching, which was relatively easy as Shai’s skin is fairly good condition in most other respects, you can see my result, at 100%:
If at this point, your picture looks really, really good – STOP. Assess what really needs to be done before continuing. Sometimes less is more.
For this tutorial, we shall continue.
Shai’s face still has a problem with pores and some uneven skin tone, so I want to smooth that out a little more.
Plus it gives me a reason to keep looking at Shai a little longer. She’s so preedy.
The next step is softening the skin. For this, you will need to be on your surgery layer and then head on up to Select – Color Range.
Use the eye dropper tool and select an area of the skin. If your settings are like mine, much of the model’s face will be white (this is what we’re selecting). If there’s a lot of grey, select your eyedropper tool with the plus (+) symbol and select some of the grey areas. Play with the fuzziness slider so you’ve got a good bit of contrast. The below picture shows my eventual settings for this example… don’t worry if you can’t get all of your model’s face white!:
When you hit OK, you will see the “marching ants” of the selection that Photoshop has made.
Ctrl+C (copy) this selection and then hit Ctrl+J to paste it to a new layer.
When you switch the visibility off for the layers below, you will see a fairly ghostly image of skin…
In the above image, I have started deleting the insides of the eyes and will delete the lips. You can also use your eraser tool on the hair and everything else that isn’t skin that you’d like to soften. Don’t forget to erase over the eyebrows as you don’t want to soften them.
Right. Still with me?
Duplicate your new skin layer. Call the bottom skin layer “soft” and the top skin layer “texture”. Toggle the visibility of the texture layer OFF and select the soft layer.
Right. We’re going to soften this. With Surface Blur.
Now, a lot of photographers use this filter but don’t use it properly. This is a proper way to use it. The filter I am talking about is Surface Blur. It’s an evil tool, but it’s evil can also be used to good ends. So keep up.
Filter – Blur – Surface Blur.
You will need to play with the settings here. You don’t want it so blurry that the detail is lost but you also don’t want to make it subtle either. A nice, even coverage with some detail is what we’re after.
Here are my settings:
(Remember, your lips and eyes will be properly erased. My example picture hasn’t been fixed up at this point.)
Nice and even?
Toggle the visibily of the layers below your soft skin layer back on and have a look at the effect.
It’s looking better but it’s too soft. All the texture has been removed. This is where a lot of retouchers fall over. You need to have the skin texture for it to be a realistic effect.
But first, we’re going to reduce the opacity of the soft layer to about 75% for this one. Just reduce the opacity until you start to see some of the details in the skin, but only just!
See? You can just make out the pore detail on her nose and cheek.
Alright, remember that texture layer we made?
Turn that back on.
OMG! The bad skin is back!
Yes, but we are going to do something special.
We are going to use the High Pass filter. High Pass is hightly underated as a tool but to bring back contrast, sharpness and definition, I personally find it very handy.
Anyway, go to Filter – Other – High Pass.
Now, your settings will definitely vary from mine, but you want to play with your sliders until you see some definition in all that grey in the preview window.
Don’t worry, we’re almost done.
Actually, no… I’m lying.
Once you’ve got your grey mud mask going on your model, you then need to change the blend mode of the texture layer to Soft Light.
Texture is back, sans ruddy colour. Nice tone and no big blemishes.
Now, what you need to do is play with the opacity of the texture layer a little. You don’t want all of your texture to show through, you want to minimize pores but not kill them off completely.
My texture layer ended up going down to about 60% opacity.
Here’s the finished product:
If you find that the texture is too sharp in some areas but in most other areas it looks perfect, use your blur brush or erase some of the texture layer by using the eraser or masking. (Look layer masks up if you don’t know what they are.)
Here’s a close-up of how it all looks:
That’s it. Go play.
This is ONE method of retouching skin in Photoshop. If you know a better way or a different way and you like your way better, keep doing that. This is the way I like to retouch.