Skin Retouching for Dummies
Hey FashionPhotographyBlog.com readers. Retouching and how to retouch skin… A LOT of people have asked for it so here it is:
When it comes to retouching skin, it’s really quite simple. In fact, you can do it in two simple steps. However, it’s also really quite time consuming. Take your time and don’t rush through it. Following these few simple steps will pay off in the end!
Whatever you do: DON’T BLUR YOUR SUBJECT’S SKIN! Skin is full of texture – keep it that way. Eliminating pores is an obvious sign of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Study your face in the mirror. Texture changes as you move throughout the face and body, be conscious of this when retouching skin.
(Remember: It always helps to have a good makeup artist and start with an even base of foundation. A good makeup artist can drastically cut down your time spent retouching skin in Photoshop.)
How To Retouch Skin
First things first, NEVER-EVER work directly on your background layer. This is an extremely bad habit most people have. This is considered destructive. Once you work directly on your background layer, there is no going back. Whereas, if you work on layers independent from your background layer, you can always delete them and start from scratch.
1. Select your image and open it up in Photoshop.
Original, untouched image
2. Start by removing blemishes. To do this, I typically switch between the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp.
– The Healing Brush (band-aid tool) works by merging texture, color and luminosity from the sample area to the destination area.
– The Clone Stamp (stamp) takes the information from the sample area and moves it to the destination area (no automatic blending in of texture, color and luminosity.)
Create a new, empty layer and at the top change the setting from “Current Layer” to “Current & Below.”
To remove blemishes and wrinkles, make the brush size just a bit larger than the size of the blemish. To select a source point, hold down “Option” (Mac) or “Alt” (PC) and click, then paint over the blemish to remove it. The healing brush tends to spread out a bit so it works best by using a harder brush rather than a softer brush.
BE CAREFUL* When healing, many people have a tendency to pull source areas from right next to the destination area. Doing this will create repetitions in texture. This is a major no-no. Repetitions in texture make it known that the image has been manipulated. It’s a sign of an amateur. If you see this, take a step back and try again. Are there naturally occurring patterns? Break them up. Keep your hand light – a heavy hand is also a sign of an amateur and leaves your subject looking unnatural.
2. Next up: Dodge and Burn! Dodging and Burning is the process of manipulating tone in order to even out blotches in skin. This is fantastic for (painstakingly) taking out goosebumps or evening out the blotches most people have on their skin.
Dodging and Burning is derived from a darkroom process. Dodging is lightning of tones and burning is the darkening of tones. By dodging and burning simultaneously, you’re able to even out tones and create smooth, perfect looking skin.
To begin, create a new layer set “mode” to “soft light” and select “fill with 50% grey.”
New layer options: Mode: Soft Light, Select “Fill with 50% grey”
Using the Dodge/Burn tool (J) you can choose which tones to work with – highlights, midtones or shadows. I typically start with midtones and then work my way around the image switching between midtones, highlights and shadows. Keep your exposure low. I usually work around 9%. Start small and you can gradually build your way up.
Continuously switch between Dodge and Burn – an easy way to do this is to hold down the “Option” key. If you’re dodging midtones at an exposure of 9% and hold down the “option” key, you’ll burn midtones at 9% as long as the option key is held down. Essentially, it gives you the opposite tool of what you’re working on, however whatever settings you already have chosen (midtone/shadow/highlight and exposure) will remain the same.
*Dodging and Burning can be tricky! Until you train your eyes to see the difference between tones, it’s really easy to over-do your dodging and burning. In order to help you better see the differences in tone, you can create a guide to help train your eyes! To do this, create a “Hue/Saturation” adjustment layer and desaturate the image. Then, create a new “Curve” adjustment layer and make a deep curve. This will separate the tones and make it easier to see where you need to dodge and where you need to burn.
Eye Guide: Deep Curve
With Eye Guide on: Before Dodging and Burning. Notice the blotchy patches.
With Eye Guide on: After Dodging and Burning. Notice the smooth transitions between tones.
After Dodging & Burning
Over-do it? That’s okay. Lower the opacity of your layer until it looks right. This is the beauty of working on a layer independent from your background layer.
3. After Healing, Dodging and Burning, now is time for color! ALWAYS be careful of where you place your color layers. For those just starting out, it’s best to do color last. If you manipulate color before you retouch, make sure your color layers stay on top of all the retouching layers you create. IF YOU RETOUCH ON TOP OF COLOR MANIPULATIONS, YOU CAN’T UNDO THE COLOR.
If you decide you don’t like the color and try to remove or change it, you’ll have to re-do all of your retouching work. Since the healing layer is set to “current and below” it is pulling color and texture from the layers below it (this would include your color layers). When you delete the color layer, the color remains in the areas which have been healed or cloned above it, leaving you with a mess that looks like this:
Image that has had retouching done on-top of color manipulations. The colour manipulations were removed resulting in an unusable mess!
So, those just starting out with this method of skin retouching, play it safe and work with color last.
Final skin retouching with color applied
So – as a reminder, the order you retouch skin:
1. Heal/Clone – Remove wrinkles and blemishes
2. Dodge/Burn – Even out skin tone
3. Manipulate Color
Stay as organized as possible! It helps to make a group for retouching and a group for color to keep everything straight.
Layers from completed retouched image (pictured above)
Good luck! Remember to take your time and practice. It takes a long time to be able to really see what you’re doing. Train your eye and you’ll be able to pick apart tones and see imperfections in skin more easily. Feel free to share your retouching here in the comments for feedback and critique!
And remember, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!
Feature image and images 1-12: courtesy of Alana Tyler Slutsky