We’ve looked at quickie Photoshop skin retouching in the past in this article, now let’s take it a bit further and spend more time doing careful skin retouching without the plasticky, no-pores, Barbie skin look that’s plaguing so many portraits out there.
This isn’t an “original” technique but an accumulation of different techniques I’ve learned over the past couple of years from Photoshop masters to retouch skin with much more attention to detail and realism, while still producing a good looking print and a file that still looks good at larger magnifications on screen.
This workflow works for me in a sense that it balances the need for speed and quality at the same time. No large amount of global blurring, haphazard masking, over-sharpening and so forth. Just plain logic-based processing.
It’ll be a looong post (over 30 images), so let’s get started with a photo of a local model I’ve worked with recently, Jen. This is the original captured image.
The image below shows the full crop of the skin, notice the faint scars and blemishes present at this magnification (it’s normally not that visible in real-life or web-sized images).
Our goal is to clean up the skin without treating the entire face the same way by using a single blur filter. Some areas of the skin are near-perfect and shouldn’t need too much correction, while other areas may need more work, so we shouldn’t treat the entire face with a single massive blur.
I often use Adobe Acrobat at work for editing and proofing, the way I work in Acrobat translates to how I work in Photoshop as well. By creating a blank layer and marking all the areas I need to work on and putting specific instructions, I can cross-check my final product to my initial goals with ease.
Here I used the Pencil tool along with some fonts to note the image.
As always, start with a duplicate layer to ensure you can return to where you started from if something went wrong.
1) I always deal with the global stuff first, in this case, I want to brighten up the face. A simple Curves layer, lifting the upper mid-tones up does the trick. Since I only want the face to be affected, I inverted the white mask to black, then painted the mask with a white brush to reveal the skin layers only, avoiding the eyes, eyebrows, hair, dress, lips, etc. Don’t forget the neck!
Rename this layer to “Brighten Face” to make it easier to identify.
2) Now that I’m happy with how the face ‘glows’, I’ll start tackling the blemishes on a new blank layer. This will be the most time-consuming part of this process. It’s critical that you tackle the blemishes one at a time. Yes, near pixel-level editing.
I prefer zooming at 200%, but 100% will often suffice. I’m using the Spot Healing brush at 100% opacity, 100% flow, and a really soft rounded brush at this point.
Remember to adjust the brush size to roughly the same size as the blemish being treated. Simply brush around the dark areas of the blemish (the indented part of the blemish) first, then go over the small highlight (usually the protruded part of the blemish.
Go through every single blemish, make sure it matches the surrounding skin’s color and texture. Go through the larger pores the same way, just use a smaller brush.
After about 30 minutes, we’re almost there.
Looks clean, we’ll stop here for now, we’ll worry about the minute pores and faint facial hair later. At this point, I like grouping my layers so it appears neater on my Layers palette. Just select the Brighten Face layer and the Retouch Skin layers then press CTRL+G. Rename this group to “Skin Fix”.