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Professional Skin Retouching in Photoshop Made Easy.

Conducting a shoot with human subjects is always a unique and unpredictable experience. And one of the most unpredictable things to consider is your model or subject. Sometimes, your models will experience an unexpected breakout or irritation on the day of their shoot that can make them feel less confident about the final look of the photo. Using Photoshop to touch up pictures can give the subjects in your photos a smoother, more radiant complexion. Read more about how to make skin smooth with Photoshop through our team-certified guide full of useful tips and tricks!

Removing Blemishes: Cleaning, Not Clearing

When editing skin in Photoshop, it is important to preserve the natural appearance of your subject. To the uninitiated editor, removing every blemish in sight may seem like the natural course of action. However, what others may consider blemishes on your models may in fact be permanent physical features that serve to define the look of a model or subject. Examples of such features can include beauty marks and birth marks, as well as freckles and even scars.

As a rule of thumb when editing skin in Photoshop, it is best to create a new layer and then focus on applying the Healing Brush Tool to ‘temporary’ blemishes rather than permanent features. These temporary blemishes include acne and pimple flare-ups, as well as wounds, cuts, and irritation that manifests in rashes or redness. Not only do you stay faithful to your model and their personal preferences, but you also lessen the risk of offending your client by taking away the traits that define them most.

Go Easy on the Zoom

This Photoshop smooth skin tutorial is all about pursuing a healthy and natural standard of beauty. Keeping this in mind, it is best to take a more macro approach when retouching skin in Photoshop and other similar programs. Rather than go extremely in-detail with an amped up zoom of around 400%, stay conservative with a range of 100 to 200%.

This gives you a chance to better see how each of the changes you make throughout the completion of your task and decreases the chances of you making edits that are too jarring or stark against the skin of your subject. Instead of zooming in all the way, adjust the size of your brush to accurately make the changes you want or need by hitting the right and left bracket keyboard shortcuts.

Paper Boat Team Tip: Toggle the Content-Aware Setting when using the Spot Healing Tool to make this part of your Adobe Photoshop skin retouching process easier and more intuitive. Clicking on the blemish with this setting toggled on will instantly remove it, placing less pressure on you to have to click and go over every single pixel manually.

Cover Your Bases with a Duplicate Layer

Once you have doubled down on editing skin in Photoshop to remove or minimize blemishes, you can then direct your time and efforts to smoothening skin textures. Making skin smooth on Photoshop can only truly happen when you have evened out the base and eliminated temporary blemishes like breakouts and redness. If you don’t take that extra step first, it may cause some problems that result in uneven skin texture and unnatural looking spots on your subject’s face.

To perform this skin smoothening process, you must first create a copy layer solely dedicated to fixing the appearance of skin texture. It is best to label this new layer with a name that corresponds to this next process, such as “Skin Smoothening” or “Smooth Skin”. By duplicating your Blemish layer, you can continue to build on the previous work you did with an even base while still having the original layer to go back to and duplicate again should anything go wrong.

Paper Boat Team Tip: When working with a lot of layers such as in this skin retouching Photoshop tutorial, never forget to name your layers as you create them. Not only does this make for easier navigation, but it also means that you can always go back to the previous phase of your work without starting from scratch.

A Beauty Filter Like No Other

In this day and age, we are all too familiar with how the use of beauty filters can easily turn our photos from drab to fab. However, achieving this look in the click of a button comes at a hefty price. In exchange for this instant makeover, your image quality does drop significantly. This can result in blurry images that look great in small sizes like thumbnails and social media but look awful when blown up for print and other applications.

Instead of relying on this one stop shop beauty filter, it is best to manually create a separate layer that you can use the High Pass Filter tool and Gaussian Blur Filters on.

Part 1: The High Pass Filter

To use the High Pass Filter, simply go to the Filter menu on the Toolbar and click the submenu under Other. There, you will find the High Pass Filter option. Typically, passing your image through the High Pass Filter is done in order to create a sharper looking image. However, using the High Pass Filter tool to clean up and smoothen skin texture allows the program to seek out the edges of your image to highlight them.

The edges of your subject such as the mouth area, the tips of the hair, and so on are highlighted to create more depth. On the other hand, less detailed spaces such as the skin of our cheeks, nose, and forehead are filled in with a neutral gray that creates a more uniform finish that mimics the smoothness of skin. This naturally softens all the elements of the photo except the edges of your distinct features.

Part 2: The Gaussian Blur

To take your professional skin retouching on Photoshop to the next level, cap off the process by applying the Gaussian Blur. The Gaussian Blur can create the iconic ‘blurring’ effect over skin texture—making the skin of your model or subject look smoother and tighter. This extra step lessens the appearance of pores and wrinkles, creating the illusion of youthful and flawless skin. Finish off this step by the Linear Light mode on your blending menu and hitting Invert on the Layer Menu.

Fix Your Halos

The end result of your High Pass Filter and Gaussian Blur combination may look like something out of a horror film because of the formless halos all over your photo but this is only because the process is not over. After all, there is a reason why making skin smooth on Photoshop and other image enhancement services are often left to professionals.

Create a cleaner, more concise looking photo for you to work with by playing around with your ‘Blend If’ sliders. By dragging your sliders according to your photo’s needs and brightness per individual layer, you can eventually blur the lines between the contents of each layer you worked on for a more cohesive finished product. This reduces the appearance of both Light and Dark halos in your project and is the penultimate process you need to get the outcome you desire.

Nab a Photo Finish with a Layer Mask

Create a layer mask for your image and fill it with black. Next, click the Brush Tool and select the color white before adjusting your brush of choice to be softer. This creates a more natural, skin-like finish for your edit. By doing this and going over the subject’s features with the Brush tool, you will then start to reveal all the hard work that has gone into your Beauty Filters. To finish off this Photoshop skin retouching tutorial, lower the opacity of your layer mask to around 60 to 50% for a soft, airbrushed finish.

There you have it! We hope that you enjoyed this comprehensive guide to retouching skin on Photoshop. We understand that this sounds like a complex and tedious process that not all casual and professional photographers will enjoy or have the time for. If this sounds like you, then reach out to the Paper Boat Creative team to gain access to our image manipulation services. Whether you do this on your own or enlist our help for efficiency, we wish you the best in bringing out your client’s best features in every photo you shoot!

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