Monday, July 6, 2009

Making Skin Beautiful


This subject will be covered in steps as follows:

  1. Removing or softening major flaws in the skin
  2. Touching up undesired reflections and highlights
  3. Apply a Gaussian blur to the skin to soften and blend it.
  4. Spot sharpening

Note for MAC users: Substitute the Option key for the Alt key when specified in the tutorial.

Removing or softening flaws

There are many ways to remove flaws from the skin; however, I like to use the clone tool. I do not use the clone tool to remove and replace the skin but rather in a special way that will allow me to work slowly to hide the flaw or blemish on the skin. The beautiful young lady pictured here is typical of teenagers in that hormones may cause zits or other eruptions on their skin that are unsightly. As a photographer it is our job to lessen that and make the model look their best. You will note on the neck of this young lady a rather large skin eruption. This is not a normal mark and one that I am sure she wishes were not there.


On the tool bar on the left hand side of the workspace is the clone tool. Click on this tool. Now go to the mode setting at the top and select a soft brush that is near to or smaller than the blemish. Move to the right and click on mode, setting it to lighten. Move to the right and set the opacity to around 12% and the flow rate to 100% or less. You are now ready to begin hiding the blemish. Find a good patch of skin near the blemish, position your brush on it, hold down the ALT key and click your mouse once. Now begin to soften the blemish by doing a click and hold while going over and over the blemish. You will note that it begins to lighten. Continue until the blemish is gone. In the center of the blemish it is lighter than the surrounding skin. Set mode to darken, ALT click on the good skin and repeat the process above to darken this lighter area. The blemish is now gone as shown in the image. You might also note that I have lightened some of her permanent moles and fixed other light or dark areas using the same technique described above. I generally do not totally remove permanent moles on a models face.


Touching up undesirable highlights and reflections

The end of nose is a particularly onerous place for reflections and burned out highlights as you will note on the model above. Removing them is just as simple as removing a blemish. The difference is that you set the clone tool mode to darken. Select a patch of skin with the appropriate color and do an ALT click. Now go over the highlight until it looks good to you. Be careful not to go too far a field from the highlight itself as you can make the nose look flat in that area instead of rounded as it normally is. If you make a mistake, it is simple to go back a step in the history palette and redo that step. Don’t hesitate to switch between darken and lighten if need be. At this stage do not worry if everything is not perfect as the Gaussian blur will take care of minor imperfections in your work.


Apply a Gaussian blur to the skin to soften and blend it

Much of the information in this part of the tutorial was gleaned from Scott Kelby’s great book entitled The Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers, which I recommend highly to everyone new to Photoshop.

I will attempt to keep the "how to" part of this tutorial as detailed as possible so that those new to Photoshop will be able to follow along. This is an advanced technique so stay with me. First thing to do is to open the picture that you want to apply the Gaussian blur to. Create 2 additional layers of this image in the Layer’s pallet. An easy way to do this is to hold down the Ctrl key and click on the J key twice. You should now see three layers of the image. Hide layer 1 copy by clicking on the Eye icon next to it in the layers pallet. Highlight the middle layer by clicking on it and your layers pallet should now look like this:


In the drop down box on the Layer’s pallet change the blend mode from Normal to Darken. Next go to the menu at the top of the screen and click filter/blur/Gaussian blur and then apply a 35 pixel blur to the image. Don’t worry that your image looks bad at this stage.


On the Layers pallet, click on the little Eye icon beside the middle layer to hide this layer and then click on the top layer to make it active. Now change the blend mode from Darken to Lighten by clicking on Lighten in the drop down box. Next run a 50 pixel blur on this top layer (Filter/blur/Gaussian Blur).


After you have applied the blur, click on the middle layer to make it the active layer and then lower the opacity to 30%. Hide the background layer from view by clicking on the Eye icon beside it and then create a new layer by clicking on the New Layer Icon at the bottom of the Layers pallet. This icon is on the bottom right just next to the little garbage can. When the new layer is created click and drag this layer to the top of the stack as shown.


Next, hold down the Alt Key and with your mouse go to the top and click (hold) on Layers and while holding the mouse button down go to the bottom and release the mouse button over Merge Visible as shown here.


This creates a flattened version of your document in the new layer. In the layers pallet, make the background layer visible with the Eye icon and hide the two middle layers by removing the Eye icon from them. Make sure the top layer is the active layer and then lower the opacity to 37%. This is a subjective adjustment and you should set it at the point that your image has the right amount of blur to suit your taste. All that is left now is the removal of the Gaussian blur from the hair, eyes, eyebrows, lips, jewelry, clothing and anything else that you don’t want blurred.

Click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layer pallet (third from the left). Insure that your foreground color is set to black. You can change the background/foreground easily by clicking on the small x while watching it change on the leftmost tool pallet. Select a soft edged brush from the tool pallet and paint over everything that you do not want blur on (eyes, mouth, hair, etc.). Generally this is everything except the skin. Change the size of the brush so that it is easy for you to do that without getting over into the skin. Your layers pallet will now look like this.


At this point you may flatten the layers and discard the unused layers (Layers/Flatten Image). If you feel a little touch up for the brightness of the image is needed, do that with levels or Brightness/Contrast.

Spot Sharpening

Select the spot sharpener from the tool pallet on the left hand side of your screen and quickly go over the eyes, mouth, and anything else that you want sharpened.

Applying a final sharpening is up to you but in any event do not over sharpen. Watch the eyelashes and hair especially so as not to create artifacts or halo's. Here is the final product:


Don't be intimidated by this tutorial, once you run through it a few times it is quite easy. One last caution, it is better to error on the side of too little blur than too much. It is easy to make the skin look plastic and unnatural. The goal is to accomplish the softening but yet not have it noticed. If you remove all traces of texture to the skin you will have failed for most types of portraits.