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How to Photoshop Tutorial - Professional skin complexion retouch

Updated on January 22, 2014

Even the prettiest model has minor skin flaws that show much more in a photograph than in real life. Even though one should be careful not to create a too unnatural look – unless desired – Photoshop is a powerful tool to give any model a perfect skin. In this tutorial I will explain to you, how you can correct skin tone and flaws in a professional manner and without investing too much time.

Tutorial: Retouch of skin complexion and structure

Start with a rough correction of unclear spots in the skin:

  1. Open a new layer and name it Spot correction or something similar

Red: Create a new layer Blue: Rename it Green: Choose Spot Healing Brush Tool
Red: Create a new layer Blue: Rename it Green: Choose Spot Healing Brush Tool

2. Choose Spot Healing Brush Tool

3. Zoom into your picture and click on spots, pimples and small unclear patches of the skin. Try not to get carried away too much, but limit yourself to the main spots. Also include any other visible parts of skin during your retouch, for example the neck, arms or hands.

After the spot healing the skin looks slightly clearer
After the spot healing the skin looks slightly clearer

Now we want to improve the overall structure of the skin and we will do that with the help of the High Pass filter. Simply follow my instructions:

1. We want to include the spot removal into the further calculation of our new skin, thus we first need to create a layer that refers to our corrected skin. To do so create a new layer with the key combination Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E. The new layer now contains all the layers you have created so far.

2. Since we want to use multiple filters on this layer we first need to convert this layer into a smart object.

Red: Create new layer with Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E Blue: Convert for smart filters
Red: Create new layer with Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E Blue: Convert for smart filters

3.Now we will choose one of the most important filters for the beauty retouch: the High Pass filter which you will find under ‘Other’ filters.

Red: Make sure your new layer is selected Blue: Choose High Pass filter
Red: Make sure your new layer is selected Blue: Choose High Pass filter

4. The High Pass filter now searches for the structure in our portrait, but you shouldn’t go overboard with it. I recommend a value between 20 – 40 Pixels; I mostly settle for a value around 30 Pixels.

Apply HIgh Pass Filter
Apply HIgh Pass Filter

5. Now to be able to see the effect of your filter change the mode of your layer to ‘Overlay’.

Don’t be shocked! At this stage our skin looks far worse than the original – but not for long, as we will now invert the High Pass effect!

Change the layer mode to 'Overlay'
Change the layer mode to 'Overlay'
And don't get scared - it won't be for long!
And don't get scared - it won't be for long!

6. To invert the effect we will have to create a new adjustment layer. But since we don’t want to invert all our colours we only apply the inversion on our Layer 1, which we achieve by clicking on the most left hand symbol in the ‘Invert’ dialogue.

Red: Create new adjustment layer 'Inversion' Blue: Make sure this layer refers to your layer 1!
Red: Create new adjustment layer 'Inversion' Blue: Make sure this layer refers to your layer 1!

7. Of course the result at this stage looks far too unnatural, so we will at first undo the effect by applying the Gaussian Blur. But before you select the filter be sure to be back on your layer 1, as this is the layer you want to apply the filter on!

Red: Be sure to be on your layer 1 Blue: Choose Gaussian Blur Filter
Red: Be sure to be on your layer 1 Blue: Choose Gaussian Blur Filter

8. The value Photoshop suggests you lays around 3.6 Pixels and is a good value to start with; I settled for a value of 4 Pixels in this example. Adjust until you get the desired effect on the skin structure. Of course we have not only softened the skin of our model, but unwantedly all the other areas in our portrait, too. We could now either unmask the areas we don’t want to be affected by the filter, or – which is much easier – just choose the areas in which we want our portrait to get a retouched skin.

Red: Adjust the value
Red: Adjust the value

9. For this we now create a new layer mask while holding the Alt key – like this all the changes we have created so far get undone.

Red: Create New Layer Mask while holding Alt key Blue: Choose Paintbrush Tool
Red: Create New Layer Mask while holding Alt key Blue: Choose Paintbrush Tool

10. Now we can easily paint with a soft brush and the colour white into the areas in which we want to apply the new skin. Don’t make the opacity too low, as you want to see the result. A value around 75 is good. Reduce the hardness to a minimum. Now carefully repaint all the skin areas, but be careful with the eyes and try not to remove all the wrinkles of your model, as wrinkles also give a person his/her character! Do not over paint the eyebrows either, that usually leads to an unnatural look. If you want to control that you haven’t missed any spots I recommend to click on the layer mask while holding the Alt key and double check!

Checking the mask can be helpful
Checking the mask can be helpful

Congratulations, your general skin correction is finished!

Of course we haven't made any other changes in the picture yet besides making the skin of our model soft and glowing. Retouch offers a nearly unlimited amount of possibilities, but sometimes you will find that less is more!

I hope my Photoshop Tutorial was easy to follow and helped you improving your retouch skills. Feedback is always welcome :)

If it was maybe a bit too complicated for you, you might also want to check out my portrait retouch for beginners tutorial, which is much simpler and faster, but of course doesn't have an as good result as the little more complex retouch we have done just now.

Our model before...
Our model before...
...and after the skin retouch.
...and after the skin retouch.

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    • OMGirdle profile image

      OMGirdle 4 years ago from United States

      Thank you for this article. I have been working with my portrait photos but wasn't sure how to give them that "glow" effect. Your instructions were simple and easy to follow. Great hub!

    • Wasteless Project profile image
      Author

      Wasteless Project 4 years ago from Worldwide

      Thank you OMGirdle for your feedback! It is always helpful to know if a tutorial works for someone else or not:) I am happy it worked for you! More to follow soon...

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I’ve often wondered how to do this – very interesting and clear steps to follow. Can’t wait to try it out. Thanks. Voted up.

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