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Using Photoshop to give your portraits a soft look

Updated on October 4, 2012

I recently found this simple way to help soften the effects on the face by the use of a light or flash on a portrait.

Open your photo in Photoshop 5. I usually do a copy of the original photo in a new layer to retain the original if I need to go back to it.

Choose the layer with your image and select “Select/Color Range” from the top menu bar. The Color Range Command will select the areas of the image based on colors and ranges that you specify. I used the Eyedropper from the tool bar and selected three areas of the face to sample colors from, marked with red dots on this screen shot. You can experiment with the areas selected and fuzziness levels. I stayed with 125.

Once done, you will see on the screen the areas which have been selected

Do a “Control J” on your keyboard (or Layer/New/Layer Via Copy on the top menu bar) to create a new layer above the layer which contains your image.

Stay on this new layer and choose “Filter/Blur/Surface Blur” from the menu bar. The Radius and Threshold sliders will adjust how much blurriness this layer gets. Experiment with this. I kept my settings low.

Surface blur has been applied
Surface blur has been applied

You can already see the effect take place in the image above. However, at this point, you can’t control how much is on the face and it looks unnatural

Stay on that layer, and create a new mask over it by selecting the “create new mask” button at the bottom of your layers menu. Make sure the mask is selected on the layer menu and fill it with black. You will see the softening effect disappear. The black mask is now covering the image.

You are now going to “paint on” the softening effect. Choose the brush tool, make the color white and choose an appropriate brush size. I used the soft edge brush. Make sure that the black mask is highlighted in your layers menu.

I set the brush opacity to about 50% since I want to work the softening effect in. I also have a pressure sensitive tablet pen, which also helps control the amount brushed in.

You are now basically painting on the black mask with your white paint brush and letting the blurred image layer beneath the mask show. Start to brush on the areas of the face you want to soften. Below image shows half of the face softened.

The image shown below is the new picture side by side with the original.

Of course, this being Photoshop, there are other ways to do this. However, I found this one to be the simplest and quickest way to get a decent result. Once I was done with this, I flattened the whole image down into one layer, and then saved it as a new file. You can further enhance the photo by adjusting brightness, contrast, etc.


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