Beauty Retouching: An Easy Photoshop “How To” for Skin Enhancement

From beauty magazines to portraits, from advertisements to LinkedIn profile pictures, the process of beauty retouching has become an art. Too little retouching shows the realities of our lives––late nights, early mornings, and all the in-betweens that have caused wrinkles, dark circles, and imperfections. Overdoing the retouching process creates Barbie and Ken replicas––unrealistic figures and unnatural features that create a disconnect between consumers and the product or message.

When it comes to retouching, the key is to utilize the filters and effects to harmoniously land in between realism and idealism. Many think that only professionals can master the art of beauty retouching, but with Adobe Photoshop (the program of choice for most retouching gurus)––along with a foolproof, step-by-step guide and a little experimentation––designers, avid photographers, and/or profile-picture aficionados can enhance photos realistically, too.

So if you’ve been searching for that simple, straightforward guide to Photoshop skin retouching, look no further. Open up a portrait (we won’t tell if you pick one of yourself!) and follow these steps to retouching with ease.

Important: Make sure that you have an original file stored away in a safe place. This way, whatever editing you do, you always have a backup file tucked away somewhere in the event that you need it. This is also a great way to compare your original and your retouched masterpiece, so make this a habit!

1. Once you have your photo open in Photoshop, start by duplicating the image layer, making a new layer to begin the retouching process. This is important because once you’ve begun to alter the image, your original will serve as a base layer that you use later on.

2. Now add a Surface Blur filter to the layer. Choose Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. When adjusting the Radius and Threshold settings, find a happy medium where the skin is smooth but the facial features haven’t been affected. (A good starting point is to set your Radius and Threshold between 10 and 20.)

3. Next, create a layer mask to hide the blur (you’ll know you’ve done it correctly when you see the original file instead of the surface blur) by holding the Option/Alt key and clicking the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.

4. Using the brush tool (the eighth icon down on the toolbar) and selecting white for your paint color, paint over the bad skin and around (not over) all facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, mouth, etc.). Toggle your background image on and off to see if you’ve covered the areas you want to retouch thoroughly. Using the eye icon on the Layers panel, turn off your original layer. Your image should look similar to this:

5. Now you’ll need to adjust the colors and tones so that the skin isn’t looking blotchy. Hold down the Alt/Option key and select New Layer in the Layers panel, opening the New Layer options. Name your layer so that you can tell it apart from your other layer and check the box below “Name” that says “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.”

6. To ensure that you give your portrait a natural complexion, use the eyedropper tool (Alt/Option to turn the arrow into an eyedropper) to grab a color from the smoothed skin that you think would look natural. Once you’ve found a swatch you like, use your paint brush at a low opacity (below 50%, but experiment around until you’ve found a level that works) to paint the areas of the skin you wish to cover up.

7. Now you’re ready to bring the original skin back to really enhance the realism of your retouching. Start with your “Paint smoothing” layer and bring down the opacity until you think it’s at a good level. Next, move down to your “Blur” layer and bring down the opacity until you find a spot where the original skin is apparent without adding in all the problem areas you wanted to cover up in the first place.
8. You should now be looking at a retouched portrait that has rejuvenated the subject, hidden imperfections, but all the while has remained natural.

Now that you’ve managed to master skin retouching, explore other ways that Photoshop pros alter images to create portraits that enhance the subject––and showcase the retoucher’s skill.

Author: Elizabeth Zouzal


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