How-To: Portrait Retouching

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In this tutorial, you will learn a few simple retouching methods to get your model the look that you see every day in magazines and on billboards. We will focus on getting that silky smooth skin.

Our goal here is not to get a plastic look, but a nice, smooth, and natural look. I'll be using an image of my beautiful friend Sara in this tutorial. Let's get started!

Let's open our image in Photoshop. I'm using CS5, but you can follow along in Adobe Photoshop CS6 or Photoshop CC.

Open the image in Photoshop

Alright. The first thing we're going to do is duplicate our background layer. Since this retouching process uses destructive editing, we want to make sure we still have access to our original data. Right-click the Background layer and click Duplicate Layer...

Duplicate Background Layer

Now that we have a new base layer to work on and edit without losing our original data, we can hide the original Background layer.

Hide the Background Layer and use the New Base Layer

Next, we're going to get rid of a few of the obvious blemishes and stray hairs using the Spot Healing Brush, Patch Tool, and Clone Stamp Tool.

Look for blemishes such as pimples, cold sores, rashes, etc.

Remove blemishes using a variety of tools.

Once we have all of our major blemishes and hairs removed, we're going to duplicate this layer just like we did our Background layer. This new layer will become our skin smoothing layer.

Duplicate Base Layer after blemishes removed

On the new duplicate layer, we're going to apply a surface blur. I like using surface blur, because if the model has on any makeup, the color doesn't go all over the place like with the Gaussian blur. This is found under Filter > Blur > Surface Blur.

Filter > Blur > Surface Blur

In the Surface Blur menu, I start with the Threshold slider. I like to keep it fairly low, because if you turn it too high, you start to lose too many details. I turn the Radius slider up until the smaller blemishes and slight color imperfections of the skin smoothen out. These values differ with every image, so it's more about the look than the numbers. Remember, we are only looking at the skin here. We don't care about the hair or eyes right now.

Surface Blur

Hit 'Ok'.

Now we're going to add a layer mask on the smoothing layer. I like to add a black mask so that I can paint in the skin, instead of painting out the hair, jewelry, eyes, etc. So we're going to Alt+Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a black mask.

Add a Black Layer Mask on the Smoothing Layer

Now, grab a very soft white brush and start painting in the smoothing on all of the skin. Try not to get any of the hair, jewelry, eyes, crease of the lips, or anything else that needs to remain sharp. If you need to see what you've painted on, simply hide the Base layer. Remember, if you paint on something accidentally, you can paint with a black brush to make things disappear.

Paint in the skin using a soft white brush on the layer mask.

Layer hidden to show progress.

Here is the layer with the smoothing all painted in and the hair, jewelry, eyes, and lips left sharp.

Result after painting

After painting with base layer hidden

Now, this leaves us with a very unnatural result, so we're going to lower the opacity until we get a pleasant result. As a tip, you can also set the opacity to 0, then raise it until the image "feels" right.

Adjust Opacity

This image felt good at an opacity of 65%, but this number changes with every image, so your results on another image may differ. Notice how the natural skin tones have returned as well as the texture. This looks much better than with the opacity at 100%. That's it for retouching the skin!

What are your questions or comments? What are you having trouble with? What would you like me to explain? Ask below.


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