Basic Skin Retouching Methods

I have learned several ways to retouch skin. Some are good and some are bad. I’m going to retouch the same image and describe each one.

The Original Image

This is the original image I’m going to use. The hardest part was finding a picture of a model that  had skin that can be retouched for this exercise. Most of my models had great skin.

Sorry LaCole for using your un-retouched pic. Fortunately, I don’t think she will even see this blog.

Here is the un-retouched photo. I shot this with my Fuji X100s. I cropped to her face to get a better look at her blemishes. I also fixed the exposure. Other than that, it’s straight RAW out of the camera converted using Lightroom.

LaColeNoReTouch

Before I begin, I didn’t put too much effort into this. I hate retouching. It feels tedious to me. I rather be shooting than retouching.

Therefore, these might not look good and sloppily done. It’s because they are. Also, I was doing these on my laptop with a dirty screen, using my touchpad. Those are my excuses if these don’t look good. Anyway, let’s get started.

Blur Skin + Healing Brush

This is probably the worst method ever. I learned this method early on from one of Scott Kelby’s youtube videos. I can’t believe he suggests this method. It is one of the worst methods ever.

Having said that, it is the fastest method. This took me less that 5 minutes to do. The only problem is that it destroys skin texture. It gives the porcelain doll look. I do not like it. It makes it look unnatural.

Also, some people abuse this technique so they blur the skin even more. It makes the image look ridiculous.

LaColeSurfaceBlur

How do you use this?

  1. Copy to new layer.
  2. Use surface blur in Photoshop. Scott actually says to use Gaussian Blur. I think surface blur makes a “cleaner” blur. So use that instead. You need to mess with the slider to get enough blur to clear away most imperfections while trying to keep things looking natural.
  3. Drop the opacity down in the blurred layer until it looks natural.
  4. Mask away the eyes, lips, and hair. That way, those will look sharp and natural.
  5. Heal away the rest of imperfections.

Frequency Separation

This is where you create 2 layers. One is the tone layer. The other is the texture layer.  You “separate” those frequencies.

That way, when you heal the skin, you don’t have to worry about the skin tone. You just have to make sure the textures match. So you can go to any place in the skin to get the sample for your skin to heal from.

This preserves skin tone and texture much better than blurring skin method or straight healing brush method. This takes a long time to do though. My image took about 15-20 minutes to complete. And I wasn’t even putting much effort into it.

Also, you can get a bad texture and screw it up. Also, when you have skin as bad as hers, it’s hard to find a good texture to start from. So it can look “patterned.” You would need to get into 200% zoom and do it more meticulously.

But if the model has good skin in most places, this is one of the best ways to retouch skin.

LacoleFreqSep

How do you do this? It’s too complicated to explain. Search “frequency separation” on Youtube and you can find a ton of videos from there.

Dodge and Burning

Dodging and Burning is what the best retouchers use in the industry. It completely preserves all skin textures. It is the most natural method.

The only problem: it takes freaking too long. Also, there is no way to do this with a mouse or touchpad. I had to bust out my Wacom tablet. If you hate retouching like me, this will test your patience.

However, I do use this method more often these days since it makes people look more natural. I don’t do it at a micro level too much though. I do it on a macro level.

If you want to do this properly, you need to zoom in to 300-400%. This is also the hardest method since you need patience and artistic talent. When you dodge and burn away the skin, you can lose tonality. But you can add tonality as well afterwards. Therefore, it helps if you know how to paint in shadows and light.

If you overdo this and make the skin super smooth, the skin will look blurred. So you have to be careful not to spend 8 hours chugging away with this method and have it look like something you could’ve done in 5 min. However at 100% zoom, you’ll be able to see each texture of the skin.

LacoleDANDB

So how do you do this? This is also complicated to explain. Create a 50% gray, soft light layer (search for this method on the Internets). Then you zoom in 300%, dodge dark spots, and burn light spots in the skin. Repeat until everything looks even.

This can get complicated. Like I mentioned earlier you may lose tonality. So you have to paint those back in. You may also lose skin color as well (like in my pic). So you would also need to paint those back in. It’s just too tedious and painful to do it correctly.

You should, however, do D&B on a macro level for all your images. It can help the image.

100% Zoom Of Each Method

Here are the 100% zoom of each method.

1. Blur

Blur
Blur

2. Frequency Separation

Frequency Seperation
Frequency Separation

3. Dodging and Burning

Dodging and Burning
Dodging and Burning

Other Methods

There are  other methods I haven’t shown.

  • Lowering clarity slider in Lightroom. This can look horrible if you’re not careful. But it can lighten up some blemishes if used well.
  • Going crazy with clone stamp on a new layer and dropping opacity.
  • Using portraiture and other insta-retouching software.
  • Many others I’ve forgotten about or not know about.

Final Thoughts

You wouldn’t use these methods exclusively. You would combine these methods to get the best possible results.

Honestly, I like the Blur method out of all 3 with this particular image. Yeah I know I wrote  it’s the worst method. But it looks the best to me. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t look sloppy. I just can’t stand the over-smoothness of the skin though. Oh well. Maybe if I spent more time on the other methods.

Each technique can be used depending on where the image will be shown. If you need to show images to a client quickly at a small resolution, the blur method might be good enough. If you’re going to print big, perhaps the other methods can be good.

Besides using software, having someone with good skin, getting a good makeup artist, having good lighting, and other factors can help as well.

Other sneaky ways you can try is soft-focusing and/or using a high ISO can help make the skin look smoother–whatever you can do to lose the details.

Which Method Did You Like The Best?

Well, which ones?

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