Skin retouching is a delicate balance between getting the skin smooth, and still keeping enough of the detail to prevent the face from looking like plastic. Here is a method that works exactly the opposite of the way you would think it should.

Diana Orona, our model for today’s tutorial has great skin, but the sharp details revealed with a quality lens means that skin can look overly detailed and that can be distracting.

As we can see in this image, there is quite a lot of texture in the skin and also a little too much detail for a beauty or glamour shot. So let’s get started smoothing…

The first step is to create a duplicate layer using Ctrl + J (Cmd + J for Mac)

Now we need to invert the new layer using either Ctrl (Cmd) + I or from the menu as shown here.

This creates a rather “freaky” version of our portrait, kind of reminds me of my old darkroom days, but things are about to get even stranger.

Next, we apply the Vivid Light Blend mode within the Layers Palette.. and everything turns.. Grey

What we have done now is effectively created a second layer that cancels out the first layer. This is the layer we will work on to remove any unwanted blemishes while retaining the underlying skin texture.

At this stage, we convert the layer for Smart Filters. This allows us to be able to go back and adjust our smoothing settings rather than rework each stage. Another benefit of using the Smart filters is that you can easily create an action to achieve this technique and adjust the settings for individual images.

This screenshot shows an icon in the bottom right of the layer preview, showing that this layer is now ready for Smart Filters.

And now for the fun stuff. As strange as it sounds, we are going to Sharpen the layer using the High Pass Filter. This will have the unusual effect of blurring the overall image. If this confuses you, just think that we are working on the opposite of the original image, so sharpening to blur makes a weird kind of sense.

Change your pixel radius in the High Pass pop up box so that the skin no longer shows any blemishes. Be careful not to go too high, although as this is a smart filter we can fine tune it later if required.

You may notice that the image blurs while the High Pass preview box sharpens… this is due to this layer being an opposite of the layer beneath. Also, only be concerned how the blurring looks on the skin as we will not be applying this to the hair etc.

So if we sharpened to blur the image, now we need to blur to sharpen the image… talk about mind bending! We now apply a Gaussian Blur to restore the skin texture.

Change the pixel radius of the Gaussian Blur to reveal the underlying skin texture while hiding any blemishes. A good starting point for the pixel radius is less than half of the value used in the High Pass Filter.

As you can see in the screenshot, both the High Pass and Gaussian Blur filters have been applied to Layer 1. This allows us to double click on either of these filters and fine tune the values used if needed. As things stand, this skin smoothing has been applied to the entire image. What we need is to apply it to only the skin.

This is simply a case of creating a black layer mask for layer 1. To do this, Alt (Opt) + Click on the mask layer to fill the mask layer with Black. As always with layer masks, Black conceals, White Reveals… so now all that skin smoothing has vanished.

Now it is just a case of painting the smoothing back into the image. Choose the Brush from either the Toolbar or by pressing B, make sure that you have selected White as your foreground color. Choose a nice soft brush and paint on the selected layer mask.
As you paint in white on the layer mask you should see the skin being smoothed while retaining all the lovely skin texture. If you find the smoothing is too much you can either adjust the settings of previous filters or you can lower the opacity of the layer.


Above you can see the starting image…


…and here the smoothed skin, edited image.

This technique works just as well for B&W images as it does for color. Give it a try.
Model: Diana Orona

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