Soften skin in Photoshop

Peter Fenech

Ask a group of portrait photographers how they go about skin retouching and you’ll probably get very different answers

Pixabay 10687

Ask a group of portrait photographers how they go about skin retouching and you’ll probably get very different answers. The truth is, there are a variety ways to retouch skin and smooth out blemishes in Photoshop, but they all have their own advantages. It’s all about finding a method that works for you, and one that you can comfortably fit into your workflow. This particular technique puts the High Pass filter to good use, but not in its usual way. By applying it and inverting the layer, a reverse effect to sharpening can be achieved. By combining the filter with a layer mask and Photoshop’s Color Range selection method, you can single out everything that isn’t skin and soften everything that is. The advantage of retouching skin in this way is that you reduce the risk of leaving behind any signs of heavily retouched pixels, resulting in an image that appears very natural.


1 Set up layers Open a portrait image that needs skin softening into Photoshop. Make sure you look for an image that hasn’t been processed or retouched. Duplicate the Background layer by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+J.


2 Blend your layers To blend the exposure of the duplicate layer into the background, change its blend mode from Normal to Overlay. The contrast will appear very heavy at this stage.


3 Convert for Smart Filters Before applying any filters in Photoshop, we need to convert the layer for Smart Filters so that we can re-edit them at any point. To do this, click Convert for Smart Filters in the Filter menu.


4  Invert image Head to Image>Adjustments>Invert (or press Cmd/Ctrl+I) to invert the first layer. Because of the Overlay blend mode, you’ll notice some grey areas appearing around the skin.


5  Use High Pass filter Head to the Filter menu again and go down to Other>High Pass. Start by reducing the Radius slider to its lowest value and then gradually increase it until the skin appears softer.


6  Select the skin Click on the Background layer. To select just the skin, go to Select> Color Range. Set the Select drop-down menu to Skin Tones. Slide the Fuzziness adjustment up until all the skin is white in the preview box.


7  Edit in Quick Mask Press Q to load Quick Mask mode. Use the Brush tool (B) set to black to add red to areas of the face other than skin. Press X to add areas to the selection, then Q to return to normal mode when done.


8 Mask the edges Click on the High Pass layer and add a layer mask. If the edges of the face haven’t been included in the mask, use the Brush tool set to white and an opacity of 30% or less to blend in the High Pass effect.

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