There are as many skin smoothing techniques out there as there are editors. I’ve watched 100′s of videos on YouTube, read different articles in magazines and have taken some online classes that deal with skin smoothing techniques. The combination that I use now seems to have some of the best results – and most of the credit, once again, goes to Calvin Hollywood for figuring this all out.
For this quick explanation, I’ll use Photoshop CS6 as it’s the latest and greatest out there. But you can really use any version to get similar results. For a full video explanation of Calvin’s techniques (I just touch on it) please visit his website and check out his video trainings.
All images below can be clicked on to see full-sized.
For my edit, I chose a poorly exposed image of model Natalia. This is a naturally lit image in the setting sun – no reflectors or flash. In this image, the sun is hitting her arm and background well, but I underexposed her face. This mistake was good, as it allowed lots of details in her face for me to work with.
So my first real step was to get the exposure closer to where it needed to be:
To correct this file, I used my Double RAW process (explained in a previous post) to adjust exposure and warm the tones. Keep in mind to open the RAW as an object, so we stay non-destructive.
Moving on, I make a merged copy of my RAW import and convert to a smart filter (again, as Calvin says, best to keep this non-destructive). You can see in this screen shot how I have brought out the details of Natalia’s face through the RAW import. The contrast is high, so pores and beauty marks show up even more:
Smoothing I – High Pass
Step one is to get some obnoxiously smooth skin by using an inverted High Pass filter. To do this, change your new layer to vivid light, invert it, then convert to a smart filter. Since we are working with an inverted layer, we need to use a high pass to smooth (need to think backwards). Adjust the High Pass slider until the skin texture looks nice to you. Only look at the skin here, don’t worry about other features.
To add a little texture back, now we do a little Gaussian Blur. Now you can notice some of the pores are back – but look very nice.
You will notice that some of the features (shadows) are glowing a little red here. We correct this through the Layer Style -> Blending Options. At the bottom, you can adjust the “Blend if Gray” sliders as I have, and your shadows and highlights are corrected.
Don’t worry that everything looks out of sorts here. Remember, we are only working with the skin.
Mask the Skin
Now, to work with just the skin, you need to add a black mask to the layer. You’ll see all the features and flaws come screaming back when you do this. It cracks me up every time. Once you have the mask enabled, grab a soft white brush at 40% and “powder” her face with it, just adding the soft skin where you want it:
As you can see here, I am just adding the “powder” to one side of her face. Make sure you carefully add this anywhere that skin is exposed. If it’s over-done, you can just re-mask it out at a lower opacity or, alternatively, lower the opacity of the layer.
Do Final Edits
That’s it for my version of the skin edits. Calvin has a couple more steps from here – but I am usually pretty happy with these results. From here, I do my other edits (dodge, burn, etc.) until I am happy with the image. For this one, here’s my final result:
Any questions, you know how to get a hold of me. To see full-sized image, head over to Flickr.