Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Advanced Beauty Retouching

The big one is here! Inside we discuss popular techniques used for hi-end beauty retouching in the industry, making it all possible on Photoshop Elements 8! Pro versions provide many ways to do one thing which might not be available to beginners. We believe that software helps, but skill is more important! We wanted to make this tutorial as detailed as we possibly could.....

***Edit: This tutorial is a bit old school as it was written way back before it was published. That being said, they still work remarkably well today, but are a tad time consuming. I have written two actions specially for this called 'Beauty Retouch Pro' and 'Glamour Retouch' which are sold as a part of Pro Photoshop Actions on this site. These actions have many new time saving yet more accurate editing capabilities. You can take a look at them here.***

Lets begin by looking at the file we need to work on and 'percieve' the beauty in it. This can only happen by practice and taste in perfection. Really, knowing what to retouch is more important than how to retouch it...and that will ONLY happen in time. For this tutorial i made a new layer to show you the areas i need to work on for the beauty I visualized, for this this pretty model. The green areas show that below.

Always start working on a new copy of the original image file. If you work on the same file, copy it on a new layer and work only on that. That is exactly our next step. Lets call this layer Working Image1.

Ok, first we begin with blemish/spots/marks clean up with either the spot healing brush like shown below, or the cloning brush. Some spots are obviously visible and some need more practice to spot like the ones in red circles here just to give you an idea.

If you are using the cloning stamp tool, use it set on the lighten mode as shown below. What this does is it will affect only the dark areas from the sample you take. The lighter areas will be untouched. This is the original way of doing a skin retouch. The whole hi end beauty retouching band wagon started with this tool right here during the mid 90's!

In the next example you see how to use this tool. With the mode set to lighten and on low opacity, press Alt(Opt) and click the light shade of the skin. This creates the sample in the computers memory of the skin area you need to copy. Now, the arrows in the pic below, show the skin areas that need to be a shade lighter so that it doesn't look patchy and the shades blend.

Do this same technique with low opacity and smaller size brush on the wrinkles below the eye. The lighten mode is the best way to keep the texture intact while doing this. Just don't over do it so that it looks too fake or retouched. Leave subtle wrinkles in there and if done correctly, it will look like the image below.

Now do the same on other areas of the skin that need blending in tones and wrinkle removal, like the forehead here.

And the arm here....just make sure that the plus signs in these images are the place i've clicked Alt(Opt) and they represent the sample area of skin i'm copying, and the arrows point to where i'm applying it. The black circle is the brush and its size.

The arm and the wrinkles on the neck...

When the image is clean of most of the spots...you will see that there are many more white dot and speckles kind of like hot pixels...so small everywhere....that it would take a lifetime to cleanup. Do i hear a lot of people quitting already...what did you expect? This is PRO RETOUCHING! Thankfully there is this shortcut. Before i tell you what, make a new copy of the working image and call it something like working image copy.

This filter i was talking about was there since the first photoshop(not elements) i touched, i guess version 3 in the mid 90's in my computer graphic class. Its called 'dust and scratches'. At first i thought it was such a useless tool and instead of cleaning, it adds more artifacts. I stopped using it until a few years back when i heard from some pre press guys about how much they rely on that tool. So, back to photoshop...version 7 this time, i finally figured out how to use it properly. So, we apply this on the bottom working image layer( remember the sandwich/masking techniques from previous tutorials)

This filter has to be applied very subtly and is only for tiny speckles and hot spots. The settings above work best for most images. But, train your eye as to how much is enough...once you see that, numbers are irrelevant! The difference in the skin below should tell you all...(use the eye icon to show/hide layer)

Now, select the top working image copy layer, and the erase tool. What we do now is simply erase the white spots to reveal the clear skin in the underlying layer. Also, some spots on eyebrows and eyelashes need to go too. Use a very small brush sizewith high opacity for this.

Notice a closeup of the parts i erased from the top layer in the layer thumbnail below...

Now, the skin is clean and smooth, yet retains the original texture. But pros don't stop here. One more round of spot healing/cloning coming up...Merge the working layers first by selecting/chaining them and press Ctrl(cmnd) E.

After cleaning some more spots here and there, lets clean up the hair line. This is very simmilar to removing wrinkles. Use the clone stamp tool on lighten mode and opacity never more than 25%.

Next is to remove stray hair. For gelled back hair it is very easy. You can always select the area with lasso and clone it inside. But here i'll show you how to use brushes in general in a straight line. Use the cloning tool, sample the area close to the hair by pressing Alt(Opt). Click on the start point from where you want the stroke to start. Then Shift + Click on the end point. Make sure the brush is not too soft edged...keep the brush hardness to atleast 80% and the opacity to 100%. This might require some practice.

Since my background is pure white, i can also use the paint brush tool with white color instead of sampling white with the clone too all the time. The small black arrows shows the length of the stroke i made to clear the stray hair...The start of the arrow is a Click and the pointed end is a Sift+Click...Repeat this in small strokes and move around the head. TIP: To move across the image fast, hit Space Bar....pan the image...leave the space bar and you will be back with your previous tool.

For this image, there is hair covering the top of the ear. That needs to go too. We're talking about perfection here. Use the lasso tool to make slection of the ear and then clone the hair out in small steps. This part is irritating as you have very little room to clone from and so have to repeat the steps for different areas in the selection.

This next steps take care of shaping her face and arms using the infamous 'Liquify' tool (some poor artist got carried away with this tool while working on Kate Winslet's figure for a magazine). Before the liquify tool was available in photoshop, it was stand alone software i remember called something funny like 'gooey' or something. The liquify has eveolved much since then and you can do a lot more, but the elements version doesn't have the bells and whistles. Will that stop us? Hehehe...No way! Some of us have seen days of changing body shapes WITHOUT the liquify tool. Anyway, we start with shaping the outer areas of her face. To do this, we need to first mask out the eye and lips to protect them from being affected. Make quick selections of her eyes and lips with lasso tool.

Inverse this selection by hitting Ctrl(Cmnd)+Shift+I and select the liquify tool Filter>Distort>Liquify in Photoshop Elements, and in Photoshop CS versions by Filter>Liquify. The inverse selection is our playground in the liquify panel, while the eyes and mouth are masked!

Use the liquify tool brush on the top left and choose size relevant to the area you want to push/pull. This tool is fun and easy to use, but don't go overboard and destroy the pixels. Just give small nudges and play with the pressure of the brush. Practice a lot with this...it's like ice skating i guess. The pink arrows above show the areas and the direction i worked on for this image. Press OK when you are done. Rework if you are not satisfied. Photoshop CS versions have an option to save mesh of the distortions you make. This was useful to work on a very light version of the image and save the mesh. Then load the mesh and apply on the actual big size image. These days, the preview of liquify is a small and light, no matter how heavy the file size is.

We also need to make the arms in the foreground a little bit slimmer. To do this, make a selection like shown below on the left image. Copy it in a new layer by Ctrl(Cmnd)+C and paste it by Ctrl(Cmnd)+V. Non Elements users can just do Ctrl(Cmnd)+J. Now selecting this new layer, press Ctrl+T to transform the selection and nudge it like shown in the image below right and press enter or double click in the area of the selection.

Merge this layer in the main working image and crop the image to makeup for the extra space we pushed in during transform.

Now we need to work on the eyes. For a beauty photographer/portrait painter the eyes are the most important part of the subject, and the only 'living' element in an image which conveys emotion. So we start by making a special selection(follow above process) to shape the eyebrows in liquify and try and match them so that it is in symmetry...

After pressing Ok, we need to work on the inside of the eyes by making it brighter and contrasty...so it connects with the viewer. Make a copy of the working image and close the eye icon of it and select the original working image and select brightness/contrast from the adjust menu.

Boosting the contrast creates a lot of color noise. So we reduce it by Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise, and try choosing the setting simmilar to below.

Press Ok and then select the new working layer we made and erase out the eyes form that layer to show the bright contrasty image of eyes below. Erase only the area of the entire eyeball.

Now merge the working image layers and zoom in to the eyes. With the clone tool, lighten mode and low opacity, clean out the red viens if any in the eyes. The white area should look smooth and clean!

Okay  people, now its time for some dodging and burning! We are going to use two adjustment layers for this, one for the highlights and one for the shadows. In the past millenium, when there were no adjustment layers, we used to make two copies of the same layer and work in the simmilar way as below. Start creating the adjustment layer as shown below by clicking on the adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layer panel. You can use levels or brightness/contrast for this but for brightly lit beauty shots only, my preference is the gradient map layer(do not mix it with the gradient adj. layer). Do not try this with 'low key' images! Use levels instead(I'll cover that in an upcoming tutorial). Make sure the foreground and background colors are set to black and white.

First adjustment layer is for highlights and so we name it accordingly. Set the layer mode to softlight and the opacity to somewhere around 30%. What you need to concentrate on is to see that the shadows lighten up slightly.

The next adjustment layer we create on top of this is to darken the image. Set the layer mode to 'multiply' and opacity around 40-50% and name it shadows.

Click on the 'masking box' of the shadow layer(the second white box on the shadow layer) to activate it, and fill it with black. Solid black color blocks or 'masks' the effect of that layer to be visible. Painting in white on it, will reveal the effect of the layer on the areas you paint. That my friend, is masking!

But what we are going to do next, is what i call reverse masking. Click on the highlights adj. layer and activate the masking box. Let it remain filled with white. It brightens up the whole image....BUT...the highlights look blown. So we paint in black on the highlights, to hide the affect of the adjustment layer on the highlights. In other words, masking it with black, will reveal the properly exposed highlights from the working image layer below.

Now go to the masking box of the shadow layer, and paint in white to darken areas very subtly around the hair and edges of the shadow areas to make it look like a stunning 3D. It's simmilar to sketching or shading. For retouchers without an any art background, i think this is the first thing you should learn before attempting. Seriously, get some drawing pencils out and practice in monotone! Start shading a circle to make it look like a three dimensional ball.

Little bit of color correction now. This image has been color corrected in raw mode before(more in an upcoming tutorial about raw images) so it needs very little correction. I see yellow in the skin tone around the nose. You can use selective color, but for those with photoshop elements...we need to be more creative. Select 'Replace Color' from  Enhance>Adjust Color>Replace Color in Photoshop Elements, and Image>Adjustments>Replace Color in Photoshop. With the eye dropper tool select the most yellowish part on the skin tone.

Set the saturation low to reuce the yellow, and lightness slightly higher. If required, move the hue slider very slightly to blend the colour from yellow to match the surrounding. Make sure that the fuzziness selects only the yellow areas. You can move the slider in real time to see the difference. The settings below worked well for this image.

Okay it's time for the final step...... Skin restoring! There are three 'correct' ways to do this. I'm showing two in this tutorial. First of all, if you followed the above steps of skin cleaning, dust and scratches, liquify etc. perfectly, there will be little work here. This whole workflow is designed to keep the skin intact till the end. If the image is not sharp with good skin details....this tutorial is NOT for that. Professionals do skin texturing to even out the uneven texture, or graft skin like a plastic surgeon on areas that needed to much work and the skin details got destroyed.

Lets start with skin grafting. The main areas where this is required is mainly below the eyes, cheek bones etc. Make a selection of skin which has details, like below and copy it on a new layer.

Go to the filter menu and select Filter>Other>High Pass from there. Set the radius where the texture is emphasized and click OK.

Now, you can also desaturate this if you see color artefacts, but not really required. Set the mode to Vivid Light. See what other modes do like Overlay, Softlight etc for your image. Now place this on a blurred area of skin and scale it(never too much) and rotate if necessary to fit the texture of surrounding skin. Its not ONLY about putting the texture, the direction of light reflected by the skin pores shold match too. To fill large areas do not scale the texture to much, but instead make multiple copies of that layer and move them around. Play with opacity of these layers to finetune. Also, not shown here, erase the edges of the patch with a soft edged eraser so that they blend seamlessly.

Now create a new copy of the working image and blend all the high pass layers to that and name that merged layer highpass(again).

The second technique helps in making skin texture even by adding noise. Just like the 'dust and scratches' filter, add noise requires two layers as we for sure don't want noise in areas other than the skin, like eyes, lips etc. The thing here is to add noise in just the right amount to make it emulate skin texture. So we create a copy of our working image again(make sure the eye icon of the high pass layer is closed). Select the bottom working image and closethe eye of the new working image. Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise.  Always the setting has to be monochromatic, and the distribution to be uniform. The amount varies according to the image. The following image shows what worked here. Press OK when you are done.

Now, select the upper working image, and erase out the skin areas to reveal the newly textured skin below. Use a soft edged brush with different opacities for different areas. What you should get is something like below. See the areas i've erased in the thumbnail circled red.

After this, merge the working image layers into one. NOW, sometimes to get the best of both worlds, i blend the high pass layer and the working image layer by controlling opacity of the highpass layer, to get the final retouched image!



  1. It does take for ever but the results are worth it. Thank you very much for sharing your secrets.

  2. Wonderful tutorial, great source of information presented so easy to follow. Thanks very much and keep it up.

  3. Thank you Salmiz and Kike for your comments! And also special thanks to our friend Frank from NY, who kindly sponsored the coffees for today's work! Really appreciated! Keep coming and feel free to leave your comments, questions and/or suggestions!

  4. Adding noise to create skin texture works nicely however I find with large resolution images often solely noise is too fine.

    I tend to add more noise and have give that a small amount of gaussian blur. This 'welds' the noise a bit together making it slightly large and giving you the ability to scale the 'pore' size.

  5. The high pass for ski texture is a nice technique. Have to try that.

    Also,you wrote

    "We believe that software helps, but skill is more important!"

    Thanks for saying it outright. More people should. Every image is different and merits its own game plan for retouch. Don't get me started on the canned programs that promise instant beauty.

  6. Great tutorial. I used to use this method for skin until I found out about spatial frequency separation. If you haven't tried that, you should to see what you think.

  7. Scott would you share you technique too. thanks for this beautiful technique. guys. cheers.

  8. Thank you for your adobe photoshop tutorials. I'm looking for a tutorials to help and I found your site interesting and full of information.