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Tips & Tricks

Getting The Commercial Editorial Smooth Hair Look Is Easier Than You Think

By Kishore Sawh on April 14th 2014

Doing a photo shoot, no matter how hard you try to control it, is always going to have variables. Any photographer and retoucher knows that getting it right during the picture making process is key, and that making sure make-up and hair is done to the best of ability will prove a tremendous help. That being said, there’s usually still room for improvement, and room to impose your artistic flare. Hair, as it turns out, is an ideal candidate for both of these, as there’s usually strays, fly-aways, or symmetrical imbalance to it that needs be sorted out.

I’m going to show you a way to use an inbuilt filter in Photoshop to smooth hair, which also can have the effect of making it more orderly, and less distracting. If you’re going for a very high fashion, commercial look, something perhaps like what you’d see in a perfume or fashion editorial, then you can use this to give the photo a very polished finish. It is, however, very useful to use in even more casual photos. If you’re familiar with frequency separation, you’ll find much of this very familiar, and if you’re not, you’ll see just how easy and superb this can be.

How To: Oil Filter

1. Create 2 duplicates of your chosen image. (Command J on MAC, Control J on PC). Then you’re going to name the one on top ‘High’ and the one below ‘Low.’


2. Then, select the ‘Low’ layer and go to the Menu bar and select Filter>Oil Paint. A window will come up with your image and it’ll likely look like it’s been retouched by Van Gogh. Don’t worry, the sliders on the side we’re going to use to sort that.



3. We don’t want the swirl effect, but we do want the blur/smooth effect. Take the ‘Shine’ slider and bring it to nought. The swirls should now be gone. I then suggest playing with the ‘Stylization’ and ‘Cleanliness’ sliders to see their effect. Both of these will be kept rather high, as we do want a smooth effect which we can tone down if warranted later in the process via opacity, etc.


4. Next select the ‘High’ layer, and we’re going to use the Apply Image option from the ‘Image’ menu. This is almost going to negate the oil paint effect on the ‘Low’ layer, but that’s fine. This is the most detailed section, so ensure you get the following settings correct. Select ‘Add’ from the Blending drop down list, and your Scale should be set to 2, Offset to 0, and Opacity to 100%. Then Select ‘Low’ from the Layer drop down menu, and ensure the Invert box is checked. Your screen should look similar to the one below.


5. With the High layer still selected, change the blending to ‘Linear Light’ and your image will look as the original.

6. Then, we will use the High Pass filter to remove some of the harder, areas. Go to Filter>Other>High Pass. Then a window till pop up and you should move it around to see its effect. The higher you go the more normal your photo will look. Lower the slider, and the oil filter look will be more apparent. We’re going for smoothness and I find most of the time I choose between 1 and 2, so for today we’ll go with 1.5, but use your own discretion. Again, I say err the side of too much, as we can lower it later. You can then smoothen the layer more by changing the opacity of the High layer. I’ll go down to about 80%.


7. Now, we just want this to apply to the hair. So we’re going to Group the images. Hit the ‘Create New Group button,’ then select both the High & Low layers and drag them to into the Group folder. Next. Select the Group folder and add a Layer Mask. Then invert that mask. Your image should look original again.


8. Select the brush tool, and brush over the area of hair you want smoothed until it’s to your liking. You can alter the opacity of the brush to suit different areas of the hair, and the opacity of the High layer to alter the over strength of the look. Here is the finished image and a comparison. These are subtle, but you can do what you’d like.


Apologies, I understand I generally work very subtly. It is hard on here to really see the difference, so here is a closer crop and I’ve upped the effect so you can have a better idea. I wouldn’t usually do it this much but, it’s for highlighting purposes. Again, use discretion here, and when hair is less windswept this can be used to greater effect. Though I do like it like this.



The steps may seem to be a lot. I guarantee you that after doing this once or twice, you’ll be able to to go from step one to nine in less than 30 seconds. I also find it helpful to record these into my own actions so I can apply them with a single click (it will take you to step 9, so you can then make the fine adjustments). I find it can look really brilliant in fashion photography, and high contrast situations, but as you can see from here, the results can be beautifully subtle even in casual portraits. One small tip, I wouldn’t smooth the tips too much, and beware of overly smoothing highlighted areas.

If you like this, and would like to become quickly adept at Photoshop, I might suggest having a look around our site as we generally post tutorials like this often. And to have a look at the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 102 as they are comprehensive and will have you doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.

Via: Creative BLoq


A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Patrick

    Good tutorital, thanks. However, I’d like to ask what the “high” layer is actually useful for? When following your steps on my own image I see zero difference and on its own that layer is pretty much just uniform grey. I’m a real photoshop beginner… did I just select an image where it makes no difference? What’s its purpose?

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    • George

      The ‘High’ layer is there for balance. Both layers are a two part ingredient for Frequency Separation. Editing the ‘High’ will affect only fine details and changing the ‘Low’ will affect your tones. You need the high there for balance, but for this technique you only need to adjust the low (don’t delete the high though).

      Hope that helps! Give it a google if I make no sense :)

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  2. Kevin

    This is a very helpful tutorial. The effect in the hair is much more obvious when you’re working on the image and it is easy to over do it. The finished product when done with care is remarkable though.

    Thanks Guys!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Kevin, Hi. I’m glad you found it helpful. It is a good technique when used with discretion. I’ve actually used it on skin, very mildly, to achieve a certain look. It was difficult to show how effective it really is, here in the article, as I didn’t want to over-do the images. But as you mentioned, when working on it, the effect is very obvious, and can really lead to quality results. Cheers

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