There’s a million and one ways to retouch a photo in Photoshop. I’m sure that many of you are well aware of a few techniques for editing color, but what about editing skin color? I’m not talking about some useless retouching tutorial for completely changing someone’s skin color (I found one earlier!). No, what I’m talking about is a few simple techniques to help you remove unwanted colors, and enhance existing ones.
Paint On Skin Like An Actual Artist
Alright, so not really like an artist but I always feel a little more “arty” when I’m actually brushing an effect on rather than moving a couple sliders. This retouching technique is so simple, yet it can get you out of some tricky situations.
In the photo above there’s some slight color bounce coming from his blue shirt and his skin appears very red under his chin, so follow along as I step through the fix.
Create a new blank layer (CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + N) and change the blend mode of that layer to Color. Using a soft brush set to a low flow (5-10% or 1-3% if you’re like our Editor, Kish) sample a color that you want, and paint over any nasty areas. In this example, I grabbed a sample of the color directly under his chin which was a little less red and painted over the other areas.
The beautiful thing about this method is it can fix some horrific color casts and is so simple. If you’ve ever photographed someone wearing a vivid top you’ll probably have experience with oddly colored jaw lines. This retouching technique can fix that in no time.
Retouch Skin Color Using Curves
Ah, curves. We call love curves; probably the most versatile adjustment layer. When retouching skin color it can be very useful. It’s not that great for fixing issues, but it’s very good for accentuating existing color.
Add a curves adjustment layer and set the blend mode to color. You’ll notice that when editing color, I almost always say “set the blend mode to color”. If you’re wondering why, then read this article from last week, it explains all. Having set the blend mode to ‘Color’, use the drop down menu to select either the red, blue or green channels.
Adjust the top of the curve to change color in the highlights, middle for midtones, and bottom for darks. You can combine colors from different channels to create pretty much any color you want. Plus, by having the blend mode set to Color you won’t be messing with the luminosity of your image.
Another step to the Curve technique is to further refine where your color is being applied. You can do this by using Blend If. I love ‘Blend If’ almost as much as I love Curves, and you will too. Give it a try.
All you need to do is double-click on your layer and hold ALT to drag out the pointers in the area I have highlighted above. When you hold ALT and drag, the pointer will split. If I’m trying to adjust only the highlights, I’ll drag one all the way over and then slowly bring the other pointer over until I like what I’m seeing.
What About Hue & Saturation For Retouching Skin?
‘Hue and Saturation’ is another fantastic way to retouch skin color in Photoshop. The method I’ll cover here can be used to remove unwanted pigmentation of any color, and minor color casts. It can be used for a lot more than that, but those are the two things I mainly use it for.
Add a Hue and Saturation layer and, guess what? Set the blend mode to Color. Having done that, zoom in and identify the color you want to adjust. For demonstration purposes, I selected Magenta. An easy way to identify the color you want to adjust is to use the color picker tool, which I have highlighted above. Click that symbol and then click on the area of your photo you want to alter.
When I did this it selected the Magenta color channel. The next step is to bump the saturation all the way to 100, and so by doing, you’ll be able to see exactly what has been selected. To complete your selection drag the slider at the bottom of the Hue and Saturation panel and watch that ugly saturated area move. Once you feel it’s selecting exactly what you want, stop.
With your selection finalized, return the Saturation to 0 and begin adjusting the Hue.
Photoshop’s Forgotten Tool (For Me), Selective Color
The final technique I’m going to cover for editing skin color in Photoshop is one which I must admit I rarely use. I can usually do everything I want by using the three techniques already covered and Frequency separation. That does not mean, however, that this technique is not necessary. In fact, it’s an incredibly precise way to control color.
Create a new Selective Color adjustment layer and set the blend mode to Color. I’m going to do an extreme example so you can see what this can do. We can use Selective Color to adjust the color of each different color channel, AND we can also manipulate the color within the highlights (whites), midtones (neutrals), and darks (blacks); just like we did using Curves.
With the layer created and set to Color, I ramped up the yellow in the highlights (whites) and blue in the shadows (darks). And the result…
An ugly pile of rubbish. As I said, this is only for demonstration purposes. So why would one use Selective Color VS Curves? Some people may find it more intuitive operating via sliders rather than with Curves, you can control each color channel individually, and the level of control is far higher. For me, I rarely find use for this but I think it will depend on personal preference. Some will prefer retouching with Selective Color and some with Curves. Remember, as with Curves, you can double click on the layer and refine the effect using Blend If.
A Final Word On Retouching Skin
As with any portrait retouching in Photoshop, I’m a big believer in keeping it natural. Your edits can be extreme, but try to keep skin looking “natural”. While it may be tempting to aim for perfection, you’ll find that you need to modify your definition of “perfection” to maintain a natural looking result. If not, you may end up with some horribly plastic, fake looking skin.
Another aspect of retouching which is reserved more for pro’s, is to only go as far as you’re being paid. You might see a myriad of errors which leave you itching to jump into Photoshop, but if the client isn’t paying enough then Lightroom will often suffice. I regularly use the SLR Lounge Preset System when I need excellent results, quickly. It’s been designed very well and has been a part of my workflow for many years now. You can find it here.