New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash Preorder

natural-editing-retouching-in-photoshop-with-hue-and-saturation Tips & Tricks

Retouching In Photoshop | Correcting Skin With Hue & Saturation

By Max Bridge on December 2nd 2015

There are so many different ways to edit skin in Photoshop. Some techniques produce lovely, natural results and others, a gag worthy, plastic mess. Frequency separation is by far my favorite method to correct skin, but it is also very time consuming. As a result, we need to have a few methods for retouching skin that are a little quicker.

A Hue and Saturation layer is an excellent way to quickly adjust the color of skin. It’s not as versatile as Frequency Separation but it’s much quicker and far easier to get your head around. I use it all the time for making subtle adjustments to a person’s face and even use this method to make more global refinements.


This photo is already pretty good. However, as you can see below, there are a couple areas that I would like to adjust. There’s some patchy redness between the eyebrows as well as on the left cheek. And there’s also a bit of discoloration under the eyes. My personal preference when it comes to editing is not to make things 100% perfect; although it does depend on what I’m editing. In general, with portraits, I like to enhance rather than perfect. There’s been a bit of a shift in recent years, away from overly Photoshopped images and toward something a little more natural. That’s where I like to reside.


Retouching In Photoshop: How To Use Hue & Saturation to Correct Skin

Having identified our problem areas, we can use Hue and Saturation to isolate the colors and adjust them accordingly. Our 1st step is to create a new Hue and Saturation layer. With that done, we need to select the correct colour channel.


We could guess the color channel we want and just select it from the drop-down menu at the top (where it says “master”), or we could use the “Targeted Adjustment Tool,” aka the hand with the arrows (see photo below). With that tool selected, click on the area you would like to adjust. In this case, I chose the area beneath my subject’s left eye. Photoshop automatically selected the red channel.


We could stop here and begin adjusting, but if we did, we would be making fairly broad adjustments to the red channel, and that’s not what we want to do. To further refine the selection, we’re going to use the Color Range slider at the bottom of this panel; it’s circled in the photo above. The Color Range slider will allow us to target a far more precise range of colors, thus enabling us to make defined adjustments to skin imperfections.

Within the Color Range Slider, there are three adjustments we can make. The first two control how wide our selection is (how many colors/shades we are affecting) and the speed at which that selection falls off. The other moves that selection throughout the entire colour range of our image.

If you look at the slider, you will see two white lines and two circles either side. The closer the lines are together, the fewer colors/shades you will be affecting. The circles represent the fall off of that selection. It’s sort of like feathering. If those circles are very close to the lines, then your selection will abruptly stop. Whereas, move the circles further away and it gradually fades away.

QUICK TIP – When making your selection, drag the saturation slider up to 100. By doing so, it makes it very easy to see what part of your image you are affecting, see below.


Retouching In Photoshop: Adjusting The Color

We’ve now selected a very narrow range of colours that we can adjust. All you have to do is move the hue slider until you start to see the desired result. Once you do, add a mask to your layer and fill this mask with black. Remember, we want this to be very targeted, and hence we don’t want our adjustment affecting any other part of our image. Use a white brush on the layer mask and paint the adjustment where needed. As this is such a targeted technique, I often use a few of these layers to adjust different parts of the face.

Here is the final photo with the skin having been corrected. If I were making this “perfect,” there are still many things I would adjust. For the purpose of this image, however, it is “perfect.”


You could use this technique to take away blotchy redness, that magenta tint people often get around their eyes, or even alter the color in a more global way. For example, if you wanted to take away a large amount of redness from a person’s face, I strongly advise caution. When making larger adjustments, even minor changes to Hue can have a very big impact.


These next two photos are a good example of a more global approach to this technique. I wanted to reduce the red hue from around the cheeks, nose and mouth. Given that this was all within the same color range I was able to do so with one adjustment layer. However, as it was a global adjustment, I was more cautious with settings.





Retouching In Photoshop: Hue & Saturation Summary

There are so many different ways to edit skin in Photoshop. Some take hours and some take minutes, but very few are wrong; if used correctly. As I often say about gear, it’s the right tool for the right job. Spending 2 hours editing each photo from a family photo shoot is just daft, whereas, that may be more common in high fashion. For beauty, you might be spending far longer to achieve that “perfect” look.

The key to Lightroom and Photoshop, in fact, just editing, in general, is to absorb as much info as you can. Equip yourself with an array of techniques that can be utilized at the right moment. It’s usually either time or budget constraints which will determine what is best for you to use.

For some fantastic time-saving presets for Lightroom, be sure to check out the SLR Lounge Preset System. The system that the team have created is an excellent time-saving tool which I’m able to use on 90% of jobs. You can find it here.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Jeff Durand

    Hey Max!

    No worries, the photo still looks orange to me. Especially as I scroll down and see the photo of the gent in comparison. A couple of photos looking off (to me) will not deter me from stopping and reading daily at all! I only commented because i love this site!

    | |
    • Max Bridge

      Hey Jeff,

      Ha ha, that’s pretty funny. It looks ok on my monitor now so…dunno. Maybe we’re both just seeing something different.

      Have a good weekend and feel free to rip apart my photos whenever :). I always value the opinions of others.

      | |
  2. Jeff Durand

    Hate this to be my first post, but couldn’t help myself. I apologize, I didn’t read the article yet, but had to say that the photo posted as the lead in image is so orange, and overly treated that it looks exactly like the old gaussian blur > overlay blend mode trick in Photoshop. Really really bad.

    Everyone has an opinion!

    I will read the article, but will skip the photo :P

    | |
    • Max Bridge

      Hey Jeff,

      No worries. I’m always open to strong opinions.

      There wasn’t that much work done to the skin, so I think most of what you’re seeing is the extremely shallow DOF. It’s less than an eyelash.

      In terms of the colour, your comment has just sparked an hour long investigation. To me, the photo looks similar to when you upload a photo to the web in the wrong colour space. Strange thing is, my workflow has not changed. Oddly enough, it seems as though “convert to SRGB” in “save for web” was not working. To resolve this I had to convert to SRGB before outputting for the web.

      I’m just getting confirmation that it’s ok to alter the images now this has been published but thanks for pointing it out! I don’t usually make people look like umpa lumpas!

      | |
    • Max Bridge

      Images all changed now and far less Umpa Lumpa’y. Thanks again Jeff!

      | |
  3. Tim Evans

    I just learned this method over the weekend from another site. It works wonders and is pretty quick and painless.

    | |
  4. Jim Johnson

    This is a great option for blotchy skin.

    The one thing to be careful of: it is really easy to over do this. It doesn’t make it look terrible, but it does make it look like they are wearing make-up, which is inappropriate on some people

    | |
    • Max Bridge

      Agreed. You have to be pretty careful when doing this on guys especially.

      | |
  5. Stan Rogers

    Always a good thing, and something I do as a matter of course.

    But about the frequency separation: I’m going to suggest trying Portraiture (the Imagenomic plugin) against the low-frequency layer ONLY. Return a masked separate layer, using only the details adjustments (leaving all of the “enhancements” off). You can run it nearly full blast (all-out “plastic people” mode, something you’d never consider doing on the whole picture) since it can’t touch any real details — all it can do is smooth tones, which will take mottling away and smooth out abrupt bumps and transitions. It will be too much, but since it’s a layer between LF and HF, you can dial back the opacity and quickly paint it out of unwanted areas. Combined with a freq separation action, it’s literally a minute or two at most (depending on your machine’s grunt factor), and that’s quick enough to make it practical for volume stuff (albums and so forth). It’s not quite what the full FS treatment gets you, but it’s surprisingly close for the time spent. Extra cost, yes, but it’ll pay for itself quickly when time is money.

    | |
    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for the input Stan.

      Something I have come to learn over the years is that there are different levels of frequency separation, if that makes sense. There are many different versions of the technique. Some which yield terrible looking, overcooked results and others which take far far far longer but look far far far better. Then there’s a number of different methods in-between those two extremes.

      For my articles about clamshell lighting, I used a quick FS method on those headshot images. It works well and is quick, like your method, but only appropriate at certain times, with a very gentle touch.

      Maybe one day I’ll do an article on the variety of different methods. It’s amazing how many videos there are out there which show a “wrong” (aka quick) way of doing it.

      Thanks again for telling us about this way. I’d not heard of it before.

      | |
    • Stephen Glass

      I’ve done the same thing with Nik Clr FX Dynamic Ski softner. But using G-blur and selected levels on selected parts of the skin seems to work better for me now. More control about the same amount of time.

      | |
  6. Mark Romine

    Nice option!

    | |