Apr 052011

It’s been really hard to keep updating this blog. But I was motivated to write a little bit about how I retouch my images by Midgiee. I can’t talk to Midgiee for more than five minutes on MSN without us thinking up of of new ideas for photos. She kindly volunteered to let me use an unprocessed image of her for this tutorial

These are the steps I take for doing frequency separation editing. I adapted this technique for Photoshop Elements, because I am cheap and I didn’t have CS5 when I started using it. This should also work using that other editor. There’s many ways to do this technique and there’s plenty of tutorials  to be found on google that do this in different, possibly better ways. This is works for me though.

Here is the original image, because I overexposed, I had to set the exposure to -1. Otherwise, settings are default.

Image from Lightroom (click for full size)

Make 4 copies of the background layer.

At the layer at the top of the stack, gaussian blur. Usually do between 4 and 6 for closeup portraits. In this case, I used 4.

Invert the image, then set the opacity to 50% by now, your layers dialog should look like this:

Select the top two layers, right click and select merge.

You should see an image that is just gray with little bits of detail. Rename this top layer to “High Pass” or something meaningful.

Change the top layer blend mode to Linear Light. At this point it should look like this.

The main image now looks very sharp (too sharp) so we need to add the blurred colour layer. Select the layer underneath the high pass layer and use  a gaussian blur with the same value we used in the second step (4)

Take the third layer, and gaussian blur it to 20. This is going to be a super smoothing layer that we’ll use later.

Add layer masks to the both the colour and the smoothing layer

Fill the smoothing layer’s mask with black, then move it in between the high pass and the colour. Your layers dialog should look like this.

Now comes the fun part. What we’ve done is separate the texture and colour into different layers. I think the best way to show how this works is by using the clone stamp tool and copying a bit of hair onto the skin, only on the high pass layer.

Copying only the Texture

So still on the high pass layer, you clone the “good” textured skin over the blemishes and bumpy bits. Try and clone from regions that are close by. Because we’ve separated the colour from the texture, it doesn’t matter if the part you’re cloning from or to is a different shade.

Cloning over blemishes. (click for full view)

You sometimes need to alternate between the colour and the high pass layers. Basically, the high pass is to clone out rough spots, and the colour is for cloning out blemishes and spots, sometimes you need to clone on both layers. I constantly adjust the opacity and flow of the brushes to make this easier.

To reduce the shadows under the eye, we can clone bits of colour select the colour layer, then click New Layer.

Use the clone stamp tool but set the sample to current layer and below

Copying lighter colour over the shadows of the eye. (click for full view)

Copy from nearby sources for the right tone. You can then control how much this shows by changing the opacity of the colour clone layer.

Next, we can use the brush tool to paint “white” onto the smooth layers mask. The whiter  the mask is, the more opaque it becomes and the more blur shows through. I usually do this on the arms/neck area that don’t usually get makeup. You can also use it to reduce the contrast of shadows.

Blur Layer (click for full view)

The last step is to sharpen. This can be done by painting black onto the colour layers mask to let the high pass layer filter the unedited background. I made the eyelashes sharper (actually, I probably over did it in this case) , and also the white catchlight. Because Midgiee’s wearing blue contacts, I would also hue shift or just paint black the brown iris that shows through the blue, but I was lazy and didn’t for this tutorial.

Left: Oversharpened. Right: Original Image before edits. (click for full view)

You can hopefully see why this technique is so great, particularly in the area under the eyes. The skin texture is still there, while the shadow has been softened. However It’s very easy go overboard and turn the skin to very smooth plastic, so I’m constantly referring back to the original image. It also helps to do things on different layers with masks to use brushes and opacity to fine tune the amount of softening.

I then added a curves adjustment layer to the top of the layer stack to increase the contrast a little bit.

Here’s is a before and after comparison.

Before and After (click for full view)

For fun, I tried the same thing with Lightroom’s “Soften Skin” brush, which I dislike more and more each day. I notice the weird things that it does to the colour tones in the shadows (under the eyes, they look a reddy orange). The photoshop version is on the left.

Photoshop vs Lightroom's Skin Smooth (click for full view)


 Posted by at 23:26

  13 Responses to “Skin Smoothing Tutorial”

  1. Wow, so much work! Very interesting. I wonder how the results compare with Portrait Professional, the preferred solution for people with “other things to do”.

  2. Thank you! I was so mad I couldn’t do frequency separation in Elements because there is no apply image feature. This is great.

  3. That hair colour is not right for her – tell her she may have cool colouring (skin eyes etc) therefore the yellow tone in the hair clashes with pink undertones in the skin. If she was analysed under the seasonal colour analysis system, (or SCI/art) she would probably find she is a ‘winter’ or ‘summer’. I know this is completely off topic, but I also know that I wish someone had told me this when I had my hair the wrong shade of red for several years without realising how wrong it was for me. :) I’m not trying to be mean by the way, just helpful (a bit like if someone tells you you have a label sticking out etc)

    Actually having looked again I see she is wearing contacts – it may be this throwing things off, whatever it is – there is something discordant going on colour-wise, a bit like when you have mismatched colour temperature lighting in your photos. Very pretty girl though – I hope what I’ve said doesn’t upset her!

  4. This was a great step-by-step tutorial – Thanks so much!

  5. Hi, I started with your info but when I inverted my image it didn’t look the same as yours. I am using PSE 9. I chose layers – adjustment layers – invert. My pictures looks like a negative but the actual layers on the right side do not look the same. It creates a new layer with two boxes with (one white box) Is there another step that should have been written down.
    Thank you,

    • Hi!

      It doesn’t work with adjustment layers. You have to make duplicates and actually invert the layer. I haven’t used PSE for a long time, but in Photoshop CC its the menu item Image->Adjustments->Invert.

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