In this tutorial, we will be showing you how to smooth a person’s skin. Many advanced retouchers of portrait, glamour and model photography spend hours in front of their computer smoothing skin and removing blemishes.
We will start by removing the blemishes and spots first, then smoothing the skin to a silky look. Doing this in reverse, by smoothing the skin first, would make the removal of blemishes more difficult. Therefore, this step-by-step account is important.
So grab an image and let’s go. This is an image taken from Unsplash, but you can use any image from anywhere.
If you would like information on portrait photography, we have our extensive article here. You can also check our check on how to Photoshop portraits.
Smoothing Skin in Photoshop
This is the image we will be working on today.
First, open the image in Photoshop. I use CC 2018, but any edition is fine.
When it opens, start by duplicating the layer. You can do this by Right-Clicking on the layer.
Rename the layer to ‘Spot Healing’. This will be the layer from which we’ll remove any spots or blemishes first.
Select the Spot Healing Brush Tool from the left adjustment panel.
Make sure the Content Aware button is depressed at the top of the page.
Select the brush drop-down menu at the top of the page to give you all of the brush details.
First, start by clicking on any blemish to see what happens. If you find the size of the brush is too large, you can right-click on the page to bring up the menu.
Here, you can change the settings of the brush. You might want to use a medium soft brush, that is around 60-70 px large.
Continue to click on the blemishes, keeping the brush tool to a slightly larger size than the spot or blemish.
You will see the spot or blemish disappear when you click on it.
The brush cleverly uses information from the area surrounding the spot, making it seamlessly vanish. Then continue until you cover every spot and blemish.
Be careful not to eliminate any characteristics from the skin. Only spots and blemishes should go, not beauty spots or any distinguishing marks.
Here, you can see a before and after image, showing you what your image should look like after spot removal.
Make sure the ‘Spot Healing‘ layer is selected. Then duplicate the layer.
Rename the file to ‘Smooth Skin‘. This layer should automatically sit above all others.
To smooth the skin, we’ll use Photoshop’s High Pass filter. Go to Filter>Other>High Pass.
Usually, we use the high pass filter to sharpen images, and although we are smoothing the skin, not sharpening it, most of the steps are the same. The high pass filter looks for edges and sharpens them.
Photoshop distinguishes these by a sharp change in brightness. Here, the edges are around his jawline, his ears and the sides of his forehead. The skin texture isn’t read as an edge by Photoshop, so they aren’t affected, leaving them grey.
A ‘High Pass‘ box shall pop up. Make sure the radius is set to 24 pixels.
Press ‘OK‘. Your image will turn grey, but not to worry, we aren’t finished.
To add Gaussian Blur, go to Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur.
In the Gaussian Blur box, make sure the radius is set to 8 pixels.
Press ‘OK‘. With the blurring applied, the High Pass effect now looks softer and less detailed.
In the Layers panel, change the blend mode of the ‘Smooth Skin’ layer from Normal to Linear Light.
This blends the High Pass result in with the image. It will create a high contrast, over-sharpened image. It’s not what we want, but we need to make something worse before we make it better.
Next, we need to invert the layer. Go to Image>Adjustments>Invert.
Once that has been clicked, you will be presented with a blurry/trippy image. Halos are what make the image seem strange.
Click on the ‘layer styles‘ box at the bottom of the layers panel and choose blending options.
In the Layer Style dialog box, look for the Blend If sliders at the bottom. There are two sets of sliders, and it is the top one named This Layer we shall be using.
There are two sliders below the gradient bar. These sliders control how the ‘Smooth Skin’ layer blends with the image. It is based on the brightness levels of the layer.
The slider on the left is used to blend the darker areas of the layer and the other blends the lighter areas.
While pressing Alt (PC) or Option (Mac), click and drag the right slider 95% of the way to the left. By pressing Alt or Option, your computer splits the slider into two parts. One moves while the other part stays still.
As you drag the slider, you’ll see the lighter halos fading away. By moving it all the way, you reduce the lighter halos as much as possible.
While pressing Alt (PC) or Option (Mac), click and drag the left slider 95% of the way to the right. By pressing Alt or Option, your computer splits the slider into two parts. One moves while the other part stays still.
As you drag the slider, you’ll see the darker halos fading away. By moving it all the way, you reduce the darker halos as much as possible.
As you can see, it has smoothed the skin, but also the whole image.
To limit the smoothing effect to just the skin, add a layer mask. Hold Alt/Option while clicking on the Add Layer Mask tab at the bottom of the panel.
A black-filled layer mask thumbnail appears on the “Smooth Skin” layer. This hides the smoothing effect from view so we can use the brush tool to bring it back, but only where we need it.
Clcik on the brush tool on the left-hand tool panel.
Again, go to the brush tab in the top right-hand corner, as here you can change the hardness and size of the brush. For the bigger areas, a bigger brush allows you to work faster. Smaller areas will need a smaller brush.
I started with the forehead. You can tell where I have used the smoothing as it is quite obvious. If you make a mistake, hit ‘X‘ to unpaint the area.
Continue to the nose, and smooth it out.
Next, go to the cheeks and the smaller, more difficult to reach parts with the smaller brush size.
Once done, you can check your work. Hold the Alt/Option button and click on the black (and now white) layer mask.
It will look like a white mask on a black background. This shows you where you have painted the smooth skin through to the image. Here, you can add more brush strokes to areas you have missed.
Come out of the layer mask by pressing and holding Alt (Win)/Option (Mac) while clicking on the layer mask thumbnail.
Next, lower the opacity from 100% to 50% and that’s it. You’ve finished smoothing skin in Photoshop.
Perfect! If you have followed all of these steps, you now have a face, free of spots and blemishes, with smooth skin. After a few more times, you will do it faster and easier than this step-by-step guide.
Now check out our before and after image below.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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