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#85 Smoothing Skin

If you look closely at skin, it is anything but smooth and consistent. Instead, the tone, structure, and texture in even just a small area of skin can be very complex.

To create a more flattering portrait, try practicing the comprehensive set of skin-smoothing instructions in this how-to. It involves four processes:

  • Setting up the image
  • Creating a mask and applying a blur
  • Copying the mask to a Texture layer
  • Adding some texture

This is an advanced technique, so put on your thinking cap, fasten your seat belt, and get ready for a wild ride!

Setting up the image

To begin the process of smoothing skin in a photograph, add two layers to your original image by clicking the Background and pressing Ctrl + J (Windows) Command + J (Mac) twice. Double-click the Background to open the New Layer dialog box and name it Original (this converts it into a real layer). Then rename the other layers from top to bottom: Texture and Gaussian (Figure 85a).

Next, click the Eye icon to hide the Texture layer.

Applying the blur

To apply a blur to smooth the skin:

  1. Select the Gaussian layer and choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
  2. In the Gaussian Blur dialog box that appears, drag the Radius slider to set the amount of Gaussian Blur so that the image appears to be behind a piece of slightly frosted glass. The actual amount will vary depending on the image resolution. For starters, try an amount between 3 and 5. Click OK (Figure 85b).
  3. Alt-click (Windows) Option-click (Mac) the Add a Pixel Mask icon in the Layers panel. This creates a mask filled with black, which conceals the Gaussian Blur effect.
  4. Choose the Brush tool, select white in the Color Picker, and then lower the opacity (for starters try 70%). Next, begin to paint with white on the areas of skin that need softening. Be careful not to paint on the lips, eyes, eyebrows, hair, and so on. Painting on the layer mask with white reveals the blurred image (Figure 85c).
  5. Make the Original and Gaussian layers visible by clicking their Eye icons. In the options bar, lower the opacity of the Gaussian layer to approximately 50% or whatever percentage looks best. A good way to find the best value is to modify the opacity, look away or close your eyes, and then look back to see if it still looks okay.

Copying the mask

Now you need to copy this mask to the Texture layer. Alt-drag (Windows) Option-drag (Mac) the mask from the Gaussian layer to the Texture layer. This applies a copy of the mask you just created to the Texture layer (Figure 85d).

Adding texture

Without some added texture, the blurred image you just created will look too soft. Even the smoothest skin has some texture, so let’s add some using the High Pass filter.

  1. Click the Eye icon to make the Texture layer visible.
  2. Select the Texture layer and remove the color by choosing Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
  3. Select Filter > Other > High Pass.
  4. In the High Pass dialog box, increase the Radius setting until you see what looks like a white and gray drawing in the High Pass filter preview. While the Radius amount you specify is largely based on the image’s resolution, you should still be able to see the shape of the image in the preview window (Figure 85e).
  5. Click OK to apply the High Pass filter.
  6. Change the blending mode of the Texture layer to Soft Light.
  7. Decrease the layer opacity to approximately 40% (again, the actual amount is contingent upon image resolution).
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