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Adjusting Flesh Tones

So what do you do if you’ve used Levels to properly set the highlights, midtones, and shadows, but the flesh tones in your photo still look too red? You can try this quick trick for getting your flesh tones in line by removing the excess red.

This one small adjustment can make a world of difference.

  • Step One: Open a photo that needs red removed from the flesh tones. If the whole image appears too red, skip this step and move on to Step Three. However, if just the flesh-tone areas appear too red, get the Quick Selection tool (A) and click on all the flesh-tone areas in your photo. (Press-and-hold the Alt [Mac: Option] key to remove any areas that were selected that shouldn’t have been, such as the clothes and hair.)
  • Step Two: Go under the Select menu and choose Feather. Enter a Feather Radius of about 3 pixels, then click OK. By adding this feather, you’re softening the edges of your selection, preventing a hard, visible edge from appearing around your adjustments.
  • Step Three: Click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, and choose Hue/Saturation from the pop-up menu. Then, in the Adjustments palette, click on the pop-up menu near the top and choose Reds, so you’re only adjusting the reds in your photo (or in your selected areas if you put a selection around the flesh tones).
  • Step Four: The rest is easy—you’re simply going to reduce the amount of saturation so the flesh tones appear more natural. Drag the Saturation slider to the left to reduce the amount of red (I moved mine to –20, but you may have to go further to the left, or not as far, depending on how red your skin color is). The changes are live, so you’ll be able to see the effect of reducing the red as you lower the Saturation slider. Also, if you made a selection of the flesh-tone areas, once you create the adjustment layer, it will hide the selection border from view and create a layer mask with your selection. When the flesh tones look right, you’re done.
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