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Improving Skin Texture

Most people are self-conscious about their skin. Perhaps we suffered through the teenage years of acne, we're older and can already see the first crow's feet, or we didn't get enough sleep and look puffy and pale. It's a wonder we even get out of bed at all! Improving the appearance of skin in a portrait can be as simple as covering a few blemishes or as global as softening the entire portrait and then using the History Brush to paint back areas of selective focus.

Skin Blemishes...The Teenage Years

Why is it that blemishes seem to pop up when you're about to have your picture taken, need to go for a job interview, or about to have a first date? Photoshop can't help you with the job interview or the date, but removing blemishes in a photograph is a snap.

Cloning Good Over Bad

This method of removing blemishes such as those in Figure 9.5 is similar to removing dust or mold from an old photograph (and there were plenty of examples of those problems in Chapter 5, "Dust and Mold Removal"). By working on an empty layer you can work without the fear of cloning in problems rather than taking them out, as seen in Figure 9.6.

Figure 9.5Figure 9.5 Before


Figure 9.6Figure 9.6 After


  1. Add an empty layer and name it Blemish Removal.

  2. Set the Clone Stamp tool to Use All Layers and lower the opacity to 50%–75%, as shown in Figure 9.7.

  3. Figure 9.7Figure 9.7 Working on an empty layer to remove blemishes guarantees you the ability to back off, erase, or throw away the retouch and start over again if necessary.

  4. Make the Blemish Removal layer active. Set your clone source by (Option + clicking)[Alt + clicking] near the blemish to sample good skin tones that have similar color, texture, and brightness values to the area you're concealing.

  5. After moving the Clone Stamp tool over the blemish, click 2–3 times to build up the retouch, as seen in Figure 9.8.

  6. Figure 9.8Figure 9.8 The blemish removal is completely invisible, effective and yet hardly adds anything to the file size.

  7. If you slip or if the blemish removal is too obvious, use the Eraser tool to erase areas and then resample and reclone with the Clone Stamp tool.


To minimize the ghostly softness that the soft-edged brushes can introduce, change the hardness of the brush to 40–70 (see Figure 9.9). Higher resolution images can handle higher hardness settings. See "Building Your Own Brushes" later in this chapter for additional information.

Figure 9.9Figure 9.9 When using the Clone Stamp tool, increasing the hardness of the brushes reduces the soft edges that can ruin film grain structure or skin texture.


When cloning over blemishes, do not move the clone source. Instead, sample a good area, move the Clone Stamp to the blemish and click the mouse button or tap the stylus two or three times to cover up the blemish. Clicking instead of brushing avoids disrupting the grain or skin structure.

Dust & Scratches Filter and History Brush Technique

The following method is especially useful in those situations where there are many small blemishes, such as those in Figure 9.10. As you can see in Figure 9.11, the blemishes have vanished. With this method, you'll need to run the Dust & Scratches filter twice—once for the large blemishes and once for the smaller ones. Thanks to Dan Caylor from for this straightforward technique.

Figure 9.10Figure 9.10 Before


Figure 9.11Figure 9.11 After


  1. To remove the large blemish, select Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches and use a high enough Radius and low enough Threshold to obliterate the large blemish (see Figure 9.12).

  2. (Option + click)[Alt + click] the Create New Snapshot icon and name the snapshot Big Blemish DS.

  3. Select Edit > Undo to undo the Dust & Scratches filter.

  4. Figure 9.12Figure 9.12 Using the Dust & Scratches filter to blur the large blemish out of the picture.

  5. Repeat the procedure to take care of the small blemish. Select Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches and use a lower Radius and Threshold to obliterate the smaller blemishes as seen in Figure 9.13.

  6. Figure 9.13Figure 9.13 After undoing the first blur and taking a History Snapshot, use the Dust & Scratches filter to blur the small blemish out of the picture.

  7. (Option + click)[Alt + click] the Create New Snapshot icon and name the snapshot Little Blemish DS.

  8. Select Edit > Undo to undo the Dust & Scratches filter.

  9. Select the History Brush tool and set the History Source to the Small Blemish DS snapshot. Working with a soft brush, click over the small blemish.

  10. Set the History Source to the Big Blemish DS snapshot and tap over the larger blemishes to achieve the results seen in Figure 9.14.

  11. TIP

    Setting the brush to Lighten will replace only the lighter pixels and leave more of the original grain in the image undisturbed.

    Figure 9.14Figure 9.14 Set the History source to the appropriate History Snapshot and tap over all blemishes to be removed.

  12. In some cases (especially with larger blemishes), you might need to polish up the results with a bit of help from the Clone Stamp tool, but in the long run, this method is every teenager's fantasy.

Building Your Own Brushes

Often, using the soft brushes with the Clone Stamp or History Brush tools seems to add more problems around the edges of the newly cloned areas than are taken away. Figure 9.15 shows a sample of noise and four strokes made with the Clone Stamp tool. Working from left to right, I made the same stroke but varied the Hardness and Spacing of the brush. The softness on the leftmost stroke causes soft, ghostly edges when using the Clone Stamp tool. On the far right is a brush with 75% Hardness and 10% Spacing—it has a slightly soft edge without any jitter problems. Increasing hardness and decreasing spacing creates a soft-edged brush without creating the dreaded ghostly-edges. Experiment to find a balance between the hardness setting and the spacing. Lower spacing yields a smoother stroke but can also slow down the painting stroke as Photoshop "sprays out" more information.

Figure 9.15Figure 9.15 From left to right: Varying hardness and spacing to fine-tune the brush behavior.

Photoshop 6.0 includes the Preset Manager (shown in Figure 9.16) to manage, rename, and access brushes according to names, thumbnails, or large lists, as seen in Figure 9.17.

Figure 9.16Figure 9.16 Find the Preset Manager under the Edit menu. Use it to organize brushes, color swatches, styles, and patterns.


Figure 9.17Figure 9.17 You can view and access the brushes in lists or as thumbnails.

To create your own brush for retouching, follow these steps:

  1. Use the Elliptical Marquee to select an area with image, skin, or film grain texture, as seen in Figure 9.18.

  2. Figure 9.18Figure 9.18 Selecting the image texture.

  3. Copy and paste the selection into a new document, flatten, and convert to Grayscale mode.

  4. Use Levels to crank up the contrast, as seen in Figure 9.19.

  5. Figure 9.19Figure 9.19 Increasing contrast to bring out texture.

  6. Select all. Choose Edit > Define Brush. The Naming Brush dialog box pops up, in which you can custom name your brushes.

  7. After clicking OK, the spacing dialog box pops up. A lower spacing applies the paint more steadily but can slow the brush down, whereas higher-spaced brushes have a tendency to add a stutter effect.


To modify an existing brush, activate the brush and (Control + click)[right click] to select Edit Brush. You can also click on any brush in the Brush options bar.

Reducing the Marks of Time

As people get older, gravity, sun exposure, and changes in skin structure cause wrinkles. Every wrinkle is not created equal, and rather than removing all of them I suggest you remove only the most distracting ones. Horizontal lines, such as the lines on our foreheads when we raise our eyebrows in surprise, are friendly and require the least amount of work. Vertical lines are caused by age and worry; if they are dark or deep they should be removed. Diagonal lines make a person look tense and anxious, and these are the wrinkles you should reduce the most.

In a photograph, a wrinkle is not a wrinkle; it's actually a dark area against a lighter area. By lightening the wrinkle you are reducing the contrast of that part of the face and are therefore reducing the visual interest that the viewer will have. Their eyes will seek out areas in the portrait that have more contrast, detail, and visual interest.

As people age, their wrinkles become longer and deeper. By shortening the length of the wrinkle you can "take off" a few years without making the person look as if they had plastic surgery. To reduce the length of the wrinkle, start at the youngest and narrowest end, not its origin (see Figure 9.20), and use the techniques described in the following text to turn back the clock.

Figure 9.20Figure 9.20 For effective wrinkle reduction, retouch wrinkles from the youngest part in toward the older part of the wrinkle.

In the portrait of a retiring judge, Joel Becker of Becker-Cline Digital Photography used a Kodak DCS 460c digital camera to take the original picture. Figure 9.21 shows a cropped view of the original portrait and Figure 9.22 shows the retouched version. Notice that after retouching and reducing the wrinkles the judge still looks experienced and wise, without looking plastic or fake.

I have devised three methods to remove or reduce wrinkles—using a duplicate layer, a neutral overlay layer, or a layer with its Blending Mode set to Lighten—and I usually end up using a combination of these three techniques to melt the years away.


Working on a Duplicate Layer

  1. Duplicate the Background layer (or the layer with the person's face).

  2. Set the Dodge tool to 5%–15% Exposure and the range to Midtones.

  3. Set the brush size to match the width of wrinkle to be removed.

  4. Figure 9.21Figure 9.21 Before


    Figure 9.22Figure 9.22 After

  5. Zoom in on the wrinkle, and, starting at its youngest end, dodge inward toward the origin of the wrinkle. Reduce the newest, narrowest part of the wrinkle first because this is the part that appeared most recently. As you can see in Figure 9.23, the judge is looking less imposing.

  6. Figure 9.23Figure 9.23 Using the Dodge tool on the youngest part of the wrinkle makes it appear shallower and softer.

Working on an Overlay Neutral Layer

Working with an Overlay neutral layer has three advantages. If you over-lighten an area, you can paint over problem areas with 50% gray and then rework the area again with the 3%–5% white Brush. Adding a neutral layer does not double the file size as does duplicating the background layer in the first method. Finally, the Overlay neutral layer enables you to lighten up darker areas, such as the shadow areas of the judge's eyelids.

  1. (Option + click)[Alt + click] the New Layer icon on the Layers palette.

  2. Select Overlay from the Mode menu and click Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray) as seen in Figure 9.24.

  3. Figure 9.24Figure 9.24 Setting up the Overlay neutral layer.

  4. Set the Foreground color to white, the Paintbrush tool to 3%–5% Opacity, and the brush size to match the width of the wrinkle to be reduced.

  5. To lighten the dark areas of the wrinkles, paint with white on the Overlay neutral layer with the Paintbrush tool set to a low opacity (see Figure 9.25). Start the wrinkle-removal process at the end of the wrinkle to lessen the youngest part of the wrinkle first. Figure 9.26 shows only the Overlay neutral layer.

  6. Figure 9.25Figure 9.25 Use the Paintbrush tool with white paint and a soft brush on the Overlay neutral layer to reduce the darkness and contrast of the wrinkles.


    Figure 9.26Figure 9.26 The white brushstrokes on the Overlay neutral layer.

Working on an Empty Lighten Layer

A third option to remove wrinkles is to work on an empty layer that has been set to Lighten blending mode. I especially like this method because I can control the wrinkle removal by either lowering the opacity of the Clone Stamp tool or the layer's opacity.

  1. (Option + click)[Alt + click] the New Layer icon on the Layers palette and under mode select Lighten.

  2. Set the Clone Stamp tool to Use All Layers and between 15%–35% opacity. Use a lower setting for smaller or younger wrinkles and higher settings for deeper, darker wrinkles.

  3. With the Lighten layer active, sample lighter skin areas next to the wrinkle and paint over the wrinkle, as shown in Figure 9.27. Once again, work from the end of the wrinkle inward.

  4. Figure 9.27Figure 9.27 Using the Clone Stamp tool on the Lighten layer is another effective method of reducing wrinkles.

In extreme instances a wrinkle can be so deep or its lighter edge so apparent that you need to darken the highlight. Use the Lighten method with a Darken layer and continue as before to darken the lighter edges of the wrinkle.


Removing blemishes and wrinkles requires a careful hand, and it is better to apply a little bit of good retouching than to overpower the portrait with a lot of bad retouching.

Improving Overall Texture and Tone

For years portrait photographers have used soft-focus filters to soften a person's skin. In the television and film industry, special cameras are used to make the actors or newscasters look younger by reducing the contrast and thereby reducing their wrinkles. In Photoshop you can add softness to portraits or product shots and, best of all, you can control exactly where the softness takes place with Layers, layer masks, or the History Brush tool.

Working with Gaussian Blur and Layer Masks

The black-and-white portrait in Figure 9.28 was taken very late in the evening, and as you can see the woman is attractive, yet tired and without make-up. Her skin texture needs softening and the areas under her eyes need to be lightened to achieve the fresh look seen in Figure 9.29. (As a final touch, I'll retouch her eyes in the next section, "Accentuating the Eyes".)


  1. Duplicate the Background layer.

  2. Use the Gaussian Blur with the radius set between 1.5 and 3.0 to soften the duplicated layer as shown in Figure 9.30.

  3. Add a layer mask to the blurred layer and paint with black using the Airbrush tool set to 50% Opacity on the mask in the areas you want to bring back the sharp image areas. To reveal more of the sharpened image underneath, you'll need to paint more than once over an area. Most likely this will include the eyes and mouth, and in this case I also brought back some hair and eyebrows as they are on the same focal plane as the eyes and mouth (see Figure 9.31).

  4. Figure 9.28Figure 9.28 Before


    Figure 9.29Figure 9.29 After


    Figure 9.30Figure 9.30 After duplicating the Background layer, use the Gaussian Blur filter to soften the portrait.


    Figure 9.31Figure 9.31 Add a layer mask and paint on it with a black Airbrush over the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth to hide the blurring on those areas.

  5. To lighten the dark areas under her eyes and to fill the shadow next to the nose, first add a new layer and change its Blending Mode to Overlay.

  6. To lighten image areas without being obvious, use a very low opacity setting of 1%–4%. In this instance, paint over the darker areas with white using the Paintbrush tool set to 3% pressure as seen in Figure 9.32. Work smoothly, as if you were brushing make-up concealer onto a real person's face.

  7. Figure 9.32Figure 9.32 The bottom image shows areas improved by painting with a soft white brush on the Overlay layer to hide the dark circles under her eyes.

  8. If parts of the image get too light or are affected by over-spray (see Figure 9.33), use the Eraser tool to erase away over spray and reapply the concealer with the Airbrush.


    When using this Overlay layer method on a color portrait, do NOT use white to lighten dark areas. It's very important to sample the person's skin and paint with that color on the Overlay layer.

    Figure 9.33Figure 9.33 Use the Eraser tool to erase the overspray in areas that are over-lightened.


If you don't use make-up or are unsure how to apply digital concealer as explained in this example, go to a department store make-up counter with a friend, girlfriend, or wife and watch how a professional applies make-up. Notice which facial areas are lightened or darkened, how colors are used, and which brushes the make-up artist uses. Then take your newly made-up model out for a nice dinner to say thank you.

Using the History Brush and Blending Modes

I learned this method from Eddie Tapp ( It combines the Gaussian Blur filter, History Brush tool, and Blending Modes to enhance a portrait. His technique will take you from the original shown in Figure 9.34 to the enhanced version in Figure 9.35. This method requires that you do the first three steps in the exact order described in the following text.

Figure 9.34Figure 9.34 Before


Figure 9.35Figure 9.35 After


  1. Run the Gaussian Blur filter over the entire portrait with a high enough setting to smooth the skin and tones, as seen in Figure 9.36.

  2. Figure 9.36Figure 9.36 Use the Gaussian Blur filter to soften the entire portrait.

  3. Take a History Snapshot by clicking the Create New Snapshot icon. Naming the History Snapshots is very helpful when using the History Snapshots later in the process.

  4. Undo the Gaussian Blur by selecting Edit > Undo Gaussian Blur.

  5. Select the History Brush tool and set the Blending Mode to Darken at a very low opacity, usually 10%–15%. Set the History Source to the Gaussian Blur Snapshot.

  6. Use the History Brush tool to apply a foundation only to the face and neck areas. Make sure to avoid areas such as the hair, lips, teeth, and eyes because you'll want to retouch them separately. Multiple brush strokes will allow you to build up this foundation, but don't expect to see too much change yet, as seen in Figure 9.37.

  7. Figure 9.37Figure 9.37 Use the History Brush set to Darken at 15% Opacity as a soft foundation for the portrait.

  8. When you've completed the foundation, change the History Brush's Blending Mode to Lighten and a very low Opacity. As in Step 5, apply a foundation only to the face and neck areas. Now you'll start to see some remarkable changes building up, as seen in Figure 9.38. Eddie warns, "Avoid the temptation to use higher opacity brushes to speed up the effect. I recommend repeating this entire process several times to build up the make-up effect."

  9. Figure 9.38Figure 9.38 Use the History Brush set to Lighten Blending Mode at 15% Opacity to further refine the skin.

  10. After the skin tone is enhanced, Eddie uses the Clone Stamp tool with the Lighten Blending Mode at 10%–15% to reduce deeper wrinkles or blemishes.

  11. You might want to soften the entire portrait slightly to match the hair and clothing with the retouched skin. Select the subject's eyes and mouth with a feathered lasso, as seen in Figure 9.39.

  12. Inverse the selection, to select everything except the eyes and mouth.

  13. Make sure that the Gaussian Blur snapshot is still selected in the History palette.

  14. Choose Edit > Fill and select History in the Contents menu. Change the Blending Mode to Lighten and start with 55%–65% opacity as shown in Figure 9.40.

  15. Figure 9.39Figure 9.39 Selecting the model's eyes and mouth.

    Figure 9.40Figure 9.40 After inversing the selection, use a History Fill with Lighten to quickly add a hint of softness to the rest of the portrait.

  16. Repeat the History Fill, but this time change the Blending Mode to Darken and start with half the opacity as used for the Lighten step

  17. Adding a touch of overall softness to the portrait balances out the face with the image background.

The best part about using the History Brush and History fill method is that you can selectively paint back sharp or soft information as needed. Set the History source to the original for sharp or to the blurred snapshot to access the softer version. Use a 35% History Brush set to Soft Light to bring back some sharpness if needed.


When working with the History palette, you must finish the retouch process before closing the file. The History States and Snapshots are forever purged if you close the file or quit Photoshop or if the computer crashes. You can salvage some of this work by saving your file with a new name at various stages of the retouching process.

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