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Sunday, January 23, 2011

{ Photoshop Technique -- Softening & Lightening Skin }

{ How To Soften & Lighten Skin in Photoshop }

Softening and lightening skin is a technique in Photoshop that is a nice touch to making a portrait of a person look flawless and beautiful. Thankfully, it's also pretty easy to do, especially once you get the hang of it!


1. Open your picture in Photoshop.
For this example, I'm going to use little SJ:

She is a precious little girl and I love the innocence in this photo of her. There is a sweet expression on her face and the bringing of flowers makes her extra sugery sweet.

There are some shadows on her skin though, that I'm not liking and would like to bring her beautiful face out of the shadows.

2. To do that, I'll first add a curves adjustment layer.
You can locate the curves adjustment layer in CS4 on the right hand of your screen. See the little half black and half white circle? Click on it and it will bring this menu up. Click on "curves" to add a curves adjustment layer to your photo.

This is what you should see:

3. Leaving the adjustment on the RGB selection, locate the little adjustment tool in the curves adjustment box. It looks like a little finger. Click on it to select it:

4. It shows up and down arrows with it. Click on an area in your photo that you'd like to see brightened and while holding the left button of your mouse, move the little finger upwards. You'll start to see your picture lighten.



I'm still not happy with some of those shadows though and I'd like to target specific areas to bring out the lightness in her face.

5. Select your photo in the layers panel again
(so that it's highlighted and not on the adjustment layer you were just working on).

6. Next, click on your lasso tool (upper left of your computer in the tools bar):

7. Lasso around one area of the face by holding down the left button on your mouse. Then, while still holding down the left mouse button, also hold down the SHIFT button and continue to lasso around more areas of the face until you've selected multiple areas that you'd like to brighten:

For this demonstration, I've also lassoed onto areas of her arms and hair that I'd like to lighten as well.

8. With your mouse, right click anywhere in your working space and select "Feather" from the drop down menu. I'm working in RAW, so my picture is really large. For larger pictures, you usually want to set the feather radius to between 100-250 or so, depending on the picture's size. For this demonstration, however, I want a more targeted brightness added, so I'll choose 75 for the feather radius.

9. Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast
(I've created a shortcut on my keyboard to make things quicker--you can too, just ask me how) : )

10. Drag the brightness and contrast sliders to the right so that they lighten your photo and bring depth to it. Slide them as far to the right as you'd like to make your photo brighter, but DON'T OVERDO IT. You can toggle to see the before and after by clicking on the "Preview" box in the box you're working in if you'd like to see your changes made before committing it by pressing OK.

Here is my original:

And here is my after:

See how it's targeted areas on her face where the light should be falling? I didn't make it super noticeable--I want things to look natural--but see how it brought some of those dark areas out?


1. The next step is to add a soft glow to her skin. I can do this by first duplicating my picture layer.

2. On the duplicate layer, open up the Gaussian Blur tool:

Filter  > Blur > Gaussian Blur

Set the blur slider almost all the way to the right and select OK. Your duplicate layer will seem to be a blurry mess! That's good--you want it to look that way.

3. Next, pay attention to the skin and set the opacity of that layer down by sliding it to the left. Don't pay attention to the rest of the picture, just focus on the skin as you're doing this. Set it as far to the left as you'd like until the skin looks whispy soft:

Well, great, but now her eyes and hair and everything else with it is whispy too and I don't want that. There's a way to correct that though.

4. Click on the little grey square with a white circle in it on the bottom right hand side of your layers panel. This will create a mask over the adjustment you've just made. Click on the brush tool, make sure that you're using a drop shadow brush, make sure that the color you're set to is black and make sure that the opacity is set to about 80% or so:

5. Using the brush (with the specifications above), start brushing over key areas that AREN'T skin:

-Bottom of the nose (where the nostrils are)

You may have to run over those areas a few times and/or play with the opacity settings for the brush to make the change from soft skin to non-soft eyes, teeth, etc. more realistic. You definitely want to avoid having soft skin and then BAM! Sharp eyes! Make sure that you play with the brush's opacity setting to make sure that the transition between soft and not soft is a gradual one.

This is how my picture looks after removing those too-soft areas:


(I also set the opacity on the blur down just a little bit more because I didn't like how unnatural it was looking). This is the result:


In this case, I just wanted to add a few soft touches to this little girl's skin.

In other cases, you might vamp up the lightnening and softness techniques.

Here's a more dramatic example of the technique I've described here (with some contrasting, textures and photo filters thrown in):



And some more lightening and softening examples. A good majority of my photos get this application because it brings faces out of the shadows and I like that:

That lassoing and lighting is also how I achieved the difference between this in-camera photo and post-processed image:

The key is circling around, feathering and lighting the areas that you'd like to pull light back to.
Play and experiment with it--each photo is different and each one can be adjusted to suit it's own light/softness needs.

Happy Photoshop-ing!


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