Cosmetic Retouching – Adobe Photoshop

Cosmetic Retouching

There are Photoshop workers who specialize in areas known as glamour, beauty, and fashion retouching. Each of those is considered distinct because the goals vary, but often there are techniques that are shared among them. Some advanced practitioners have even made their own Photoshop plugins and scripts to achieve their look.

I am not one of these specialists. I certainly understand the tools and techniques they use, but not always their objectives. Luckily, from what I’ve seen, there is less artificiality than some time ago. Rarely do we see utterly featureless skin that resembles plastic more than living tissue, or grotesquely exaggerated body alteration. If what you want to achieve is a gently flattering adjustment, the exercise that follows should be helpful. If you want to do retouching work in Hollywood, you will have to do some additional research and study, perhaps with one of the specialists.

You may have heard some chatter about “frequency separation” in the world of retouching. Removing abrupt blemishes like acne, scars, lines, etc., would fall under “high frequency” concerns. Broader, more global concerns, like uneven color, are thought of as “low frequency.” Although I don’t subscribe to the convoluted techniques marketed as “frequency separation,” I do tend to start with small, abrupt issues and get more general as I go.

Keep Your Options Open

This kind of retouching is all about judgment calls. If you and your client/boss judge differently, it’s best to avoid the need to begin again. So, of course, we start by creating one or more retouching layers and using the array of tools discussed in this chapter to remove “high frequency” blemishes. But we will also need to apply filters and adjustments, some with blending options. The layers will need to be packed inside a Smart Object to apply those filters so they’re editable. Using Image > Adjustments applies adjustments as Smart Filters.

Blemish Removal

When I approach this kind of work, I’ll create at least two layers on which to retouch. One is for those details (acne, stray hair, etc.) to be completely removed. Even though these may seem obvious, and therefore tempting to remove on the original layer, you may be surprised. A small scar you remove may prove to be a beloved, signature feature.

Another layer, which will have partial opacity, is for those details that need to be reduced (furrowed brow wrinkles, for example).

For many images, this stage may be perfectly adequate. But those who need to go farther, we have ways. If that’s the case, I select all my current layers, right-click near the name of one, and choose Convert to Smart Object.

To remove numerous, tiny annoyances, like the light speckles under the eyes, I will sometimes try the Dust & Scratches filter. Here, I applied it to the Smart Object (so it becomes a Smart Filter). My rule is to use the smallest Radius and largest Threshold possible to avoid affecting desirable details. This filter works by impinging on a small defect with surrounding color. In this case, the filter does impinge on the light speckles with darker color from around them, but also impinges on the delicate dark lashes with the lighter color around those.

A blend mode can help. I double-clicked on the Blending Options icon to the right of the filter’s entry under the Smart Object so I could set it to Darker Color. Now only light defects get swamped by darker colors.

Other Helpful Features

Not all of these are necessary for every portrait, but I’ve included what I deem likely suspects from Photoshop’s filter and adjustment line-up. Blend modes help limit their impact.

A Black & White adjustment with its Red Filter preset flatters many skin tones, but it’s too light. So follow-up with a gentle Curve. Set both to Luminosity so color is unaffected.

It’s OK to apply more adjustments to gently compensate for the things you’ve done, if necessary. You may also use the Smart Filters mask to hide what you’ve done if there are areas that suffered more than were helped. I added one more Curve as a Smart Filter with the Luminosity blend mode. I painted on the mask to hide all of these effects from the eyes, which lost their shine.

I also added one more adjustment, this time as an adjustment layer with its own mask to affect only the eyes. This was a Hue/Saturation adjustment to desaturate the whites of the eyes, getting the last bit of red out.

Any of the stages above could’ve been the last. Just removing blemishes is often perfectly sufficient. The Black & White adjustment with Curves chaser is a fine trick to even a subject’s complexion gently. Remember, you can adjust the opacity as well as blend mode of these in the Blending Options dialog.

When processing raw files, we can use Adobe Camera Raw’s Spot Removal tool and Clarity slider early on, and may need no other retouching later.

In short, there are many options you can employ at any stage. Just try to keep them editable so you can return to any and adjust at will.

The images in this section have been a bit small, so here’s a larger version of the same portion of the portrait. I’ve inserted a small island showing “before” so you can evaluate the result.