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Head Games: retouching portraits > Advanced Skin Softening

Advanced Skin Softening

This technique that I picked up from Kevin Ames does an amazing job of simulating a Hasselblad Softar #2 filter in that it softens the skin tones, but at the same time, introduces a little bit of soft flare and lowers the contrast of the image. Perfect for fashion photography.

Step One.
Open the photo you want to soften.


Step Two.
Press Command-J (PC: Control-J) twice to create two duplicates of your Background layer in the Layers palette. Then, hide the top copy (Layer 1 copy) by clicking on the Eye icon next to it in the Layers palette, and then click on the middle layer (Layer 1) to make it active (as shown).

Step Three.
In the Layers palette, switch the Blend Mode of this middle layer from Normal to Darken.

Step Four.
Go under the Filter menu, under Blur, and choose Gaussian Blur. Apply a 40-pixel blur to the photo.

Step Five.
In the Layers palette, hide the middle layer from view, and then click on the top layer (Layer 1 copy). Change the Blend Mode of this top layer to Lighten.

Step Six.
Now, run a 60-pixel Gaussian Blur on this top layer.

Step Seven.
After you apply the blur, click back on the middle layer (Layer 1) and lower its Opacity to 40% in the Layers palette.

Step Eight.
Hide the Background layer from view, and then create a new layer by clicking on the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Click-and-drag this layer to the top of your layer stack (as shown). Then, hold the Option key (PC: Alt key) and choose Merge Visible from the Layers palette’s pop-down menu. This creates a flattened version of your document in your new layer.

Step Nine.
In the Layers palette, make the Background layer visible again (as shown), but hide the two duplicate layers in the middle (Layer 1 and Layer 1 copy).

Step Ten.
Make sure the top layer in the stack (Layer 2) is the active layer, and then lower the Opacity of this layer to 40%.

Step Eleven.
Lowering the Opacity of that layer creates the overall softening effect (which is fine if you want an overall effect), but in most cases, you won’t want to soften the detail areas (eyes, lips, etc.).

Step Twelve.
Click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette to add a Layer Mask to your blurred layer. Press the letter “x” until your Foreground color is black, get the Brush tool, use a soft-edged brush, and paint over the areas that should have full detail (lips, eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes, hair, clothing—pretty much everything but the skin). The right photo below shows the results of the softening effect. The left photo shows the original (from Step One) without the softening.

The original photo before applying the skin-softening technique.

The final photo with softened skin.



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