Project Description

Exposure Editing - Perfecting Portrait Skin

Balanced, even skin tones are a great way to make your subjects look their best. As photographers, we always want to show our subjects from their best side. We made this video to demonstrate methods for perfecting portrait skin using Exposure.

Photo: Craig MacPhee


Improving Skin Texture

Skin texture is normally something photographers don’t want to emphasize. To reduce the appearance of texture, blurring the skin can smooth any roughness. Strong, or noticeable smoothing effects will really stand out in a negative way. Improve the photo by minimizing the appearance of texture, but still leave the skin looking natural.

Masking with the 3D color constraints quickly makes a detailed selection of the skin in order to apply adjustments. Select Add Layer for the skin smoothing adjustments. To create a layer mask and select the brush tool. Use the Soften Skin preset to get started. Notice the mask thumbnail is black, that means the effect on the layer is not affecting the image.

Using the Color Constraints, set parameters for the mask boundaries. Set the Hue with the eyedropper. Click Show Mask to display a red highlight over the masked area. Move the handles to adjust the tone ranges selected in the mask. Use the brush tool to seamlessly clean up the mask like where the hair is selected. Learn more about creating masks with these controls in our 3D Color Masking Deep Dive video.

With the mask set, dial-in the skin smoothing effects to work with the image. Hover over the image thumbnail in the layer panel to view the layer’s adjustments. It shows that the controls on the Focus panel were used for the blur opacity and blur radius. Those are the controls we want to adjust to make the effect more subtle.

The opacity controls how much of the blur you see. The radius controls how wide the blurring effect travels. For smaller details in skin like pours or mild texture, use a smaller radius. Zoom in to 100% when adjusting for details like these. The goal is to smooth the texture, but still have it read like skin. If the skin looks plastic, the effects are too strong. View a before and after version of the photo by holding the \ key. Notice the changes. Adjust the layer opacity to subdue the smoothing effects even more.

Notice we did not begin with retouching spots on the skin. Larger, darker blemishes on the skin can be retouched using the Spot Heal tool, but that’s only needed for prominent distracting marks. Skin smoothing effects will subdue the appearance of smaller blemishes. If you want to learn more about detailed retouching, check out our Portrait Touch Up video.

Correcting Uneven Tone

There are a lot of reasons for uneven skin tones in portraits. Skin can show blotches when people are too hot, cold, if they have dry skin, or if they are uncomfortable. When the unevenness of skin tones are distracting, minimize their impact with the HSL controls on the Color panel.

The process is the same. Add a new layer, name it Red Skin. To make this easier to see, temporarily raise the Saturation slider on the Basic panel to boost the color while making the selection. Select the red areas using color constraints. Set the hue with the eyedropper. Then make adjustments to narrow the colors and only select the redder areas of the skin. Now set the Saturation back to normal.

Open the Color panel and use the Hue targeted adjustment tool. Click and drag to change yellow to reds. If the model is flushed, consider reducing the saturation in specific tones.

Another aspect of uneven skin tones is shine. Shiny spots on the skin can be reduced or eliminated in Exposure. It’s another common occurrence in portraits. Our Correcting Shiny Skin video instructs you about that process.