Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beauty Isn't Skin Deep

I thought I would take some time to cover more about retouching skin and some of the techiques I use.  There are a ton of ways to do this the right way, and a bunch more common ways to totally screw it up.  So, lets eliminate the blurring of skin as a method of fixing skin and put it under another category like "ways to look like a total n00b" or "things you learned that you should forget tomorrow".

There are many solid ways to retouch skin, but the goal is always the same:  the skin should look natural and as if it has not been edited at all.  So, as you use whatever techniques you find to be your bailiwick, keep in mind that if it looks retouched you should start over and place whatever method you used into the hopper with blurring the skin.

I did create a video of me working this image and will put it up if people are interested.  I would like to charge for it as it helps pay for some new equipment but would love to know what would be a reasonable price.  If you have an opinion, or if you think this would be valuable, please let me know in a comment.

Lighting the Model
We shot this in a hotel room in Kewaunee, Wisconsin as it was colder outside than expected.  We had several trusty Nikon SB900 speedlights with us and some softboxes.  The key light here is a 28" softbox powered by a speedlight.  There is also a speedlight hitting the ceiling to bring up the ambient in the room so the shadows on her face will not be so dark.  We also have another speeedlight camera right to add some interest to the shoulder, as if the light is coming from the window.  Now this gets a bit tricky, as I know I want the light to look like the window is the source, but in reality we had the shades closed as the color outside was some weird green shade, like you get just before some huge twister drops a house on some witch somewhere.  I decided to pull the shades and add the brightness after the fact, but in the correct color.  I could have added gels to all the speedlights, but it isn't hard to just eliminate the odd-man-out and work it in post.  I know I would be retouching this image because the model was a little self-conscious about her complexion on this day, so hitting the shades would not be much additional effort.

Posing The Model
The pose here isn't anything amazing as it is quite natural.  The few things that bother me after-the-fact as the tilt of the glass and the fact the back of her hand is toward the camera.  Try and avoid that as veins are not pretty and with just a bit of additional lift, we would not have a problem.  The glass has a slight tilt to camera right which bothers me, but I will live with it as the effort to fix it isn't worth it as I am probably the only person that noticed it until I said something.

Post Production & Skin
Aside from adding brightness to the shades we will also need to fix her skin in a few places.  I used liquify on her arms to drop a bit of weight as she mentioned a few times how she hates her arms.  Listening to the model can help you know what areas should be your focus so in the end they love the image and feel good about themselves. 

You might have noticed that the final image is flipped.  I often flip the image several times as I work on it to give my eyes a chance to refresh and see things I might have missed before.  In the end, I don't decide on which flip I prefer until I am done.  Also, remember that people only see themselves in a mirror, so they tend to prefer the opposite view.

There are 4 main tools used in *properly* retouching skin.  You will use ALL of them, and depending on the image one will have more prominence then the others.  Here are your weapons:

  • Clone Stamp - Use at between 40 and 60% opacity
  • Patch Tool - Used for large areas and should be feathered
  • Healing Brush - Awesome tool.  I prefer proximity match
  • Dodge & Burn - Your main tools!  Learn to use them.
There are a few others, but those are a bit advanced and seldom used.

Also, a little hint...  the dodge and burn tools are related, so if you are using one and just hold down the ALT key, you will switch to the other.  Since you use them a ton, this is a great set of tools you can use with only a single keypress.

Describing how to use the tools is a bit difficult, so I made a video of my work on this.  You get to even see me screw up a bit :-)  Let me know if you want the video, as it will be a large download.  I am thinking I will ask for a $20 donation, but let me know if you think this would be valuable at that price.  I really don't want to start charging for info, but I also have to eat :-)


  1. I started following your blog and there is some helpful information here. But this post didn't tell me anything really helpful. All I got from it was that I shouldn't use the retouching techniques I've learned because it makes me look like a "noob" (which I am). I do use those other tools you mentioned, but it would have been helpful to see even a stab at explaining how they're used.

  2. I didn't really feel going into how each tool is used would be helpful as there are already a lot of tutorials out there. I do however agree that there isn't much in here to help someone that is looking to refine their usage. I will get that video posted and I am sure that will help.

  3. I would agree this post in not as detailed as your other posts. With that said, there is good info here. Good points on the hand and veins and the glass, communicating with the model. As well as the light.
    I personally don't think $20 donation is too much to ask. However, I can't pay that at this time.
    Thanks any way.

  4. I think $20 is a fair price to pay for a good tutorial on photo retouching. There are a lot of retouching secrets that seem to be kept pretty hush hush these days, and a tutorial that really pulled back the curtain and showed not just WHAT tools to use, but HOW and WHY would probably be a steal at $20 bucks. I'd buy it all day long if it gave me the tools and knowledge to get the same before and after results you have on that pic up there...



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