Simple Skin Blemish Retouching Tips for Photographers
September 5, 2014
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Not every portrait needs to be airbrushed to the point of looking like the cover of Cosmo, but all photographers should have some basic skin blemish retouching tools in their mental toolkit. Sure, you can spend half an hour mucking around with layer masks and adjustment layers, but sometimes, you just need to put a few quick touches on a portrait before it goes to the client. Here are some great blemish retouching tips — for everything from Photoshop Elements to CS6 — that will leave your portraits looking better and leave you with more time to spend shooting rather than editing.
Cleaning and Cloning
Despite what glamour magazines want you to think, perfect skin does not exist. To get rid of blemishes, small scratches and other little imperfections, the clone stamp is your friend. Select your source region by Alt-Clicking on a similar area of skin, and set your brush opacity between 25 percent and 40 percent. Then, layer by using many mostly transparent brush strokes until the blemish is covered without looking like you just copied and pasted a chunk of skin. The clone stamp also works well for annoying stray and flyaway hairs. For wrinkles, crows' feet, bags under the eyes and other crevices and creases found on the face, use the healing brush set to proximity match to soften those unsightly spots. Keep in mind, however, that skin does naturally have wrinkles — even young skin — and smoothing out every wrinkle leads to unnatural, plastic-looking skin. Keep it subtle; less is definitely more.
Dodge and Burn
Sometimes, the old darkroom tools are still the best. The eyes are the windows to the soul, so make sure they shine brightly by lightening them with the dodge tool. Set the tool to adjust midtones and keep your exposure between 10 percent and 20 percent. Again, don't go too far — just a subtle enhancement will do. The dodge tool is also great for enhancing the highlights on lips, especially when used in conjunction with the burn tool to darken the rest of the lips to add drama. You can use the dodge tool to enhance highlights on lips, use the burn tool to darken lips or use a combination of both.
Retouching and Ethics
Whenever you alter a photo, it is important to consider the ethical impact of your actions. For most portrait work, touching up an image is both healthy and profitable, provided you aren't making your client look unrealistic or like someone else. If the image is intended for editorial or journalistic use, consider whether such alterations are beneficial to accurately reporting the story or whether you're just making a pretty picture. This is a complicated topic with no one set answer for each situation, so use your best judgment.
Photo credit: morgueFile