Retouching portraits can be a controversial subject, but it is also very often requested of portrait photographers to edit out minor blemishes and skin imperfections. We're going to go through one of the methods used by professional retouchers to make subtle changes to portraits without overdoing the corrections and ending up with blurry or obviously airbrushed images. I've made a screencast walk through of the entire process as a visual compliment to this tutorial, feel free to watch it by clicking here. Let's get started. This is the snapshot, in it's before state, that we'll be using throughout the tutorial, feel free to grab a copy of it or work through the steps using one of your own images.
Yellow Channel Adjustments
Once you have an image opened up in Photoshop, the first step is to adjust the Yellow channel to balance out skin flaws. In order to do this we have to first convert the image from RGB color to CMYK.
Click Image > Mode > CMYK Color
Head over the Channels Palette and click on the Yellow channel. Your image should change to a funny looking grayscale.
Press CTRL + A to select all, then press CTRL + C to copy it.
Now, we have to go back to RGB color, since we've made no other changes at this point, it's quickest to go back to the History palette and just click at the top on the original image.
Once back in RGB mode, press CTRL + V to past the yellow channel onto the image.
Rename this layer Skin Flaws
Change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, that should restore the color to the image.
If the changes look too strong, adjust the Opacity of the until you are happy with the adjustments.
Add a layer mask by holding the ALT key and clicking on Add Layer Mask icon found on the bottom of the Layers pallette.
Ensure the Layer Mask is selected in the Layers Palette, and grab the paintbrush tool. The foreground color should be set to white.
Paint over the skin using a soft brush. Adjust opacity again, if needed.
The screencap above shows where we should be after painting in on the Flaws Layer Mask.
Removing Blemish and Skin Imperfections
We're simply going to clone out the blemishes using the Spot Healing Brush Tool. Many of you are probably familiar with this step already, but let's go through it quickly for those who are new to image retouching.
Select the Original or Background layer in the Layers palette and press CTRL + J to duplicate the layer. Rename the new layer Blemish Removal.
Select the Spot Healing Brush Tool and brush over any blemishes, wrinkles, or skin imperfections you wish to remove. In some instances it make take several passes to get it correct. You can also use this time to shape eyebrows, remove dust, etc depending on how much work you want to do.
When finished, adjust the opacity to bring back some of the blemishes and maintain a realistic look.
Tiffany Mueller is an adventurer and photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you can find her writing articles and running the official blog at PhotoBlog.