Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

When shooting photographs that show off skin, we are often quite particular with how it looks, whether it is smooth, wrinkled, or blemish free. Skin texture and marks provide character in a photo but sometimes, presenting smooth clear skin is preferable or even necessary. 

Keep in mind that the trick to good skin retouching is knowing when to stop. It is easy to go overboard to the point that the skin starts to look like plastic and become unrealistic. Also, be careful with removing ‘blemishes’ because some may be considered ‘beauty marks’ and the model might want to keep them. It is always good to know what the intent is behind the skin retouching since this will affect your editing choices. Post processing a person’s skin for a fashion ad will be different from editing a friend’s skin just to make it appear clearer. 

In this 2-part article, we will cover the basic techniques of skin retouching, mainly blemish removal and skin smoothing.

Before we start with the skin smoothing, we must first get rid of blemishes. As mentioned earlier, we must be careful with what we remove because certain imperfections that the person was born with might be considered part of the person’s character and charm. A good rule of thumb is to remove the temporary blemishes such as pimples and blackheads and to lessen the impact of more permanent ones such as wrinkles and moles.

Look at your image and identify the blemishes you want to remove. In this sample, we will be removing the dark spots under the eyes, on the chin and a few on the cheeks. 

There are two common Photoshop tools that we can use to remove blemishes and these are the Healing tool and the Clone Stamp tool. We can do a whole lot of retouching just with these two tools. 

Healing Brush tool – copies the pixels from the target area and tries to adapt them to fit the area that you brushed. 

Create a new layer from the opened image by clicking on the paper icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette then select the Healing Brush from the Tools Palette. If you got the Spot Healing Brush, just right click and change it to Healing Brush instead. Next, change the Brush size to a diameter that is around the size as the dark spot or a small and controllable size if you are healing an area. To change the diameter, click the dropdown list next to the Brush shape and select the desired diameter. You can also right-click anywhere in the image area to make the dropdown list appear. By ticking the ‘Sample All Layers’ option on the top toolbar, you can make edits on the layer without affecting the original layer underneath.

The Healing tool is ideal for large areas such as the dark spot beneath her right eye. Select a source near the blemish, something similar to the color, skin tone, lighting and texture to paste over the area you want to fix. When healing, try varying your brushstrokes. Sometimes, you get a better result by going over the area with short clicks, rather than dragging the brush like a stroke. If you do make a mistake, just click on Edit > Undo. You can also use the Spot Healing tool for smaller areas such as pimples or large pores. Unlike the Healing Tool, the Spot Healing tool does not require you to select a target area. Instead it makes use of the adjacent area around the brushstroke as the source.

Healing tool is good for keeping the original skin texture the same since it gets the information from the area around the brush. However, if the nearby area has both light and dark pixels, this tool can pick up on those and the result might look like a smear.

You can alternate between the Healing tool and the Clone Stamp tool, whichever gives a better result.

Clone Stamp tool – copies the pixels of an area that you targeted. You can set the source area just once and as you move the tool, the source will also move in tandem. When using the Clone Stamp tool (found below the Healing tool), press Alt-click on the target source and a cross will appear in the brush icon to indicate that it is the targeted area. Always make it a point of defining the appropriate source since human skin has various textures and using the wrong area as a source can make your retouching unpleasantly obvious. Next, paint over the blemish or simply click on it and the source will be pasted or copied over it, in effect, erasing the small imperfection. Keep an eye on the source area since this will change as you move the tool around. You might have to select new areas once in a while to keep the editing realistic and seamless. 

Here is a comparison of the results of a quick five minutes of removing blemishes:

Stay tuned for part 2 which will show you how to smoothen skin and minimize wrinkles!

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5 Super Quick Photoshop Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your Shots


If you are in a hurry to edit your pictures, or just want a quick fix to make your photos come alive, here are some Photoshop tips that will spice up your shot in a jiffy. All these quick fixes are just that, fast and sometimes imperfect since you are not fully controlling the adjustment settings. However, you can do any of these in the space of a few seconds and with just a few clicks of the mouse, and you can also get a glimpse of what editing can do for your shot.

1.  Auto Levels – the levels adjustment is used to fine-tune the brightness of an image. You can manually control how dark or light the picture will appear but Photoshop also offers ‘auto levels’ wherein the program will do it for you. It doesn’t mean that the outcome will be perfect all the time. But clicking on auto levels can quickly show you how your shot can brighten up with the use of levels.

2.  Auto color – color can also either be manually or automatically adjusted. If you want full control of shades and hues, you can use a variety of adjustment options such as Color Balance or Hue/Saturation. However, clicking on ‘auto color’ might be all you need to remove a color cast.

3.  Add a border – aside from providing visual enhancement to an image, a border can also frame it by delineating the image from the background page, especially if the shot has large white or very light areas. To add a simple border, click on Image > Canvas Size, then under the drop down menu (under New Size), choose ‘pixels’ and input a number (preferably divisible by two) in the width and height boxes. The numbers will be divided by two and will be the size of the pixels that will border the image on each side. For example, if you choose a 2 pixel horizontal canvas size, it means the left side will have a 1 pixel borderline and the right side will also have the same. To choose the border color, click on the black square beside Canvas extension color and it will open a screen where you can choose any color you want. If you want the border to match with a certain color in the image (like what I did for my photo example), after clicking the black square, move your cursor to the desired color in your image. Your cursor will look like an eyedropper as you do this. After clicking on the color you want in your shot, press OK and this will be your border’s color.

4.  Shadow/highlight – removing a percentage of shadows can bring out details in the dark spots that were previously hidden. Clicking on this adjustment will decrease the dark areas of the shot by 50%. It will also open up a screen where you can then slide the markers for shadows or highlights and adjust them to your liking.

5.  Gradient Map – if you want to convert your colored picture to black and white, Photoshop again has many options you can use to get this result; from using desaturation, to tinkering with channel mixers, to clicking on the gradient map. The gradient map changes the image to grayscale and also provides a higher contrast between black and white compared to desaturation.

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How to Crop Your Photos to Maximize Visual Impact


When we take pictures, we make a lot of decisions right before we press that shutter button. Not only do we think of what parts of the subject or scene we want to include in the frame, but just as importantly, we also have to decide what parts to leave out. However, there are times when we look at the photos we have taken and discover they could either have been composed better or there might be distracting elements that should not have been part of the shot. Using the crop tool often works to solve the problem. Another option is to reshoot but that might not be necessary if we are successful in cropping the shot to our liking. 

Using the Crop Tool

The crop tool is found in most, if not all photo editing software. To crop in Adobe Photoshop, choose the crop tool then click on the edge of the area you want to keep. Drag the cursor while holding down the left mouse button until the entire selected area has been highlighted in a square or rectangle. Anything that is not included in the selection will be cut or cropped. If you want a perfect square crop, press on the Shift keyboard button as you make your selection. If you want to maintain the pixel aspect ratio, select the entire image first, then hold down the Shift keyboard button as you move the little square found at any of the four corners of the frame to make the selection smaller. You can always move the crop selection to certain parts of the image.

You can also rotate the crop selection by pointing your cursor a little bit away from one of the four crop corners. Instead of a straight arrow, you will see a curved arrow. Once it appears, press the mouse button and you can now rotate the crop selection to the desired angle.

Take note to crop using a duplicate of the original image. When you save the image, most editing programs will replace the original with the cropped version.  

Crop Sizes

  • For printing – if you are planning to print your shots, make sure you did not crop too much of your shot at you’ll be left with a one inch image. When you crop an image, you are also resizing it because you are getting rid of pixels that make up the size of the image. By clicking on the arrow beside the Crop tool, you will see a dropdown list of the conventional picture sizes such as 4 by 5 inches or 8 by 10 inches.
  • For online publishing – the crop size really depends on what you are going to use it for. If you are selling your photos, keep your image resolution at its highest since it's the buyers who will crop your image, if needed. If you are going to present your photos in a portfolio, make sure the image is large enough so that the little details can be seen and appreciated.

Crop to Remove Background Clutter

A lot of distracting elements can be eliminated with the simple action of cropping them out of the shot. In this photo, the hand and fork were distracting so they were cropped out. I wanted the textures of the dessert to be apparent, from the moist chocolate cake to the gooey caramel oozing down the sides to the smooth cherry nestled on top. With a tight crop and a simple white background, these various textures were brought forward.


Crop to Improve Composition

Cropping is also a very effective way to improve on the balance and composition of the image. For example, if your subject is smack dab in the center of the frame and you prefer it to be off to one side, use the Rule of Thirds when you crop. By cropping one side of the image, you are moving the placement of the subject in the frame, thus no longer making it centered. 

The original shot below left shows the wire bisecting the middle of the frame. By rotating the crop selection, the photo on the right shows the bird now located at the left side of the shot and the wire is now cutting the frame in a diagonal angle which provides more tension and impact.



Try various ways to crop your image. You can achieve different interpretations with thoughtful cropping.


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Three Photo Editing Tools You Need To Know

There was a time when digital photography did not exist and film was the standard medium of photography. All pictures were developed and printed in darkrooms, under red lights and surrounded by the smell of chemicals. With the advent of digital photography, films and darkrooms are becoming obsolete but the techniques used to improve images still live on in post processing computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, Gimp and Paintshop Pro.

I will be using Adobe Photoshop CS2 as my photo editing program although other programs will have similar tools. Let us look more closely at three post processing tools that can drastically improve your images, namely the measure tool, the spot healing tool and the clone stamp tool.

1.  The Measure Tool

Have you ever taken shots where the image is askew? The horizon looks tilted and the subject in your shot looks like it’s about to slide to one side of the frame. The measure tool is a very simple way to straighten your shots. It can be located at the tools banner at the left side of the screen. You might see the eyedropper tool first but right click on it and the measure tool should appear. 

Using your cursor, draw a line from one end of the horizon to the other. When you’re done, click on Image>Rotate Canvas>Arbitrary… A little window will appear showing the angle of the ruler, the acronyms CW (clockwise) and CCW (counterclockwise). The software will automatically choose on which side the picture should be rotated to straighten the shot by bringing the angle down to 0. You don’t have to change anything in this window, just press the OK button and voila! Your horizon is now straight.

You can also use the measure tool to align your subject vertically, such as straightening crooked buildings or lampposts. Once you get the hang of this tool, straightening your image will take only a few seconds.

 2.  Spot Healing Brush Tool

 Spot healing, as the name suggests, is great for cleaning up little areas in the image such as sensor dust, grains of dirt, and it is the perfect solution to removing facial blemishes. It makes these small imperfections vanish by matching information from the surrounding pixels such as texture, lighting, and shading, and then blending them to seamlessly cover the specific area where you click the spot healing brush. You do not need to specify a sample spot for an area to be healed, unlike with the Healing Brush tool.

In this screenshot, you can see the problem spots on the leaf image. There are several small dots on the leaf (by the red arrows) that are lighter in shade which seem to make the image look unclean. The Spot Healing Brush tool is perfect in quickly removing these blemishes. 

When you click on this particular tool, the toolbar at the top will change to the brush preferences. Click on the arrow button beside the word ‘Brush’ for a dropdown window to appear. Choose a brush diameter that is slightly bigger than the spot you want to heal. Using the hardness scale, you can choose how strong and solid you want your brush tip to be.  

For simple retouching, set your Brush mode to ‘Normal’ and choose between two types of healing options, the Proximity Match and the Create Texture. Proximity Match is used in most cases. It samples the nearby pixels at the selection’s edge to correct the blemish while Create Texture makes use of all the pixels inside the selection to create a texture to cover the flaw.

You can also click on the ‘Sample All Layers’ option which creates a new layer for which to use your spot healing brush. This gives you the results at the top layer while the image in the original layer remains untouched. The great advantage of this is that if you made a mistake and want to redo your spot editing, then you can just delete the top layer while the rest of the work you did at the lower layers or the original image will not be affected.

This is a ‘before and after’ example of what the Spot Healing Brush tool can do. Without the distracting little dots sprinkled around the leaf image, it now looks smooth and clean.

3.  The Clone Stamp Tool

There are two main reasons the Clone Stamp tool is most often used. One is for copying a detail to another location in the image and the other is to remove objects. After selecting the Clone Stamp tool found on the left toolbar, press on the Alt button on the keyboard then click on the image area which you want to copy. After that, click on the spot where you want the selected area to emerge and, while holding down the left mouse button, drag your cursor back and forth until the sample area appears.

To give you an exaggerated example as to how the Clone Stamp tool works, here is an image of the moon. It’s a pretty moon but what if I wanted two moons in one sky? By using this tool, I can copy the moon to add another in the same shot. 

What if, instead of adding, you want to remove something? In this macro shot of a paper tear, I used the clone stamp tool to remove the diagonal line at the center of the frame. I cloned over the line by selecting the nearby empty parts of the paper as my sample area.

Play around with your brush size since if it’s too big, it will clone a bigger area that you might not want to include. Also, don’t forget to first make a copy layer of your original image. This way, you can protect it while you are doing your retouching. In case you make a mistake, you can just delete the clone stamp layer without harming the original image.

These three photo editing tools are quick to use, can easily improve your shots in a few minutes and are necessary components of your photo editing skills. As you practice your digital darkroom techniques you will soon find these tools invaluable. 

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