Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

If you want to smoothen skin in a jiffy in Photoshop, the Gaussian Blur tool is one way to do it. With this method, we will be blurring out the face and masking the sections that are not skin. It might come out a little unrealistic, however, since the result might be a porcelain effect. This is great if used for quick retouching of faces that do not take up a large part of the image. Or if you are deliberately going for the porcelain look!

Before you begin smoothing skin, remove any blemishes first. This is part 2 of Quick Skin Retouching and you can learn how to do blemish removal in Part 1. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the same image sample after the discolorations have been removed. 

Step 1:

Open your image and create a new layer just so we don’t touch the opened image. 

Step 2:

Make a copy of the face by drawing a selection with the Lasso Tool. Keep the Shift key pressed to add to the selected area or hold down the Alt key to subtract from the selection.

Step 3:

Next, we will soften the edges of the selection we made, as well as smooth the transition between the selected and non-selected area. This is called Feathering, and it will help blend the selected face copy and the layer beneath it. Go to Select > Feather and input 20px from the popup window that will appear.

gausfeather Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 4:

Go to Edit > Copy Merged (keyboard shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+C) and this will make a copy of the image, not just a layer. Go back to Edit and select Paste (Shift+Ctrl+V) and a new layer will automatically be created and placed on top of the one you have been using. This is the copy layer that we will be blurring.

Step 5:

Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose a radius that will blur out the face to the point where the features are just recognizable. For this I used a radius of 15px.

gausblur Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 6:

Now you will have what looks like a very blurry face. We will need to make certain details reappear such as the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers Palette and then click on the Brush tool. Make the Opacity 100% and the Flow 20% so you can be more precise when you paint. Keep the foreground color black in order to hide the layer (white as foreground would show the underlying layer). With the brush, paint back the features. Use a wider brush diameter with a low opacity over areas that also have detail, such as the curve of the chin or the section above the upper lip, in order to show more facial contours. Remember to paint over the edges of the face as well to make the masking more seamless. 

gausmask Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 7:

After masking to reveal the key features, you can reduce the strength of the blur by decreasing Opacity or Fill of the layer. For this I decreased the Fill to 35%. Here is a comparison after fading the Gaussian Blur effect:

The result is smooth looking skin. 

gauscomp Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

If the skin appears too artificial, you can add some texture by using the Add Noise filter. Since we don’t want to apply noise to the entire image, we will limit it only to the selected face area. A simple way to do this is to first use the Lock Transparency option in the Layers Palette. What happens is the transparent portions in the blurry face layer will remain unaffected after applying the Noise filter. Select Filter > Noise > Add Noise, and choose a small amount such as 2%. Tick the Monochromatic checkbox to make black and white noise (which gives a better textured effect) and select the Uniform option to make it more even.


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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. 

faceorig Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

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.

faceheal Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

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:

facecomp Quick Skin Retouching, Part 1: Removing Blemishes

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


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