I’ve been using a technique to retouch skin for a while, and thought I would share it. It is fast, and if done well, fairly seamless. It is not perfect, but it is faster than perfection.
The basic premise is that when you do major changes to a person’s skin, you have to leave the texture behind in order to rebuild the features smoothly. This is especially true when retouching the neck and jaw line, but this technique can also be used on the cheeks, forehead, chin, and other places where the underling skin, absent of it’s texture, is nothing but a smooth complex gradation. This technique allows you to build the gradation, and then go back and put in the skin texture.
1. The first image shows how I like to set up my work. As you can see by the contents of the Layers Palette, the initial image layer is named by the file name (that way I can find the darn thing later).
2. Here is where I do my retouching. I make a duplicate of the initial image (so I can always refer back to it if necessary), and I name the duplicate RET. In this example I went ahead and retouched the neck, especially where the skin was clumpy, and got rid of a some bulges as well. All work was done loosely with the Clone Tool. If you look closely you can see some soft spots where the retouched skin has no texture. Normally this is a problem, but not if we replace the texture.
3. This is my next step, adding a blur layer. To get this layer, I duplicate the RET layer, after I’ve cloned out the major flaws. The blur should be large enough that it covers the smaller flaws and imperfections, smoothing out the potholes and such. In this case I did a Gausian Blur of 5.1, but half the time I end up doing a Median instead as it keeps the gross features, while blurring the fine ones. The number isn’t important, as it is based on the pixel size which will vary depending upon resolution, and the size of your image. The trick is to blur it enough.
4. Here I am adding a new layer which will by my texture layer. Essentially it is a layer set to Overlay, with a 50% grey fill. Nothing fancy here, if your used to working noise in on a separate Overlay layer.
5. This is where the texture it added to our layer. I’m using Grain, and in this case the Grain is the Enlarged setting. The grain from the Grain filter is larger than a Gausian Noise (which is why I use it). The trick here is to try the different settings until you get something close to the native skin texture. This may take a while to get. At first it will appear WAY too sharp (which is okay, and we can turn that down with the layer’s opacity) and the colors will be way off. Do not worry. Complete the steps, and then go back an undo if you don’t like it. I usually test in a small patch, and then apply Grain to the whole layer once I found something close. I also will scale the grain sometimes up or down to get a more precise match. You should not have to go up or down more than 50%. If you do, then you chose the wrong settings for the Grain, and should go back and try another set.
6. Once we have the Grain the right size, we then have to fix a few flaws that the filter does to the Grain. The first one I do it remove all saturation, so the final Grain is completely greyscale. You might wish to leave a dash of color in, but usually it just gets in the way.
7. Now we need to balance the color as the Grain filter tends to leave it too dark or too light. To do this I use Levels on the layer, and pull either of the top ends (darks or lights) until the middle point lines up with the darkest part on the Histogram. In this case, Enlarged tends to go dark, so I drag the dark side up (8-9 usually, but sometimes as high as 14-15). Some of the other Grain settings go lighter, so make sure you don’t skip this step. It is essential that the grain ends up neutral, so it will add a texture to the image without darkening or lightening it. At this point, I usually turn down the Opacity of the Texture to 50% or 40%. Rarely do I need more than this.
8. The final step it to add a layer mask to both the Blur layer, and the Texture layer. I usually fill the mask of the blur layer 100% black, and then working only in the mask I airbrush in its smooth gradation in just the spots I want. I use a light brush doing multiple strokes, rather then try and get it right with just one stroke. Once I have this mask, I apply it to the texture layer. This is a good starting point for the texture as you are only putting it where you covered it with blur to begin with, but I find I need to add a bit more texture to help blend some of the transitions.
9. This last image shows a before and after so you can see the changes to the skin. I don’t usually use this on such a small area, but rather I fix the all of the areas on the skin that need it.