30 April 2009

Smooth Skin

Remove blemishes

We're going to use the following image for this Photoshop tutorial:

Original Image


Download this image to your hard drive by right clicking on it and selecting (when you use Windows) Save Picture As...

The first thing we're going to do is removing blemishes in the face. In the following image I've marked which areas I considered needed a correction:


Areas that contain blemishes


The reason why we're going to remove blemishes first is because we will have better results when we soften the skin in our next step.

The tool that we're going to use to remove blemishes is the Healing Brush Tool Clone Stamp Tool which can be found in the tool bar:

Healing Brush in tool bar

Let's first add a new layer by clicking on the Create a New Layer icon New Layer in the layers palette. Rename this layer by double clicking on its name in the layers palette and name it Blemishes.

With the Healing Brush Tool still selected, let's look at the option bar:

Options Bar for Healing Brush

On the left we can see a black dot with a sharp edge; it means that the brush is going to have a hard edge (also called 100% hardness). Underneath we can see the size of the brush which is 19. More to the right we notice the selected Blending Mode for this brush. For this tutorial we're only going to use Normal mode. If you want to know more about blending modes then you might consider to look at this very detailed article by Jay Arraich: Blend Modes

The next option is called Source, for which we have two options; Sampled or Pattern
Sampled means that we're going to use our image as our source.
Pattern means that we're going to use an existing pattern as our source.

In most cases you will use the Sampled option, because quite often we want the new area to have the same texture as the area surrounding it. Pattern can be useful if you don't have any descent area in your image that you would like to use as your texture.

We are going to use Sampled.

The Aligned option allows us to have a source area that follows our mouse cursor. Look at the following screenshot:

Option 'Aligned'

In this example the user has selected area C as the source (later we will learn how to set the source). The first moment the user presses the mouse button to remove a blemish (in this case at A), Photoshop will remember the distance and angle between Aand C. So if the user now decides to remove a blemish at B, then the source will be D (same angle, same distance). 
So you could say that after the user starts to use the Healing Brush that both cursor and source are 'glued' together as shown in this little animation:

Animation: Aligned

The advantage of the option Aligned is that we always stay close to the area that needs to be corrected and that the texture resembles the texture we want to use for our correction.

Notice that the option Use All Layer is selected. This means that the source area doesn't have to be on the same layer, in our case the Blemishes layer. It also means that the result of using the Healing Brush Tool will be placed on the active layer, which is in our case the Blemishes layer. The Healing Brush however only uses those pixels that are visible in our document window, but like I said, it doesn't matter on which layer they are.

If you return to the screenshot of the options bar you'll notice that I have placed the letter A beside a little black triangle. Click with the mouse on this little triangle and a new window will pop up:

Brush Options

We're going to use a small brush size for our Healing Brush Tool so we select a value of about 20 px. We also want to have soft edges to avoid that our corrections are noticeable in the final image and that's why we're going to select a value of 0% forHardness. The other settings have Photoshop's default values and don't need to be changed. If these values are different in your case then change them according to the values of the screenshot of the options bar.

The last thing we have to do before we start removing some blemishes is setting the source area. Move your mouse cursorclose to an area that needs to be fixed (the source area and the area that needs to be fixed shouldn't overlap) and hold down theAlt key (option key on the Mac) and press your left mouse button; this will mark the source area. With the source area set you can start by removing blemishes by using your mouse cursor as if it were some magic brush.

Note: sometimes it's necessary to change the source area of the Healing brush Tool. You can do this at any time by following the same steps that we used to set the initial source area.

2. Smooth skin

Create in Photoshop a new layer on top of the Blemishes layer by clicking on the Create a New Layer icon New Layer. Rename this layer to Smooth Skin by double clicking on its name in the layers palette.

Hold down Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on the Mac) to merge all visible layers on the active layer (Remember this Photoshop shortcut, it's a very useful one) or in other words; the layer Smooth Skin will contain the image that was visible in the document window when you used this shortcut, which includes all the corrections we did to remove blemishes.

We're going going to use the Median filter to make the skin look smooth. Some tutorials advice you to use Gaussian Blur, but I prefer median because it takes better care of edges and it's exactly those sharp edges that we want to leave intact as much as possible. To show you the difference between applying Gaussian Blur or Median to our image, look at the following comparison:


Gaussian Blur
Applying Gaussian Blur
Applying Median

Notice that by using Gaussian Blur you're actually moving the blue that's in the background into the skin. This is of course something we want to avoid at all cost.

Now go to the menu and select Filter / Noise / Median... , enter a radius of 10 pixels and click OK. Set the opacity of this layer to50%:



The result:

Median Filter applied

The skin now looks exactly the way we want it, but by using the Median filter we've blurred areas that need to stay sharp, like eyes, lips, hair, hat, eyebrows, eyelashes and the edges of the nose and nostrils. We are going to fix this by adding a mask which allows us to ignore those area that need to stay sharp.

We add a mask to the Smooth Skin layer by clicking on the Add layer mask iconAdd Mask in the layers palette.

Press the letter D on your keyboard to make the foreground color white and the background color black:Fore- and Background Color
Press the letter X on your keyboard to switch the fore - and background color: Fore- and Background Color

Select the the Brush Tool by clicking on its iconBrush Tool in the tool bar. Check the options bar:

Option Bar

Use the settings that you see in the options bar. Notice that we're going to start with a size 50 brush. This time the hardness of the brush is set too 100% (hard edges). You can change both the size and hardness of this brush by clicking on the little black arrow like we did earlier with the Healing Brush Tool.

Now it's important that you have your mask active at all times before you start using the brush, since we have to apply the brush strokes to our mask and not our image. An active mask can be recognized by its double border (marked with the red arrow) and the mask iconAdd Mask in front of it:

Active Mask


To be able to see what we're actually masking, let's turn on the equivalent of Quick Mask by pressing on your keyboard. You won't see anything happen, but let's paint on the hat inside the document window. You'll notice that the quick mask mode now marks the area that is going to be masked with a transparent red. Turn off Quick Mask by pressing again and you'll see the area of the background layer that you've made visible by masking the same area on the Smooth Skin layer:


Quick Mask On

So that's the whole purpose of our mask in this tutorial, to hide the areas that are blurry and which have to stay sharp. You can change the color and opacity of Quick Mask by righting clicking on the mask's thumbnail in the layers palette and selectingLayer Mask Options... The following window will open:

Quick Mask Settings

In this window you can change the color by double clicking on the red square. You can also change he opacity of the Quick Mask color, which is by default 50%. 
 The opacity setting doesn't affect the layer or the mask itself, it only affects the transparency of the mask in Quick Mask mode.

Continue by turning on the Quick Mask mode by pressing again.

Look at this screenshot:


You'll notice that I have masked everything that needs to stay sharp (unaffected by the median filter). If you have a hard time to tell whether you've fully masked those areas that need to be mask, then do the following:

  • if Quick Mask mode is on, turn it off
  • Alt + Left click (Option + click on the Mac) on the mask's thumbnail (see next screenshot, A) in the layers palette

This allows you to view (or edit) the mask in your document window and will show you pretty precise where you need to make adjustments, like in this case around the left eye:

Left Eye

You can return to the normal view by clicking on the layers thumbnail in the layers palette (B).

To create a clean mask you have to use the following guidelines;

  • Change the brush size often. Instead of switching to the options bar several times we're going to use a shortcut; press [on your keyboard to decrease the brush size or press ] to increase its size. There's also a shortcut for hardness; pressShift + [ to decrease the hardness of your brush or press Shift + ] to increase the hardness.
  • Mask large areas with a large brush and a hardness of 100%.
  • Mask small areas with a small brush and a hardness of 0%.
  • Mask accurate edges by using a large zoom factor and work with a small brush, low hardness of 0% and a low opacity (about 30-50%).

Also make sure that sure that you don't forget to mask areas like the corners of the mouth, fine hairs, eyebrows, eyelashes and the contours of nose and nostrils. For those areas try to use a soft, small brush with a low opacity.

This is the final result (after some slight sharpening): 

ImportantGive your browser enough time to download the "after" image or you won't see any difference

Woman - Before/After


Note: you can reduce the strength of the effect by lowering the opacity of the Smooth Skin layer. In this example a 50% opacity was used to clearly show the difference. Personally I suggest that you use about 25%-30% opacity,

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