The 15 Minute Makeover: Photoshop Beauty Retouching

A split image showing results both before and after my 15 minute makeover.

Skin needs to be retouched. Even beautiful skin with great makeup. The problem with most of the Photoshop techniques I’ve experimented with over the years (burning & dodging individual pores, Surface Blur filter, Dust and Scratches filter, etc.) is they take too long, aren’t very convincing, or - worst of all - make the subject look like a victim of plastic surgery gone bad.

In this article I’m going to show you a combination of techniques I regularly use that results in beautiful, smooth skin that still looks totally real. Best of all, it won’t take all day to accomplish. From start to finish, an experienced Photoshop user should be able to do this in about 15 minutes.

Our workflow follows three basic stages.

1. Manually retouch big flaws and wrinkles via a separate retouching layer

2. Merge the retouching edits into the image layer

3. Use the Red channel of the merged layer to smooth the skin

Before we get started I want you to beware of and avoid what I call Photographer’s Tunnel Vision - that compulsive desire to do the fun stuff first. Making things perfect comes at the end, not the beginning, of the retouching process. Keep your eye on the big picture (no pun intended).

The first tools we'll be reaching for are the Clone Stamp Tool and Spot Healing Brush. With these we can retouch major blemishes, flyaway hairs, and any other texture/color irregularities.

Stage 1: Retouch Obvious Blemishes and Imperfections

Create a new, empty pixel layer above the Background layer to receive the retouching. The trick here will be to choose the Sample All Layers option while using the Spot Healing Brush and the Current and Below option for the Clone Stamp Tool. This ensures that your chosen tool will copy pixels from the Background into the new layer above it.

Go to Layer>New>Layer and add a new, empty pixel layer. Start by retouching the most obvious problems first. Then tackle progressively more subtle issues.
Turn off the visibility of the Background layer to see the edits of your retouching layer in isolation. Here you see the appropriate sampling options for the Clone Stamp Tool and the Spot Healing Brush.

Why not retouch right on the Background layer? If you make a mistake, and don’t notice right away, you have to start all over again! Well, couldn't I just duplicate the Background layer, you may ask? That's better than nothing, but it’s still not a great solution: any retouching you do this way is interwoven into the image pixels, so mistakes can often be more complicated to correct.

By contrast, using a separate 'retouching layer' is elegant. It avoids destructive editing, keeps file sizes small, and allows you to easily change your mind or correct mistakes. Since there’s nothing in the retouching layer but retouching edits and transparency, mistakes are easily dealt with; just delete or erase problem areas without touching the rest of your work. Of course, if you like the adrenaline rush of working without a safety net, be my guest. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Cloning and Healing

The Clone Stamp Tool (S) has been a standby for retouchers for many years. To use it, make sure the Aligned Sample box is checked and set the sampling option to Current and Below, which allows you to match tone, texture and color. Option/Alt+click to set the source from which to copy. Then click or brush to remove the blemish.

The Spot Healing Brush (J) is a more recent addition to Photoshop that does a remarkable job of automatically matching tone, texture and color. To use it, enable the Content-Aware and Sample All Layers options. There's no need to set a source point, just click or brush to remove the blemish. This tool can often seem like magic, but it's not infallible. If your first stroke with the Spot Healing Brush isn’t perfect, undo (Cmd/Ctrl+Z) and try stroking from a different direction. To be certain your work is perfect, always view your file at 100% magnification when retouching. If texture, tone, or color do not match, undo and try again. Our goal is for each brush stroke to be invisible - even to you.

With either tool, you will find that some blemishes call for a single click, while others are best removed with a series of short brush strokes. Initially you may have to experiment to find which situations calls for one or the other, but with practice, this will become second nature.

How do you know when you're ready to move on to the next stage? Retouch as I've described above until you’re satisfied that no flaws bigger than a freckle are visible anymore.

Tip: You can use more than one retouching layer. At left you can see I used three separate layers to retouch this file; one for skin blemishes and such, another to retouch the model’s hair and a third for the area under her eyes.

For even finer control, you could make separate retouching layers for working underneath each eye, on the neck, or anywhere else.

Pay Attention to the Eyes

I always use a separate layer when working on the eyes because it allows me to adjust the opacity of the retouching; striking a perfect balance point between enhanced and overdone. Allowing a bit of the original image to show thorough keeps everything real. It’s up to you how much. If you’ve never done this, you’ll be amazed at the control you can exercise by adjusting the overall opacity of an under-eye retouching layer.

Yes, I know… You can achieve the same result by varying the opacity of the brushes. But with brushes you have to get it exactly right the first time. There’s no experimenting. No changing your mind later. It’s so much easier (and more powerful) to smooth away folds, bags, or dark circles under the eyes, and then dial back the opacity until it looks believable. Take a close look at the examples below.

Here is the image with only skin retouches applied. The eyes could use a little help.
Here is the image with my 'retouching - under eyes' layer at an opacity of 100%. The result is far too strong and looks fake, but this is actually by design. I've purposely overdone the retouching here, knowing that I can always reduce the layer's opacity. Remember, you can always go below 100% but not above it.
Here is the same retouching layer but at an opacity of 50%. Perfect!

Stage 2: Merge All of Your Layers Into a New Layer

Now we're ready to merge all of our working layers into a brand new layer. Why a new layer? Because in a moment we’ll be using the Red channel as the basis for our skin smoothing, and we need that channel to include all of the visible information: the original pixels and the retouching.

Furthermore, we don't want to lose access to the hard work we've done up to this point, so we want to copy all of these layers into a new layer, rather than simply flattening the image! The Merge Visible command is found in the fly-out menu at the upper right of the Layers Panel as well as in the main Layers menu. But here's where a keyboard modifier is a must. Holding the option key when choosing this menu item tells Photoshop to merge into a new layer. Otherwise, it's virtually the same as Flatten Image. The keyboard shortcut for merging all visible layers into a new layer is Opt+Shift+Cmd+E (Alt+Shift+Ctrl+E on Windows). This shortcut is affectionately known as 'The Claw'. Try it with one hand and you’ll understand why!

Since the merged layer will appear above whichever layer is active at the time, highlight the top layer in the stack before merging. Hold the option key when choosing this menu item, so Photoshop merges everything visible into a brand new layer. The merged layer appears here (on the right) as Layer 1.

As you can easily find yourself with multiple retouching layers, now is a good time to get them organized by using layer groups. Select your retouching layers in the Layers panel and choose New Group From Layers in the panel's fly-out menu. Give the group a name, like oh, I don't know, 'Retouching' and hit OK. This is a great way to keep your layers manageable and easily accessible.

Click here to go to page 2 of our beauty retouching tutorial...

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 169
By Greta77 (Jul 13, 2012)

some interesting tips here thnx for sharing

By alexisgreat (Jan 30, 2012)

Ethical issues regarding retouching (btw why is it called that, it implies it was "touched" already) have been with us even before the age of computers, as journalists have had to struggle with this for decades with real airbrushes, and the issue of "perfection" has huge cultural and social implications in that unrealistic standards are set by the media that put pressure on our teens and young adults.

Comment edited 30 seconds after posting
By MarceloLI (Jan 27, 2012)

Fantastic article, it is any way to save or bookmark this info?

Comment edited 18 seconds after posting
Gheorghiu Radu
By Gheorghiu Radu (Mar 18, 2013)

Fantastic once more!

AV Janus
By AV Janus (Jan 23, 2012)

Wow that was wonderful... and complicated. For this kinda stuff I hate Photoshop.
I know professionals love professional tools cause they like more control, but when they start using them only cause it makes them look smart and more competent is when their attitudes become snobby.

I personally would use Photoshop to remove blemishes and an automatic retoucher like Portrait professional, to simplify my life.

But I am not a professional... :-)

By Marty4650 (Jan 21, 2012)

I think a lot of folks here are forgetting that photo retouching is not a new invention. 50 years ago we were dodging and burning in our darkrooms, and most of Ansel Adams great masterpieces were indeed "retouched."

Retouching has been going on since the dawn of photography, so they need to get off their high horses and stop claiming it "isn't photography."

It may not be something you want to do. It is just another tool the photographer has available to him or her.

As far as the "mother nature" crap goes.... ask your wife if she is willing to stop using makeup or touching up her hair. And you probably don't need to shave or comb your hair either... since that is also "unnatural."

Dan Tong
By Dan Tong (Jan 13, 2012)

To the people who are complaining about ANY retouching of faces, I can only say that I can understand your point of view.

However, anyone who wants to be skilled at Photoshop retouching should appreciate learning the tools to achieve certain effects such as these.

If you do not care for the end result and do not wish to apply them, then that's perfectly understandable, but if you don't know how to best use these tools to achieve a certain effect, then you have no choice.

1 upvote
Dan Tong
By Dan Tong (Jan 13, 2012)

Thank you very much for an excellent tutorial. I'm afraid a very large contingent of photographers can benefit especially from your comments about not overdoing the skin adjustments. If the pores are completely gone, it will look "fake" and "amateurish" in a very bad way.

Although I have used red filters for b&w conversions of portraits, I had not thought of using the red channel for routine skin beauty treatments, so it's much appreciated. The red channel will do wonders for almost any skin "color/tone" imperfections because many blemishes are "redder" than the normal skin areas.

The workflow you propose is really good and you explain very well. I'm going to add your excellent workflow to my "beauty treatment" workflow.

Thanks very much,


Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
1 upvote
By glitched (Feb 8, 2012)

the pore things is also reflected in makeup. the more matte the skin looks, the more unreal the skin can look. and it's the same principle - shine enhances pores/lines/dimension, matte reduces them.

By mayogeezer (Jan 12, 2012)

You must have many girlfriends.

Damage Inc
By Damage Inc (Jan 3, 2012)

I'm sorry, but you shouldn't be WANTING to do this.
Unless you think your mother or girlfriend is just plain ugly...
Have some respect for nature... it's as bad as make-up and maybe even plastic surgery...
Maybe you should just be shooting in JPEG so it comes out blurrier no?
Otherwise, what's the use of shooting RAW to get the most detail into an image?
And the word says it all; RAW... just like it is in real-life... that's what I shoot...
I use nothing but the exposure and such settings and some post-noise-reduction if the ISO made it really bad.
I wouldn't touch the pores or birthmark on my girlfriend...

Oh well... modern times I guess...

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 38 seconds after posting
1 upvote
By glitched (Feb 8, 2012)

"I wouldn't touch the pores or birthmark on my girlfriend..."
Ask if she would.

By hutchinsonphoto (Dec 28, 2011)

Thanks for sharing this 15-minute. I've been at a loss of improving the image. I'll try this.

By sadwitch (Dec 23, 2011)

Awesome... i would consider this technique a nice trade 'secret' that not alot of books cover. I learn alot from this article and looking forward to more.

Mathew Lodge
By Mathew Lodge (Dec 20, 2011)

Great tutorial -- extremely practical stuff. Thanks!

By wildplaces (Dec 17, 2011)

Exceptional tutorial. Thank you for generously sharing your advanced knowledge in this area. I have been trying to do this for years using books and online tutorials, and this was the first that brought it all together in a compact, well-articulated and simple to follow tutorial. I've been practicing this technique all week in my spare time. As a former longtime classical piano student, I am a great believer in practice, practice, practice!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 18, 2011)

Thanks for taking the time to let me know, wildplaces. Really glad you found the tutorial helpful.

By rttew (Dec 16, 2011)

using photoshop is not real photography. improve your technique, don't depend on software to make your images for you.

By Droppingin (Dec 25, 2011)

Sometimes it is difficult to find models with perfect skin or to find makeup artists at rates and availability that you can afford. Post processing is a very economical method to achieve expensive results.

Sometimes wives, friends, and clients want portraits that are more ideal than reality.

1 upvote
By tomh1000 (Jan 19, 2012)

I'm afraid I have to disagree here. Photography is a two step process. Taking the photo, and then developing the photo. Before Digital there was no Photoshop but there was a Dark Room and, many photographers did their own developing. The terms in Photoshop like Dodge, Burn, Cropping are all terms taken from working in the Dark Room years ago. These and other tools were used then and now replaced by tools like Photoshop. Now, of course, the original capture is important but, making a good photograph a great photograph one must use all the tools available just like they did years ago.

By wkay (Dec 16, 2011)

Help! I absolutely cannot get this copy red layer thing to work and tried all the suggestions below and really need someone to dumb this down further Here's what I am doing (CS5,5 Win7)-
1. Select Merged Layer - Highlighted blue, eyeballs for all other layers turned on.
2. Select red channel. Red Channel is blue, only Red channel has eyeball on. Image is grey as it should be.
3. Option 1 = CtrlC/CtrlV and Paste appears in history and merged layer goes b/w. Channels tab has red channel only selected, reselecting RGB produces faded green/blue image, no new layer is added
Option 2 - Apply Image. Hit OK, no layer is created but Apply Image appears in History tab.
Option 3 - Select red channel, ctrl A does nothing, Select Canvas appears in history. Manually select all the channels with eye on red channel only but all are blue, ctrlC/ctrlV produces a new channel Paste appears in history but color is lost from all layers. Selecting channels produces CMY images.
Thx for all help.

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 17, 2011)

Hi wkay. As I mentioned before, copying and pasting the Red Channel into the file as a layer is definitely the trickiest part. Let's try a different way to do Step 2: Once the retouching is done, do not merge your layers into a new layer. Instead, create a Channel Mixer adjustment layer on top of all of your other layers. Check (turn on) the "Monochrome" checkbox in the Channel Mixer dialog box. Set the Red Channel to +100, and all the others to zero. Then use "the claw" to merge everything into a new layer. (This layer will be exactly the same as if you had copied and pasted the Red Channel from Channels into Layers!) Delete the Channel Mixer adjustment layer, and proceed to Step 3. Hope this helps!

By wkay (Dec 17, 2011)

Thx, worked great! But stuck on the Select Color Layer mask step, just shows the selected area only or a grotesque color composite..

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 18, 2011)

The idea is to use Select>Color Range as an easy way to select the skin, so we can use that selection to make a mask that will reveal the smoothing layer only on the skin. This will work best if the rest of the picture doesn't have too many colors similar to the skin you're trying to select. Regardless of whether you use Color Range or another selection method, these are the steps: 1) Make a selection of the skin, but not eyes, hair, clothing or backdrop. 2) With the selection active, add a layer mask to your smoothing layer. The mask will reflect the shape of your selection, making the smoothing layer visible only in the area that was selected, and hiding it everywhere else. 3) Refine the mask with brushes, the Mask Edge feature in the Masks panel, or your favorite method.

Robert Anthony
By Robert Anthony (Dec 15, 2011)

Thanks Jean, great article and very helpful. Its made a huge difference in my retouches. I would love to know more about how you clean up and retouch hair.

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 15, 2011)

Thanks, Robert. What I did here is just kind of a digital haircut, using the same techniques described in Stage 1 of the article. I use the Clone Stamp Tool and Spot Healing Brush to copy sections of the image background into a new layer, concealing flyaway hair.

Michele Kappa
By Michele Kappa (Dec 15, 2011)

Nice work! Quick and straight-to-the-point, concise and effective, well done!

By jsis (Dec 14, 2011)

I honestly think that the person could done a better job, because one side of her eye is larger than the other, and one of the eyebrow is arching more than the other. There is also a dimple near her right cheek, and creases on the lower jaw area that needs to be addressed.

By Droppingin (Dec 25, 2011)

He was writing a concise article on fixing skin blemishes and softening skin showing another technique; no claim was made to perfection.

Charlotte Lowrie
By Charlotte Lowrie (Dec 14, 2011)

Excellent article. Thanks so much for these techniques.

Rich Sander
By Rich Sander (Dec 13, 2011)

It's nice to learn a new skill that will improve my wife's outlook on life!! I think I'm safe with that remark, because she doesn't surf dpreview. On a more serious note, for those of us on a budget, and with limited skills, it would be great to have a recap for Photoshop Elements.

1 upvote
By randyckay (Dec 13, 2011)

Thank you for this great demonstration. However all this discussion about the angels' sex makes me smile and reminds me when they first colorized the old black & white movies. Purists were, rightfully, scandalized and denigrated the whole idea, while others just pushed the "no color" or "b&w" button on their remotes and continued to watch the movies in their original b&w appearance.

Anthony Terrot
By Anthony Terrot (Dec 13, 2011)

Jean, you've got people contributing - brilliant. Good presentation. Myself, I am very manual although sometimes I'm flawed and try others' advice. If we can't pintch each other's ideas and shape them to our own likeing, well that would be the end of art full stop.

The exciting thing about the visual arts is that the result is subjective. Some of the world's most well known photographs are hated by some - this is simply because human perception varies from one person to another. If you believe in people having different viewpoints, then they should be allowed to express them, in this case visually.

And just because you might not like a result, that doesn't mean to say that it has no value. What I find in my own results is that, while I might hate them, the customer might love them. Being commercial - that relevant.

So thanks Jean and thanks dpreview for creating this section of the site - also for not including a don't like button which would have been so negative.

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 13, 2011)

Thanks, Anthony.

By Hugo808 (Dec 13, 2011)

Skin needs to be retouched? Says who? Idiots who don't realise that we don't need images of non-existent perfection to aspire to. What is even the point of pretending we are something we aren't. The camera never lies but photoshop gives you a certain flexibility with the truth!

By jpfaria (Dec 14, 2011)

Hi there!! I agree with you... we should aim for all we can do with the camera. Still, one keeps trying to improove light conditions with flashes and WB compensations and all other stuff... ;) it was allready used in the dark room with chemicals and filters on the film!

Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Dec 15, 2011)

'The camera never lies'? I live in a three-dimensional world. My photographs are two-dimensional. Guess I've been deluding myself all these years.

By Morderator (Dec 13, 2011)

nice, thanks for this! :)

tony field
By tony field (Dec 13, 2011)

Just a point in passing. Working with a couple of images, one with flat lighting on the face and the other with higher contrast with strong facial shadow, the "red channel smoothing" technique does not work too well on the darker lit images - other smoothing operations (if smoothing is actually desired) should be used - possibly by editing red channel layer for luminosity. For the darker images, the luminosity bump becomes difficult to control unless you use a very low opacity on the smoothing layer and thereby largely defeating the smoothing operation.

The basic retouch operations are, of course, "spot on" :)

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By photoaddict (Dec 13, 2011)

i very much enjoyed the tutorial... I learned a couple of new tricks despite using Photoshop for many years!

By locke_fc (Dec 12, 2011)

Very nice tutorial, thanks, will give it a go.

By D1N0 (Dec 12, 2011)

Just a very moderate use of the diffuse glow effect, would have been enough to brighten op this picture.

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 13, 2011)

Diffuse glow can be very nice for skin. The effect is similar to this in that it both brightens and softens. And I agree that a "moderate" amount of Diffuse Glow can be very nice, although Diffuse Glow will tend to give more of a soft-focus/diffusion filter kind of effect.Try: Filter>Distort>Diffuse Glow - on a copy of the Red Channel Layer, after changing the blending mode to Luminosity. This provides both the benefits of the much nicer skin from the Red Channel and the "glowiosity" of Diffuse Glow.

By D1N0 (Dec 13, 2011)

Thanks for the tip

tony field
By tony field (Dec 11, 2011)

Interesting article. My recap of what Jean said is:

1. Retouch the skin "as necessary"
2. Perform any other adjustments "as necessary".
3. Smooth the skin "as necessary"

The tutorial certainly presents a straight forward Photoshop technique to accomplish the above three steps. The presentation is well done, and the technique works well (I just edited an image using this style).

All in all, a well done article - certainly taught me some new things about Photoshop that I never knew about before.

The other thing it taught me is that the "retouching war" about appropriate retouching is as filled with opinionated and meaningless commentary just as the "camera war" is about the right tool for shooting.

By paulfk (Dec 11, 2011)

Hi. Great tutorial but Im having problems at the last bit. Once i have made the 'select colour range' I'm not getting the 'Layer>Add Layer Mask>Reveal All' option only. Reveal all option is there but not 'Add Layer Mask'.


jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 12, 2011)

Thanks, Paulfk.
We want to add the layer mask to the layer we've created from the Red Channel, so make sure that's the active layer (highlighted in blue), once you've made your selection. With this layer active, it should be possible to add a layer mask using any of these three methods: 1) via the menu: Layer>Add Layer Mask>Reveal All. 2) By using the Masks Panel: click on the 'Add a pixel mask' icon. 3) By clicking on the 'Add Layer Mask' shortcut button at the bottom of the Layers Panel.
It's also possible that the "Layer>Add Layer Mask>Reveal All" menu item might be "grayed out" because a layer mask has already been added to the Red Channel layer. If that's the case, delete the mask, and proceed as above.
Hope that helps.

Jon Stock
By Jon Stock (Dec 11, 2011)

Thanks for the information. I will have to try the red channel technique.

Alex Poltorak
By Alex Poltorak (Dec 11, 2011)

Thank you for sharing your technique, Jean. It is way more efficient than one I use. As for comments by some here questioning the need for doing such retouching I can only say that people find reasons to deliberate and dwell on everything, and in case at hand many forget that each of us (and for a women especially) has perception how we see ourself. More times than not reality of picture DOES NOT go alone with ones perception, and hence, unless photographer is working in documentary field, retouching is what allows to anwer such call. It is also a tool that bridges from documentary to art component of the still photography, IMHO. And, what a heck - many marriages were saved with its help too. :)

By Reibergraphix (Dec 11, 2011)

This is an excellent job of re-touching, and a great workflow through photoshop. Comments about it looking better before are just disingenuous. The lighting and radiance are better in the second version. so if you are judging a photo purely on its merits, the second one is superior. There was no liquify or pulling or stretching. The artist here took great pains to develop a workflow to keep skin texture and fade the lines and wrinkles back in. The next time I shoot a senior session for a high school kid with his acne that he is already self conscious about, I will have him call you and you can tell him why natural is better and how i shouldn't take it out.

By SterlingFX (Dec 11, 2011)

I really think its sad that someone posts such a nice helpful tutorial and people jump all over it with a philosophical issue about beauty retouching. From my perspective, this is rather simplistic and quick way of retouching but it gets the job done nicely and is easy enough for most people to follow. People's preferences vary greatly in regards to how much retouching they want done just as some people prefer more or less makeup and hair styling coloring vs natural. I may or may not prefer any style but I know that there are some who do. When I retouch for a client, I ask for an example of how they want the work done. If they just say I want it perfect, it doesn't really tell me what I need to know because what is perfect to one is not perfect to another. BUT I have to know how to do retouching ranging from flawless perfection to a very natural look so that I can make all my clients happy.

By Lintenhof (Dec 11, 2011)

I absolutely agree, kudos for a great tutorial. I think this is useful stuff. If you think different, you don't have to use it. Posting knowledge is more helpful than bashing... (and it is much more appreciated)

By jimi00 (Dec 10, 2011)

Very nice tutorial.
The "red layer" trick is pretty effective and step-forward.
But I feel it could just as be reached by using the right exposure at the time of shooting. You can make a first measurement of light on your subject's skin tone then dial-in a +2/3E compensation to obtain a similar effect. Those with an Olympus camera can make sure face recognition is ON and don't even have to compensate exposure.

By NYC Jim (Dec 10, 2011)

Thanks Jean. Nice article. Seems that some folks feel that retouching portraits makes them less desirable. I wonder how many of them have seen portraits of themselves that they like? My experience suggests we need all the help we can get when we document our faces for posterity. Thanks for the tips.

jean miele
By jean miele (Dec 10, 2011)

Much appreciated, NYC Jim. Thanks.

By Bluetrain048 (Dec 10, 2011)

Have to agree with a lot of the sentiments here. Business and photography aside, she looks far more pretty without the photoshop disaster.

But then as a documentary photographer I don't make my money through the perpetuation of body dysmorphia so I guess I don't 'get it'.

By Lintenhof (Dec 11, 2011)

Different jobs need different tools to get them done. Sometimes I have to deliver the beauty look - for documentary work it is contra productive, I agree.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Peter Galbavy
By Peter Galbavy (Dec 10, 2011)

I can't see the watermark that says "this is not real, this is a faked face" ? Perhaps less retouching and we would have less in the way of body image issues with the vulnerable out there ?

Max Archer
By Max Archer (Dec 10, 2011)

I use Alien Skin's Image Doctor 2, and it's unbelievable how well it works. Draw a circle around the blemish with the selection tool, run the filter, and you're done. It even preserves totally natural skin texture in the retouched area.

By igor_s (Dec 9, 2011)

Useful info, BUT...

IMO the real beauty is in NATURAL skin, hair etc. The purpose of makeover is to HIGHLIGHT the beauty, not to mask bad-looking things. It you do not like your object, better do not shoot (unless you are after money). Or you could put a rubber mask on the model's face, that'd be perfect...

By pjcostanza (Dec 9, 2011)

Nice article. I like the red channel technique as another/alternative method for skin smoothing.., I'm gonna try that when I get the chance. Thx

A lot of sensitive folks responding to this hot-topic/button issue regarding retouching portraits. I don't think the authors intent was to stir up a debate on whether you should do it or not or whether you agree with it or not..., simply a tutorial on some methods one could go about implementing if one would choose to do so. (But a nice debate anyway ;o)

This is just knowledge, techniques, information that we can either ignore, disregard or put into our tool kits for a day and time when it is useful..., but to call something fake or judge it based on your own rules or style is not fair either. I would have to ask.., if you are so against retouching of this nature, and don't do it, then why would you even bother to read the article? Just so you could tell everyone they are fake or sellouts for having their own style and workflow? - LOL

Bart Roskam
By Bart Roskam (Dec 10, 2011)

The article starts with the statement: "Skin needs to be retouched. Even beautiful skin with great makeup."
This article thus starts with a value judgement, after which it addresses the technical issues to achieve the goal set by the judgement in the opening sentence. I have no issue whatsoever with the rest of the article, but starting like that is kind of weird.

Art Guertin
By Art Guertin (Dec 18, 2011)

And you feel that you express no value judgement in your response? It's amazing how we all we all see 1 subject, scene, whatever so differently - I think that's what makes us 'individuals'

Nice article - If I did not appreciate it, I would not respopnd, I would continue doing things as I have always done and never opting to learn - but that's just me, acting like an individual.

By l_d_allan (Dec 9, 2011)

Good article, However, I think I can get 80% of the improvements using LR3 or ACR 6.x in much less time.

1. Use the clone/heal brush for pimples, blemishes, moles, and other localized skin flaws.

2. AdjustmentBrush with -50 to -55% for both Clarity and Sharpness. 75% feathering and Flow. Then no more than 30 seconds softening wrinkles, pores, bags-under-eyes, and other skin flaws. With people 40+ years old, I often include -5 to -10% de-Saturation in the AdjustmentBrush.

3. With .dng's or raw .cr2's/.nef's/etc, all changes are reversible and can use snap-shots. Also, you don't have the huge .tif or .psd files with multiple layers.

4. Granted, these simple retouches won't be sufficient for an art director with a model for advertising. I find them more or less adequate for "normal-walk-of-life" people who appreciate looking like they just got back from a restful vacation. Few people want to look like their early morning reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
Peter Nelson
By Peter Nelson (Dec 9, 2011)

Her retouched eye looks fake. Sorry but as a painter, and someone who draws portraits as well as photograph portraits I think he went too far.
I use either Canon 1DsMkII FF DSLR and Canon 85mm f/1.2 at f/1.2 or a crop sensored DSLR. Sometimes I use the Canon 135 f/2 L at f/2.
Also I use the FF DSLR Kodak SLR/n with Nikon Ai 85mm f/2 at f/2.
These provide the softening of the details that woman require. Because used wide open on FF the DOF is so slight everything but the pupil in the eye's is getting softer the further you move from the focal point of the pupil of the eye.
But go ahead use his techniques woman will love you for it and you will save money by not purchasing a true portrait lens and camera. Just do not over do it.

1 upvote
By alienchow (Dec 9, 2011)

Love all the "i hate retouching" and "In my county, women don't wear makeup" comments. Now that you can show your comment to your girlfriend, wife, significant other, friends, etc. so they can see what a sensitive, politically correct, western zen person you are, let's get back to reality.

If you want to be a professional portrait/beauty/fashion photographer, you will be doing this to some extent, or you won't be making money.

Please realize that by choosing what lighting, focal length, f-stop,background, etc you will be using, you have already retouched the person. Do you take portraits of someone when they roll out of bed in the morning? That is about as natural as they can get. Photoshop is just another tool. You either learn how to use it, or you are behind in the game.. Just learn some discretion, as mentioned in the article.

Great tutorial.

By Sordid (Dec 9, 2011)

Well said.

By Parsek (Dec 9, 2011)

"...let's get back to reality." Funny stuff ;)

Made a living as a portrait photographer doing my "retouching" with lights, film selection, dark room work and optics alone. Yeah I know I am old (37), it was before Photoshop became widely adopted.

That said, I think you are confusing a lot of different things here. For some people a beauty shot does not include a plastic look. There is quite some distance between a face full of morning and acne to the polished ceramic look that has become the standard today, I would say. Surely it has become a necessity to achieve this, for editorial work today. Thankfully not all magazines find it pleasing to eradicate every last bit of personality from peoples skin.

I just find it funny that photographers do not feel the least bit responsible for perpetuating this impossible and unattainable look. And I do know that photography is essentially manipulation. What I don´t like is the current visual discourse and its effect on young people.

By alienchow (Dec 9, 2011)

Uh, I'm 43. Been in a darkroom since I was 5. So, retouching with film and developer selections and print manipulation is different from photoshop. Yeah. Shooting B&W with a 25 red and opening up a stop or two, then burning and dodging in the darkroom is really different. Right. Oh, and that Zeiss Softar doesn't count either. Come on.

Responsible for perpetuating this unattainable look? Perhaps we should destroy all classical sculpture/paintings for perpetuating this unattainable look.

For editorial work today? Where have you been for the last 37 years? I didn't realize editorial shots weren't retouched 'till photoshop came around.

I never said anything about going for a plastic or ceramic look. Notice the phrases "to some extent" and "learn some discretion." If someone shows up with a big pimple on the end of their nose, or severely blotchy skin, you wouldn't fix it? Even if your client asked you to? Please.

By Mescalamba (Dec 9, 2011)

When I do this (which I dont, unless its really necessary) - duplicate layer, Nik Color Efex - Dynamic Skin Softener - tweak as you wish, apply, remove anything you dont like by masking layer, tweak transparence and merge. Finished in few minutes or faster..

Ofc there are ways to get pretty natural look, usually involving bit of LAB and palette work.

Easiest is simply to have good model, with good skin and great makeup, saves you a loads of time..

By siephoto (Dec 9, 2011)

'Beauty Retouching' Absolutely nonsense!
The retouche of beautiness will provide ugliness.

Comment edited 40 seconds after posting
By pixel_colorado (Dec 9, 2011)

I agree...natural is best, touch-up is fake.

1 upvote
By HeezDeadJim (Dec 9, 2011)

I like all these "it's too plastic/barbie doll look" comments. This tute actually retains a lot of the original detail unlike most magazines or ads do.

I too like natural. That's why I don't let any of my 3 wives wear lipstick, foundation, eye liner, and other makeup. They just have to deal with the perpetual downward spiral of lookin' like an old hag. There's no reason for them to "pretty it up" for any occasion.

Whitening toothpaste is made from the devil. Regular toothpaste is fine...

By EDWARD ARTISTE (Dec 11, 2011)


this is awesome.

I swear, the snobs are out in full force. I will say, if you don't like retouching, then please huff and puff elsewhere. It's such a foolish arguement considering that it's an absolute necessity in the industry. Really, I'm laughing my butt off reading these comments. Some folks are either nuts or just plain dumb. No disrespect to any poster but I think we have just entered bizzarro world.

Wtf lol, no retouching...hahaha nice ;)

Lajos Hajdu
By Lajos Hajdu (Dec 12, 2011)

"Some folks are either nuts or just plain dumb"

And some others insist on lying all the time. Because retouching is lying.

"we have just entered bizzarro world"

Indeed we have; in all magazines, whether for men or women, people see unreal dolls' photos that are miles away from reality. No skin marks, no wrinkles, glaring white teeth. Not to mention "adjusted" thighs and buttocks. It's bizarre indeed. And - again - lying.

By locke_fc (Dec 12, 2011)

"Because retouching is lying."

This is not documentary photography, or phtojournalism. This is a specific photographic genre called "beauty", where a certain amount of retouching is mandatory. Lying or telling the truth has nothing to do with this.

Bart Roskam
By Bart Roskam (Dec 9, 2011)

"Skin needs to be retouched. Even beautiful skin with great makeup."
How can anybody write this without stopping and asking "Hey, what the hell did I just write?" I understand that people retouch their photographs, but stating that it needs to be done is ridiculous.

Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Dec 9, 2011)

Virtually any professional (excluding photojournalists) who ever takes a portrait of someone, male or female, will have to do some edits to skin, even if its just hiding a single blemish. That's as much a part of the job as configuring the lighting setup.

Bart Roskam
By Bart Roskam (Dec 12, 2011)

But that is not what Jean Miele is claiming. His opening statement is not about hiding blemishes or doing some edits, but it is about that the real look of skin should be converted into something else. It might seem to be a subtle difference, but it is not. I do not oppose hiding blemishes, but saying (a priori) that skin needs to be retouched is a bigger claim than it might seem, and, to me, a problematic symptom of a possibly harmful confusion of the real and the virtual.

By fad (Dec 12, 2011)

Oh please. I am a street shooter and go for documentary truth.

But the human eye does not see skin the way a lens does. Simple fact.

When I shoot portraits of people I care about, I make the minimal appropriate adjustment, including skin softening if needed. It is not lying. It is recreating the effect of standing before them.

It is very simple minded to think that photography, like poetry, has anything to do with 'truth.' That is the biggest lie of all. Books have been written about this. Wise books. The 'truthfulness' of the photograph is the biggest illusion of all.

Bart Roskam
By Bart Roskam (Dec 12, 2011)

I think you are confusing two things here.

Indeed, a photograph is not a true representation of the world. In that sense, there is no truth in photographs. Photography is about what to photograph, at what time, with what settings, et cetera. Photography, thus, is about the choices of the photographer.

In this case, I do not agree with the choices of Jean Miele. More specific; I do not agree with his value judgement. This has little to do with truth or lies, and is no critique either on retouching in itself. It is a critique on a way of thinking that, in my eyes, can be harmful, and therefore should be challenged.

By wildplaces (Dec 18, 2011)

I think the arguments pro and con are not absolute, but a personal decision of the photographer, the client (or audience) and the subject. What I take away from a wonderful technical piece such as Jean's is a work flow and technique that I can apply to my own work, in my own way. I do not begrudge an author's point of view...or editorial license. The one sharing these valuable lessons has a right to that. He may or may not agree with how his techniques are used by you, by me or by others, but his teaching has definitely influenced how I approach editing in photoshop and has given me new insights into photoshop technique and a new arsenal of tools that I can apply in many situations, for portraits and beyond.

By abolit (Dec 9, 2011)

you can do the same thing , even better, with portreture plugin

Michael J Davis
By Michael J Davis (Dec 9, 2011)

Great article - although I only use Elements 5, everything except channels can be done there (though they can be emulated). Good reminder of various techniques, I learned a few new tricks. (Especially the 'claw', which doesn't appear in any menu.)

To those who don't like the results - remember *every* action done can be *reduced* in effect by reducing transparency on that particular layer.

1 upvote
Total comments: 169