Fix blown skin highs tutorial

Started Jul 2, 2007 | Discussions thread
cspringer Forum Pro • Posts: 19,632
One layer fix

Make a Selective Color adjustment layer in Darker Color Mode. Adjust the White window to match skin color, invert mask to black and paint over highlight with white brush.

wildlife1212 wrote:

Redcrown wrote:

Blown skin highlights is an unfortunate but common problem on
portraits that are otherwise well exposed. I've read and tried many
techniques with mixed results. So I developed this technique, using
the best steps I've found in the work of others. Would appreciate
feedback and improvements.

The process uses three common techniques. First it targets "blown"
highlights using the Threshold adjustment. Then it changes that
target area to a light neutral gray using Levels and Hue/Sat. Finally
it paints color over the target area.

1. First step is to find the blown highlights.

1A. Add a New Adjustment Layer/Threshold and set the Threshold Level
between 225 and 230. Start with 225.
1B. Select/Color Range and from the top drop down menu choose
1C. Delete the Threshold layer, no longer needed. The selection
remains active and ready for the next step.

2. Next create a layer group to hold the following adjustments and
apply the selection as a mask to the group level so it applies to all

2A. Layer/New/Group.
2B. Add a Layer Mask to the Layer Group. The active selection from
step 1 will automatically become the layer mask.
2E. But that mask has a hard edge, so apply a Gaussian Blur to it.
The radius of the Gaussian Blur will depend on your image and its
resolution. Start with a radius between 15 and 20 and experiment.
2F. You might need to modify the mask by hand if there are areas
outside of the skin that are also over the 225 to 230 level. Watch
out for the whites of the eyes. Just paint those areas on the mask
with black.

3. Now we need to lower the level of the blown highlights. Later (in
step 4) we will apply color to the area, but the color layer will not
apply well to pure white, so we want to make the area a light gray.

3A. With the Layer Group selected, add a Levels adjustment layer and
set its opacity to 50%. In the Levels dialogue box, do not adjust the
"Input Levels" sliders as you normally do. Instead, adjust the
"Output Levels." Change the high output level from 255 to the same
level you used to create the Threshold Mask in Step 1, which was
between 225 and 230.
3B. Now add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the group, and set
the Saturation to -100 to desaturate the area. Making the area
neutral gray allows the color painting that follows to work a little

4. Now we are ready to fill the area with color.

4B. Add a new blank layer to the Layer Group with Layer/New/Layer,
and set the blending mode to "Color".
4C. Use the Eyedropper tool and click somewhere on the face to choose
a color. Click on a point outside of the adjustment area but close to
4D. Fill the layer with this color, using Edit/Fill or the Paint
Bucket tool. If you don't like what you see, choose a different color
point and re-fill the layer. Experiment until you are satisfied.
4E. As an alternative to a solid fill, you can paint by hand. Select
a soft round brush. Alt-Click near, but outside the edge of the
adjustment area to pick a color. Then brush over the area. Keep
working around the edge, reselecting the color and painting until you
have filled the entire area. You can even do both. First, fill the
entire area as in step 4D, then paint by hand around the edges to
touch up.

5. These steps will restore tone and color. But there may be no
texture to the skin. No pores, no blemishes, probably a bit too
smooth. You can add some noise with this optional step for more
realistic looking skin.

5A. Layer/New/Layer. Select Mode:Soft Light and check "Fill with
soft-light-neutral color"
5B. Filter/Noise/Add Noise. Use a low Amount, between 5 and 10.
Uncheck the "monochrome" box, and play with "uniform" vs. "gaussian."
I think "uniform" works best.

6. In spite of the Gaussian Blur on the Threshold mask, the edges may
still be a bit too distinct for you. If so, you can clean them up
with the Clone or Healing Brush tools.

Note, this process was developed primarily for skin tones and was
tested on high resolution images (4000 by 2700 pixels). If might work
well for other types of blown highlights. For lower resolution images
you may want to reduce the amount of Gaussian Blur and Noise levels.

Here are three images showing before, during, and after. The "during"
image shows the light gray target area ready for painting.

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