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In Photoshop CS5 Essential Training, author Michael Ninness demonstrates how to produce the highest quality images with fantastic detail in the shortest amount of time, using a combination of Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge, and Camera Raw. This course shows the most efficient ways to perform common editing tasks, including noise reduction, shadow and highlight detail recovery, retouching, and combining multiple images. Along the way, Michael shares the secrets of non-destructive editing, utilizing and mastering Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw, layers, adjustment layers, blending modes, layer masks, and much more. Exercise files are included with the course.
Another common thing that people like to do, when they're retouching portraits especially, is to smooth the skin, so not just removing blemishes but actually smoothing out the texture of the skin and removing or reducing the contrast of pores and so forth. So let's zoom up to 100% and kind of see what were talking about in this example image. We'll do Command+1 or Control+1 to take us to 100%. And I can hold down the Spacebar to get my Hand tool and just kind of pan this down a little bit so you can see what I'm talking about. So in addition to the acne that we want to retouch out, you can see there's a general texture to the skin that we may want to smooth out.
Now rather than retouching every single pore using the Spot Healing brush or the Clone tool - that would be a lot of work - I'm going to teach you a really quick technique to generally smooth out that surface of the skin and then bring back detail where you don't want the smoothing to occur. All right. Let's begin by putting this in the fullscreen mode. I'll press the letter F to do that. It just gives me a little bit more viewing area of the image itself. And to begin this technique, we're going to go ahead and do something that seems the opposite of what our goal is. We're actually going to sharpen the image using an additional layer, and then we're going to invert that sharpening, and you'll see the intended result here.
Let's begin by duplicating this original layer. So, we can do that by doing Command+J or Ctrl+J to jump a copy of this layer. We'll see it becomes layer one in the Layers panel. We'll undo that. If you're not a keyboard shortcut junkie, you can drag the layer the one to duplicate down to the new icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and that's the exact same thing. One little nuance, though. Instead of getting it layer 1, you end up with background copy as the layer name. I'm going to go and double-click and change that name and just call this Soften Skin, so I know what that layer's going to be later on.
Okay, so this technique is to use a filter. We'll go to the Filter menu and down to Other, at the very bottom of the list almost, and choose High Pass. And High Pass is a filter that's very, very useful. It's an actual edge-detection filter, and what that does is it finds edges and boosts their contrast. We're going to use a pretty low radius, a radius of 1.5 for this skin-softening technique. You'll probably use a range somewhere between 1 and 2.5, depending on the level of detail in your image, but for this image, 1.5 works great. Go ahead and click okay. Now, this image doesn't look all that great.
It's turned everything into gray. What we want to do is use a layer blending mode that basically makes all those gray pixels go away. So we're going to change the blend mode in the Layers panel from Normal to Overlay. Overlay is one of the blend modes that ignores gray pixels. So all the gray stuff goes away, leaving just that darkening and lightening pixels of that particular layer. Here's before. We'll turn that visibility off and you can see there's where we started. If I turn it back on, you'll see that the problem that we're trying to fix actually got worse.
We increased the contrast of details like the blemishes and the pores. So we want to do is reverse the sharpening and turn it into a softening effect. And you might have already guessed. We can do that simply by inverting to this layer. There's a keyboard shortcut for that as well. It's Command+I or Ctrl+I or under Image > Adjustments > Invert. Command+I or Ctrl+I. So now, what we've done is taken the opposite of the sharpening and turned it into a smoothing or softening layer, thus the name Soften Skin.
But of course, it's softening areas that we don't want softened, like the lips, especially the eyes, and of course, the hair detail, as well. If we turn that layer off, you can see the hair is now sharp again. The eyes are sharp. When we turn that back on, everything's being softened. So as you might expect, when you don't want something to occur in a particular area of an image, you need to add a mask. So at the bottom of the Layers panel, we've got the Soften Skin layer chosen. We'll add a layer mask to that layer. That adds a layer mask filled with white, so currently, that reveals everything about this layer.
What we want to do is paint with black on that layer mask on the areas that we don't want softened, so I'll press the B key on my keyboard to go to the Brush tool. That brush is way too big, so I'll used my Left Bracket key on my keyboard to make it smaller. And I'm just going to paint in where I want to sharp detail to come back, so I'm just painting over this eye and over the eyelashes as well, using a nice, soft brush so I feather back into the smooth areas. Great. We'll come back and do this eye as well.
Just click and drag over that eye. I might want to bring some of the eyebrow detail back in as well. So rather than bringing that back at full force, I might change the opacity of my brush. I'll press the five on my keyboard to paint in the sharpness of the eyebrows, but just add a little bit of detailed there, so 50% opacity. I can go back in multiple strokes to build up that density, so speak. Use my Hand tool by holding down the Spacebar and panning up a little bit and we'll go back over the lips. Here, I'm going to take it back to 100% by pressing the 0 key on the keyboard, and we'll paint the lips back in and bring the sharpness there, trailing off to the outside edge.
And then I'll zoom down, Command+Minus, Ctrl+Minus, until I can see the hair. I'll hold the space bar down to pan that over to the left. And we want to paint back in all that hair detail, so to do that, we'll increase the brush size quite a bit. Use the Right Bracket key real quick. Use a big, big brush, maybe just a little bit smaller, and in big, broad strokes, we're just going to paint over that hair detail to make sure that it does not get softened. We want that to stay nice and sharp and detailed. Okay, so I think I've done a pretty good job here. Let's go ahead and back to 100% view.
Command+1 or Ctrl+1, so we can kind of see. Yes, my eyes are now sharp again. The hair detail is sharp, and you can see the layer mask here has kind of taken shape here. Everywhere you're seeing black on that layer mask, it's hiding the softening of that particular layer. Now it's just a matter of getting these blemishes to go away, and we'll do that, very quickly, by adding an additional layer. Let's switch back to our Spot healing brush tool. I can click on the little band-aid at the Tool panel or just press the J key on the keyword.
Now, I don't want to add my retouching of the blemishes to this layer. I always want that retouching to be on a separate layer if possible, so I'm going to click the New icon at the bottom of Layers panel. But if I hold down Option or Alt, that gives me the ability to name the layer as I create it. So I'm going to call it Retouch, or blemishes, or whatever you want to call it. And then very important, you want to make sure that that Sample All Layers check box is turned on so that when the Spot Healing brush starts looking for good pixels to use in a particular area, it's sourcing all the way through the layer stack to the composite of the pixels directly under the cursor.
If that's not turned on, it's only going to be sampling the particular layer that you're on. In this case, it's a blank layer. So now, I'm just going to start pressing and dragging with that Spot Healing Brush tool all the way through the smoothing skin skin layer and the original layer below and making very quick work of these blotches as well. So we'll just get rid of the acne. It doesn't take for long it to do, but I don't have to worry about all those individual pores of this original skin texture because those have already been softened with that technique I already showed you here.
Let's go ahead and very quickly paint through. This shouldn't take more than about 30 seconds to just kind of go through and get rid of all these little blemishes that are taking our attention away from her beautiful eyes here. We'll just go ahead and very quickly get rid of these highlights and some of the makeup that she used, and let's go ahead and go over the nose very quickly. It's always fun watching someone painting onscreen, right? But you can see how quick this actually goes. I can even do that little blip over on the lip there, little spot there and that's pretty much good.
Let's show you the before and after. So here's the after, of course. Let's turn off the Retouch layer. There's before, and there's after. And then if I drag through the two eyes in the Layers panel, we'll drag through both of them, you will see there is where we originally started, where I still see that skin texture pretty pronounced. And then if I drag to both eyes again, you can see I get the nice smoothing of the skin and the removal of the blemishes at the same time, while maintaining the detail of the eyes, the hair, and lips, and whatever else is important by adding that layer mask on the Soften Skin layer to make sure we retain those details.
We'll go back to Fit to Window, Command+0, Ctrl+0, and pan that over a little bit. And again, here's where we started. Click and drag through those eyes. Click and drag through the eyes again and there's where we ended up. Pretty darn cool!
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