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Softening a subject skin smoothes out any remaining imperfections and makes the subject look more pleasing overall. I've done a lot of retouching on this image which is now face_7.psd, and that means I have a lot of different layers here in the Layers panel. I'm going to soften this model's skin by applying a filter. I want to be sure to impact all of the different changes that I've made to the image so far. So I'm going to make a composite layer of all of the layers below and apply the softening filter to that composite, because a filter can only affect one layer at a time.
So I hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC and I'll click and I'll choose Merge Visible, and that adds a layer above the top layer, which I had selected. The new layer I'm going to rename soften by double-clicking the layer name, typing in a new name, and pressing Return. I'm going to go to the Filter menu, and from there I'm going to convert the soften layer for Smart Filters. I like to use Smart Filters because when I do that, I can always come back in and reedit a filter.
This is telling me that the layer is going to become a Smart Object and that's okay, and now you'll see the Smart Object symbol on to the soften layer. Now I'll go back to the back to the Filter menu and I'm going to apply a Filter called Median, which is located in the Noise group. Filter > Noise > Median. In the Median dialog box, I'll choose a radius, which controls the strength of this softening effect. This looks like too much to me. Let's see how looks at 3. Still quite heavy. Let's try 2. I think I am going to go back to 3, exaggerating things, because I want to be sure that you can see it on your screen, and I'll click OK.
Now you can see that there is a new Smart Filter layer on the soften layer with the Median filter applied. By the way, there are other filters you could use to blur the image other than the Median filter. I like this one, because it blurs while retaining a little bit edge detail. Other possibilities are the Gaussian Blur filter or the Dust and Scratches filter. Now that I've applied this filter, I'd like to limit the areas where it appears on the image. To do that I'm going to use this layer mask that comes with the Smart Filters layer. I'll click on that layer mask.
Currently the mask is white, meaning you can see the filter everywhere in the image. Then I'll get my Paintbrush, I'll make sure the foreground color is set to black, and I'm going to come in and paint over the areas that I do not want to affect with this blur, in particular the eyes, and as I paint I'm bringing them back by hiding the Smart Filter in just these areas. I'll paint over the eyebrows, which I also want to be not blurry, and I might try the lips as well, and maybe just a click or two at the tip of the nose.
Now I want to blend this entire blurred layer in with the texture of the face underneath. So I'm going to go to the Layer Blending Mode menu here and I'm going to choose Lighten blend mode. In some cases, another blend mode might look just as good. You can try the Darken blend mode, but this one looks good on this image, and it brings a little bit of texture back into the face while retaining the smoothing almost glowing effect of the blur. So that's how you would soften a model's face. Applying a blurring filter like this not only makes the skin look smoother, it can also add a glow to the subject, which I think is the perfect finishing touch for any portrait.
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