By now, you probably know that there are many methods for softening skin in Adobe Photoshop. I’ve actually covered quite a few of these methods on this website. The thing is, it’s important to learn as many skin softening techniques as possible because you never know when bits and pieces of each technique may come in handy for other types of projects. Also, it’s nice to have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to modifying the appearance of someone.
In today’s post, I’d like to walk through a project where I’ll soften some of the “hardenss” of someone’s face. In the photo I chose for this project, the model had the full sun striking his side and it made for a harsh look. It’s difficult to hide in this type of environment, so it’s sometimes necessary to work on a photo like this in post-processing. I’d merely like to soften it some. For this project, I’ll be taking advantage of Smart Objects, two different filters as well as a mask. It’s going to be great. I promise. And just so you know, the technique I’ll be using below is appropriate for so many types of skin. It’s a basic softening technique.
The Demo Photo
Here’s the image I was referring to. Do you see how the sun is striking the model’s skin, head on? If that’s the look we were going for, it’d be fine, but again, I think it would be helpful to tone things down some.
Applying the Gaussian Blur Filter
The very first thing I’m going to do is convert this image layer to a Smart Object. To do this, I’m going to try a different approach than I normally do. While working with many tools in Photoshop, it’s possible to right-click directly on the image itself and choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu that appears. In my case, I was using one of the selection tools when I right-clicked.
No matter if you use this method or one of the many others I’ve shown on this site, the layer will become a Smart Object.
After that, I’ll head up to the Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur menu item and click.
When the Gaussian Blur dialog box appears, I’ll adjust the Radius slider so it has a value of 30 Pixels.
I’ll click the OK button, which in doing so, will bring me back to the normal workspace. Next, I’ll click on the Blending Options button in the Layers panel and when the Blending Options dialog box appears, I’ll reduce the Opacity to 50%. Finally, I’ll click the OK button to accept that change as well.
Okay, the theory behind this softening technique is that the Gaussian Blur does the actual softening and then the adjustment of shadows, highlights, brightness and contrast will bring back some of the tone and definition. So in this step, I’ll adjust some of the shadows and highlights.
To do this, I’ll go to the Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights menu item and click.
This will open up the Shadows/Highlights dialog where I’ll change a few settings. to make things easier, I’ll list all the relevant settings below.
To apply these changes, I’ll click the OK button and the dialog will close out.
Since this change affected the shadows and highlights, but also added some unnecessary color to the image, I’ll use the Luminosity blending mode to remove that color. So, again, I’ll double-click on the blending mode icon for this filter in the Layers panel and when the Blending Mode (Shadows/Highlights) dialog box opens up, I’ll select the Luminosity option from the Mode drop-down.
This step is much like the previous one. I’d like to adjust the brightness and the contrast in the image a bit, so I’ll again head up to the Image > Adjustments menu, but this time, I’ll choose the Brightness/Contrast option.
When the Brightness/Contrast dialog box appears, I’ll set the Brightness value to 20 and the Contrast value to 40 and then press the OK button to apply the changes.
This adjustment adds some definition back to the image, while keeping any previous softness intact. But, like the previous adjustment, the additional saturation that was added by this one needs to be removed. To accomplish this, I’ll again set the blending mode to Luminosity, but for this adjustment. That’s easy enough. I’ll just follow the steps I previously gave for this.
Masking Away the Softness
Let’s take a look at the picture of the gentleman now. Take a look at the changes.
I think we can all agree that the man’s skin has been softened, but honestly, I don’t think the changes look very appealing. What needs to be done now is to remove any softening that’s not on the skin. Basically, I’d like to add some sharpness back in again to areas such as the man’s eyes, lips, hair and the background of the image. To do this, I’ll click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, use the Brush Tool (sized and softened appropriately) and the color black and then paint away any softness I don’t want anymore. Let’s take a look at the image after I’m finished with that.
Okay, that’s looking good. The nice thing about using Smart Objects and by definition, Smart Filters, is that I can go back in at any time now and edit those filters. If I think something doesn’t look just right, I can quickly and easily edit that aspect of the image. With this image, I’d probably tweak a few things, but keep the edit the way it is.
Before I finish this post up, I’d like to show you the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel. As you can see, most of it is black and what’s white somewhat looks like a face. The white is what’s been edited and the black has been left alone.
I hope I clearly explained how to soften someone’s skin in Adobe Photoshop using a variety of filters and a mask. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section down below. Or, you can ask anything you wish in the Photoshop discussion forum. Thanks for reading!