How To Soften Skin in Adobe Photoshop

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May 10, 2021
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  • #1
Let’s face facts. Pretty much every photo of anyone you see in a magazine has been Photoshopped. If I had to guess, I’d probably say that softening the skin in general is the first priority for the editor and then, right behind that would be to remove any blemishes. Beyond those two things, edits like removing wrinkles and reshaping areas is best left for those who want their photos to be completely transformed. Luckily for us, the two primary and most important edits are also the easiest to complete.

I’ve already talked a lot about removing blemishes on this website. If you’d like to read those posts, please feel free to click through below.

How to Remove Face Blemishes in Adobe Camera Raw

How to Undo Random Spot Healing Brush Tool Corrections in Adobe Photoshop

Clearing Skin with the Spot Healing Brush Tool in Adobe Photoshop

In today’s post, I’d like to discuss how to generally soften skin while using Adobe Photoshop and Camera Raw combined. This is a simple process in which a photo is opened in Photoshop, is converted to a Smart Object and then has a Smart Filter applied to it. After that, it’s as simple as working with a filter mask and then adjusting the layer opacity. If you’re into editing people’s faces for modeling or wedding photography and aren’t sure how to go about it, this post is for you. And just as a side note, this technique isn’t reserved for softening or smoothing only faces, it can also be used for softening or smoothing just about anything.

The Demo Photo​

This is the photo I’ll be using for this demonstration. I chose this photo because the subject has water and droplets on his face. Those droplets can go two ways, either much more pronounced or softened up quite a bit. I’ll show you both scenarios below.


Converting for a Smart Filter​

The very first thing I’ll do with this project, since this photograph is already opened up in Adobe Photoshop, is to duplicate the image layer by clicking and dragging the layer in the Layers panel down to the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the panel. I need this duplicate layer for one of the final steps down below.

Next, I’ll go ahead and complete a very important task, which is to convert the top layer image for a Smart Filter. To do this, I’ll click the image thumbnail in the Layers panel and then I’ll head up to the Filter > Convert for Smart Filters menu item and click.


This will convert the layer into a Smart Object, which will allow me to work with it in a non-destructive manner.

Applying a Camera Raw Filter​

The next step I’ll take is to move the image into Camera Raw to apply one very straightforward filter to it. To move the image into Camera Raw, I’ll return to the same Filter menu up top, but this time, I’ll click Camera Raw Filter.


Once Camera Raw opens up, I’ll go straight to the Clarity slider in the Basic panel. This is the slider I’ll be using to soften the skin in this photo.


Let me take a moment to show you the two extremes to which the Clarity slider can bring things. As I mentioned earlier, this one slider can make the photo appear extremely soft or extremely hard. The reason for this is because, depending on which way you push the slider, it can either add or remove midtone contrast. As you’ll see in the two comparison shots below, this can be a big deal.

Here’s an example of moving the Clarity slider all the way to the left, which removes much of the midtone contrast.


And here’s an example of moving the Clarity slider all the way to the right, which adds a lot of midtone contrast.


If you were editing this photo and wanted to add smoothness to it, which way would you push the slider? That’s right, to the left. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll push the Clarity slider about half way to the left and then I’ll click the OK button to return to Photoshop. Don’t worry, I know things will be somewhat extreme looking for the time being. I’ll fix all that later. Let’s take a look at the image now.


That actually looks pretty good, but I can see that some areas of the face and hair are too smooth. In the next section, I’ll fix those areas. Remember, all I want to soften is the skin, nothing else.

Removing Smoothness via the Filter Mask​

Okay, I’m at the point of cleaning up this photo. I’ve already added some smoothness, but the issue I’m seeing is that too much is smooth, such as the eyes, eyebrows, hair, lips and background. This isn’t a problem because I can fix the situation with little trouble.

The first thing I’ll do to finish up this photo is to head over to the Layers panel and click on the white filter mask thumbnail to select it.


Then, I’ll click to activate the Brush Tool in the left toolbar and finally, I’ll make sure the color black is chosen in the Color Picker. I’ll soften the edge of the brush and I’ll begin painting anywhere on the image that I do not want softened. Basically, I’ll resize the brush and I’ll paint over the hair, lips, etc…

Here’s what the mask looks like after I’m finished with my painting. As you can see, only the skin is being revealed in the mask, which is telling Photoshop to only apply the softening to that white area.


Changing Layer Opacity​

For the final step of this project, I’ll take a look at the image to determine if the softening needs to be reduced any. Sometimes, the Camera Raw filter can be applied at too strong a level. Instead of double-clicking the filter layer to revisit Camera Raw and make adjustments there, I can simply reduce the opacity of the top layer itself, right in the Layers panel. For this image, I’ll reduce the opacity of the top layer to 75% by pushing the Opacity slider somewhat to the left.


Of course, I’ll be sure to click on the top Smart Object layer first, to make sure it’s selected and active.

By reducing the opacity of the top layer, I’m allowing some of the layer underneath to show through, which sort of blends together the original image with the newer, smoother one. This offers a very realistic result.

Here’s the output of my efforts.


I’d say that looks pretty good. Obviously, this model didn’t need much fixing up, but I’m sure you can see the possibilities for a workflow like this. Also, combined with blemish removal, this type of technique can really save the day.


I hope I clearly explained how to soften skin in Adobe Photoshop by using a Camera Raw filter as well as a filter mask. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment area below. Thanks for reading!


May 10, 2021
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Reducing the Appearance of Deep Wrinkles With Adobe Photoshop​

I have yet another technique for minimizing the appearance of wrinkles using Adobe Photoshop. I know I’ve written about this topic a good number of times already, but I think it’s a good idea to learn how to do the same thing by using different approaches. This approach is actually very similar to some of the others I’ve shared, but there are a few key differences. I’ll share those difference below.

This post is going to be about minimizing the appearance of wrinkles on the face, not removing them entirely. I think we can all admit that over a certain age, we’re all going to have wrinkles. In photography, the lighting can sometimes make those wrinkles stand out in a way that doesn’t look natural or very appealing (this is true even for younger people). As photo editors, it’s our job to help folks look their best while keeping any photograph we touch as realistic looking as possible.

In today’s post, I’ll be using an image of an older gentleman. In the photo, there are some wrinkles on the man’s face. Nothing too deep or awkward looking – just regular wrinkles. What I’m going to do is use the Healing Brush Tool and a new layer that sits on top of the photo layer to paint away the wrinkles. Then, I’ll adjust the opacity of the top layer so any changes I make blend right in with the image layer below. It really is a rather simple trick to learn, so let’s get on with it.

Today’s Demo Photo​

This is the photo I’ll be using for today’s post. To keep things simple, I think I’ll primarily focus on the wrinkles on the forehead, under the eyes and around the mouth (the smile lines). Those are the ones that stand out the most to me. If you have your own photo you’d like to work on in a similar way in the future, just take the concept of what I’m doing here and apply it to your image.


Using the Healing Brush Tool​

I’ll be using the same principles I already discussed in the post I wrote about the Healing Brush Tool in this post. So, to avoid writing the same thing twice, I’ll be pointing you to that previous post and only be touching on the specifics of the tool today. If you’d like to learn all about the Healing Brush Tool, please click the link below and enjoy.

Working With the Healing Brush Tool in Adobe Photoshop

In general, the healing brush works like this; you activate the tool, find an area that you can use as a source and then paint over whatever it is that you’d like to “heal” with the brush. Of course, there are a few more minor details that need to be considered, but that’s really it. So think about it this way. If you had a photo from above of some train tracks and you wanted to paint one of the tracks on top of the other track to “heal” the one you’d be painting over, you would hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and click on the “source” track. This is the track you’ll be pulling from. Then, once that area is in Photoshop’s memory, all you would need to do is click and paint over the other track just the same way you’d paint over anything else. The thing you need to be most careful of is the movement of the source area. The reason I used train tracks in the example I just gave was because train tracks run in parallel. So does the Healing Brush Tool (if the Align option is checked). If you were to take a source sample and then brush in circles, the source would brush in circles as well. If you experiment with this tool, you’ll see that there is a ghost source mouse pointer that runs in tandem with the painting brush. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy to understand once you start using the tool.

The first thing I’m going to do for this project, since the image is already opened up in Photoshop, is to create a new layer that will sit on top of the background layer. To do this, I’ll click the Create New Layer button that sits at the bottom of the Layers panel. This is what the layers will look like when I do this.


After that, I’ll head over to the left toolbar and I’ll click on the Healing Brush Tool to activate it.


Directly after that, I’ll size the brush up in the options bar and I’ll be sure to give it some soft edges. Then, and this is the most important thing, I’ll make sure the All Layers option is selected in the Sample drop-down box. Since I’ll be doing the painting on an empty layer, it’s important that this option is selected because I’ll need to sample the layer underneath. In this case, I’ll also check the Align option that’s to the left of the Sample drop-down because I want to take advantage of the color gradients on this man’s skin. If I didn’t have the sample brush track the painting brush, things might look a little weird.

Once everything is all set, I’ll take a sample of an area directly above the left eyebrow by holding the Alt key down and clicking with my mouse. After that, I’ll paint over the wrinkle above the left eye.


Inside of the red circle is the area I just worked on. Next, I’ll go ahead and do the same thing over the areas I discussed previously. Here’s the result of that. Again, I’m not going overboard here. I’m merely doing this as an example of how the process works.


You can definitely see how the wrinkles have disappeared.

Minimizing the Wrinkles, Not Removing Them​

The goal now is to actually bring some of the wrinkles back. If I were to keep the photo as it is, I don’t think I’d be helping this gentleman at all. In reality, he does have the wrinkles on his face, so I don’t want to remove them completely.

To lessen the effect of my corrections, I’ll simply head over to the Opacity slider in the Layers panel and push it to the left until it reaches 50%. Doing this does a great job at keeping a less dramatic wrinkle. It allows the wrinkle to appear, but it removes the darkness or severity of them.


And here is the final photo.


I think it looks pretty good. Photo editors for magazines do this kind of thing all day long.

The Lighten Blending Mode​

There is one final tweak that one can make with projects such as this and this tweak can make a huge difference when working with troublesome images. If I were to apply the Lighten blending mode to the top layer, any pixels that are darker on the top layer than they are on the bottom layer would be removed. Conversely stated, only the lighter pixels on the top layer are kept when this blending mode is used. This is important because in cases like this, we’re trying to get rid of the darkness in the areas we paint.

“The Lighten Blending Mode takes a look at the base color and blend color, and it keeps whichever one of the two is the lightest. If the blend colors and the base colors are the same, then no change is applied. As with the Darken Blending Mode, Lighten looks at the three RGB channels separately when blending the pixels.”

And that’s it! That’s all there is to it.


I hope I clearly explained how to minimize the appearance of wrinkles on someone’s face. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!


May 10, 2021
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  • #3

Softening Skin with Filters & Masking in Adobe Photoshop​

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.


Adjusting Shadows/Highlights​

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.


Amount: 20%
Tone: 50%
Radius: 200px


Amount: 30%
Tone: 50%
Radius: 200px


Color: +20
Midtone: +50


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.


Adjusting Brightness/Contrast​

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!