Retouching skin is rarely an easy task. There are no absolutes when it comes to making skin look the “right” color, smoothing out wrinkles, or reducing blemishes and blotchiness. This tip will take you through one popular technique for smoothing skin texture for a younger, smoother look.
Step 1: Duplicate the background onto a new layer.
Anyone who as taken one of Jason Hoppe's Photoshop retouching classes knows he is a strong advocate for non-destructive retouching techniques. As usual, we'll preserve the original photo by duplicating the background image onto a new layer. Simply drag the thumbnail in the Layers palette to the New Layer icon.
Step 2: Apply the Surface Blur filter.
The Surface Blur filter was introduced in Photoshop CS2. Rather than blurring your entire image, the Surface Blur filter provides a "smart" smoothing effect that protects areas of contrast or detail. Notice in our example how the skin is smoothed, yet the pupil edges in our subject's eyes remains crisp.
Choose Filter > Blur > Surface Blur
Blur the new layer to the point where the skin imperfections are no longer noticeable, but no further than that. The Radius option specifies the size of the area sampled for the blur. The Threshold option controls how much the tonal values of neighboring pixels must diverge from the center pixel value before being part of the blur.
Step 3: Add a Layer Mask. Reveal eyes, eyebrows, lips, etc
To finish up this quick technique, we add a layer mask to our newly blurred layer. This way we can use the blurred layer to smooth out skin blemishes while allowing the crisp details from our model's eyes, lips and hair to show through. You can approach this step in two different ways:
Option 1: Reveal everything on the blurred layer and carefully expose the areas of detail from your underlying image. For this approach, choose Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All, or click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of your layers pane. The layer mask will be indicated by a white icon to the right of your layer, and painting in black on that mask will expose your underlying image.
Option 2: Hide everything and carefully paint over your original image with the smoothed skin layer. For this approach, choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All, or Option/Alt-click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of your layers pane. The layer mask will be indicated by a black icon to the right of your layer, and painting in white on that mask lets you reveal your newly smoothed skin.
Whichever approach you pick, you should end up with a layer like the one shown above — a virtual halloween mask that smoothes out the skin, yet with holes that let the sharper details of the original face's eyes, lips and eyebrows show through.
Tip: To keep your subject looking natural, adjust the opacity of the blurred layer to a level that lets some of the skin's original texture peak through — usually between 50%-80% opacity.
This is one quick way to create smoother, younger, skin in Photoshop.
Source: This tip comes directly from Jason Hoppe's sell-out workshop last Wednesday: Photoshop - Retouching Skin. If you live in the Seattle-area, make sure to check out creativetechs.com/miniworkshops for a list of upcoming topics. There is also an excellent book that dives deeply into the subject of retouching skin in Adobe Photoshop: Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies by Lee Varis.