My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

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Skin imperfections? Bah. Who needs ‘em...

RETOUCHING: I've found that as far as skin retouching goes, there is a point that goes too far. I like to do the bare minimum; just enough retouching so skin is smooth but not so much that it looks like plastic.

RETOUCHING: I've found that as far as skin retouching goes, there is a point that goes too far. I like to do the bare minimum; just enough retouching so skin is smooth but not so much that it looks like plastic.

We all have those days, months or even years where our faces break out in a flurry of unpleasant skin flaws. This post is going to cover how a photographer would go about fixing those imperfections in Adobe Photoshop.

Oh, no! Isn’t Photoshop bad? Just look at all of those models who are completely touched up to the point that they don’t even look like themselves anymore!

Well, there are do’s and do-nots for many photographers, freelance or corporate.

Personally, I like to edit my photos for color correction and just minor touch-ups on the subject’s skin. I never ever use Photoshop’s liquify tool to change the composition or shape of someone else’s body (unless otherwise requested, but I haven’t thus far).

For Photoshop newbies out there, Photoshop can be used for photos, but it also can be used for drawing and painting. I’ve done a good number of illustrations from scratch just in Photoshop alone with a tablet that hooks up to my computer. No pen and paper involved.

A lot of the tools in Photoshop use brushes and spray paint-esque settings to emulate the real thing. It can be very handy for editing unwanted parts of a photo or adding in your own revisions. I once took a photograph of my friend’s guitar and incorporated a flower and waterfall into the body of the instrument — it’s fun.

So, how does a photographer go about making a zit disappear?

There are a number of ways to fix skin imperfections in Photoshop. There’s a Healing Brush tool that takes pixels that are near the area you want to touch up and uses the color of those pixels to blend the area to create a smooth texture automatically.

There’s also the Clone Stamp tool that takes the texture of an area of your choosing and applies it to wherever you paint with the brush.

You don’t want to overdo it. Getting rid of every wrinkle and crease can really change the composition of someone’s face. Yeah, they might think it’s nice, but there is a certain amount of “truth” that needs to remain in a photograph. If a subject has aged, a portrait should show that to some degree.

Other than the two tools mentioned, Photoshop also can be used to smooth skin subtly (or not so subtly) using different filters and blur techniques. There are a lot of tutorials on that can be followed if you own Photoshop to do this at home.

Again, with the skin smoothing, there is a threshold that I adhere to. You don’t want someone’s skin looking like butter or plastic at the end of the editing session.

Editing photos for skin flaws takes time. Each photo can take anywhere from five minutes to even a half hour to properly edit and get it to perfection. It can be daunting and really drag on, but it’s also a good time to turn on some music and just relax.

The goal with skin correction isn’t to distort someone’s appearance. A photograph is more than just an image on paper, it conveys who someone is. When you look back at your family portraits or photographs of your children, you want the fond memories of them to come to mind — not how bad they looked that day because their skin was acting up.

At the same time, you don’t want to look back at those old photos and see someone that you weren’t expecting.

Again, my ethics for photo corrections may differ from another photographer’s and that is completely OK. I respect other people’s work and their efforts to create great images for their clientele.

At the end of the day, skin correction using Photoshop (or any other image editing program) can be a very helpful tool to make a good image great. It can be overdone, but that is ultimately up to the photographer and the client’s taste.