Creating gorgeous perfect skin that still looks human!
I want perfect skin.
I am not even remotely ashamed to admit this, it is why my dresser often looks like it could reasonably be assumed that I own shares in L'Oreal, Graftobian or NYX. Human skin however is imperfect, even models have slight imperfections but when we look at people their imperfections are not usually what we see. We see their beauty, their laughter, their joy, we see all the things that make them wonderful.
Cameras however don't filter out slight imperfections the way our brains do therefore when creating beautiful images of people it can become necessary to retouch those human imperfections. There are many methods of retouching and whichever one you choose it will be important to retain appropriate skin texture. Completely poreless skin only exists on mannequins and dolls so blurring skin to the point where the pores become invisible will only make your subject look preternaturally perfect —which of course can be a look if that is your artistic direction. There are a variety of filters one can use to do basic retouching including various "skin smoothing" actions found in many Photoshop filters packs. Although Photoshop actions are popular many professional retouchers are using Frequency Separation, a technique that allows for more precise retouching with minimal damage to the layer of the photograph which contains the basic skin texture information.
First make your basic adjustments to the image, crop, brightness/contrast, check for sharpness etc. (*photo 1-3) as you can see the original unretouched image is pretty ordinary, My subject is wearing minimal makeup and although her skin is quite lovely there are a few imperfections.
On a new layer identify the areas you want to work on. (*photo 4) Create two duplicate background layers, the first for smoothing imperfections in tone—I named mine 'blur'— and the second for imperfections in texture which I called (surprise!) "texture". (*photo 5/7) Create your blur on the blur layer using Gaussian Blur (just enough to smooth the imperfect tone while leaving the texture alone (*photo 6). Create your texture adjustment layer using "apply image" It will look a bit like a High Pass filter (*photo 8). Aaron Nace of Phlearn.com has an excellent tutorial here. Then work on the layers separately to create the effect you want. (see link to tutorial) I will not be going over all the details here but I do encourage you to follow the links to the tutorials. Photos 9 and 10 show slight peachfuzz around the model's mouth that is removed with adjustments to the texture layer. Photo 11 shows the smoothing of imperfect tone which is adjusted on the blur layer. Always check the image up close to make sure the skin has retained texture (*photo 12) and finally before and after comparisons (*photo 13) and then the finished image (*photo 15)
Be cautious of removing things like moles and scars when you retouch as those things are often tied to stories that make up the character of a person. I have a scar on my face that I will ask photographers to leave alone when they are retouching images of me. Scar removal ultimately should be the choice of the client. I recently saw images of me that had been retouched to remove my scar, it took me a moment to figure out who the person was because the scar is such an integral part of my identity that without it my face seemed to belong to another.
If you are interested in learning more about the technical aspects of Frequency Separation you can follow this link