Photoshop Tutorial- Soften Skin, Keep the texture.


Softening skin is something that can come in very useful for anyone who likes to shoot portraits, whether it’s just for a hobby or full beauty/portfolio head shots. This technique is very useful because it Keeps the texture of the skin whilst the same time softens areas of imperfection. You can see the before and after effect in this beautiful image of my face 🙂

I'm no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial :-)

I’m no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial 🙂

This technique is fairly simple to achieve using only a few layers and two filters. read on to find out how.

Step 1 Duplicate the layer

For this tutorial I’m going to assume you have a basic understanding of Photoshop and already know how to open your image. Once it is loaded we need to duplicate the layer. You can do this by either right clicking on the background layer and then selecting “Duplicate Layer” or you can use the keyboard short-cut by making sure the background is selected and then pressing “Ctrl+J” (Cmnd+J on Mac) You should now see two layers that look the same. (You can click on any image in this tutorial to see it in large format to help you)

Click to view large

 Step 2 Change the blending mode

The blending mode is not as scary as it sounds. It simply controls how a layer interacts with the one below it. The blending mode menu can be found at the top of the layers tab and should currently read “Normal”. Click on the little arrow, and pop up menu will appear counting lots of options. The one we need is “Vivid Light” and can be found about half way up the list. Make sure your top layer is selected before you do select this option.

This is where you will find the blending mode options

“Vivid Light” is about half way up the pop out menu

 Step 3 Invert the layer.

Your image should now look a little strange like this  but don’t panic it’s supposed to.

Your image should look a little strange like this one.

The next thing we need to do is “Invert” the layer. To do this you can use the keyboard short-cut “Ctrl + I” (Cmnd+I on mac) or you can go to IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>INVERT on the menu bar. Again this will have a strange effect on your image and it should appear nearly completely grey like my example here

By this stage your image should look nearly all grey like this one.

Step 4 Add the filters

In this step we are going to add two filters to this layer. The settings in this tutorial are for the image I’m working on as an example, so you might have to adjust the sliders slightly for your own image and use my settings as a guide. It’s a matter of experimenting to get the effect to work for your particular image.

The first filter we need to add is a “High Pass” filter. To do this, ensure that the layer is still selected and then on the menu bar click FILTER>OTHER>HIGH PASS. When you do this you will have a dialogue box pop up with a slider in it that looks like the one below, and the image will look a little more normal again….phew!


This is where you will find the high pass filter

This dialogue box will appear

What we need to do is adjust the slider until the unwanted detail and blemishes are blurred out of the image, as you can see from the image below my setting was a radius of 12 pixels. At this point the whole image is blurred, so its best to increase your zoom and look at a bad area of skin as you adjust your radius setting. This still affects the whole image but we will rectify that later.


You can see in this image that with the radius set to 12 pixels bad areas of skin are hidden by the blur.

Now we need to add another filter. The next bit might sound a bit strange, we add a blur filter to the image, normally this would do what it’s name suggests, but in this case it works in reverse (More on that later) So we add a Gaussian Blur filter by going to the top menu and clicking FILTER>BLUR>GAUSSIAN BLUR. Again a little dialogue box will pop up with a radius slider on it for you to adjust.

This is where you will find the “Gaussian Blur” Filter

This dialogue box will appear.

Now to adjust the filter settings. A general rule of thumb for this setting (And it is only general) is that the radius setting for the blur filter should be about 1/3 of the radius for the high pass filter. so in my case as you can see below it’s about 4 pixels. This should bring back the skin texture but not the blemishes and unwanted artefacts. You might have to adjust slightly more either way or to your own taste.


As you can see with the radius set to around 1/3 of the value of the “High Pass” radius, the texture of the skin has returned

Step 4 Refine your awesome work

Ok, so you have softened the skin of the person in your shot…..and their hair…and their eyes..and anything else in the shot. Unless you like looking at images that make you feel slightly drunk we need to fix this, and its very simple to do so.

What we need to do is put a layer mask on the image so the effect is only visible where we want it to be. To apply a layer mask, hold Alt (or option on a Mac) click on the button at the bottom of the layers tab that looks like this The reason we hold Alt or Option is so the mask is filled black when it’s applied and hides the effects of the skin softening.



This is where you will find the “Add Layer Mask” button.

Now all we need to do is select the brush tool (Or press B) select a brush with a medium soft edge (Right click with the brush tool selected to adjust these settings) and then paint White on the areas of skin we want to soften. If you make a mistake simply change your brush colour to black and paint the effect back out. Avoid the hair, eyebrows, eyes mouth and the areas around the nostrils. These features don’t tend to look to good when blurry. Below is an example and a blow up of my layer mask when I was half way through working on the skin.



If you only want to touch up part of the skin you can go to the brush settings at the top of the screen and turn the “Flow” down to 10% This now means that the brush only allows 10% of the effect to show through the mask on each pass. In other words, the more times you go over an area with the brush the more the effect will show through. This is especially useful when you are trying to work on one area and make it blend with the untouched parts.

A few words of advice.

Ok, I’m not one to tell you guys what looks good where, and when Photoshop should or shouldn’t be used. But it is VERY easy to over cook this effect, especially on men. Once you’ve followed these steps, go out of the room to make yourself a coffee (or beverage of your choice) and then come back in. If you think it looks a little too much, then simply turn down the opacity of the layer, and this will tone down the whole effect.

Hope you guys will find this useful, please feel free to leave a comment and give us some feedback. Any problems you have then don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via any of the social media links provided on here for the Photography Chat community. 🙂

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