How to Soften Skin in Photoshop For Portraits

One of the most common types of retouching for portraits is softening the skin. No matter how great someones skin is there always happens to be a few pimples or something else going on whenever a portrait shoot is scheduled. Personally I am not a huge retoucher with my work, I want people to look true to themselves and not like a plastic doll. However when someone is having a ‘bad skin day’ I will go in and do some smoothing out to clean them up a bit. Here is a quick photoshop tutorial on how to soften skin and works great for smoothing out little lines, blemishes or overall oily skin. Just like many other things in Photoshop there are many different ways to achieve similar results. If you have a different way of doing this I would love to hear it, leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

How to Soften Skin in Photoshop

1) First step is to select the skin tone that we will be softening. Go to Select –> Color Range. Here you are going to be using a color picker to choose certain colors for a selection. I also usually pick a pretty high “Fuzzyness” of around 150 which is the feather of your selection. After you make your first click on the main area of skin tone click the + button under save and continue to click a few additional areas of skin tone to widen your selection and make sure you pick all skin areas.

photoshop soften skin

First select the skin tone

2) Next hit Command J (or Layer –> New –> Layer Via Copy) to create a layer from this selection.

3) While still on this new layer go to Filter –> Blur –> Surface Blur. A setting around 7 for the radius and 15 for the threshold works well. This will give a nice blur on this skin selection.

4) Set the opacity of this current layer to 50%.

5) Next we will make a copy of this layer to give another layering of softening. Go to Layers –> Duplicate Layer and create a name for the new layer.

6) On this new layer we just created we are going to do a stronger blur. Go back to Filter –> Blur –> Surface Blur. Now make your settings around 50 for the radius and 40 for the threshold. This will give a pretty heavy blur on this skin area.

photoshop soften skin2

2nd stage of blur

7) Now we are ready to group these new layers together and start to “paint in” our skin softening. Select both of the new selection layers we just created and go to Layers –> New –> Group from Layers.

8 ) Add a layer mask to this new group and fill it with black.

photoshop soften skin3

Create a layer mask for your group and fill with black

9) Now the blur effects on these new layers are hidden since we have the mask filled in with black. What we need to do is paint in the areas we want to be soft. Click B to bring up the brush tool and use a fairly large brush with 0 hardness. I also will have the opacity of the brush set to about 30% and start painting in the softness (with a white color to remove the black on the mask). For areas that might need a little more you can pass by them a few times. The great thing is since you are paining in a layer mask if you ever go too far just change the brush to black and paint back over that area to bring it back to what you started with. Using layer masks give you a lot of flexibility for this and you can always just fill the entire layer mask with black again to start over.

That’s it, there are some steps to go through but they are all pretty quick and easy. Below is a quick before and after look at what we just walked through. Would love to see some examples of your portrait work, you can always share on our Facebook wall


Skin softening final

Hope this was helpful. If you ever have photoshop or other photography questions let me know, just leave a facebook comment at the bottom of the page and open up a conversation.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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1 Comment

  1. gotta love that new – layer via copy trick … it comes in handy in so many ways. thanks for this toot … will definitely be bookmarking this one!!!!


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