Apr 27 2009
As a preface, let me say that the method I’m about to explain is not a behind the scenes look at how the fashion magazines help to promote an unattainable beauty standard. It may very well be one method they use, but I have no way to confirm this. The method is merely the one I’ve been using for the past few years and it works for me. It won’t make a 60 year old look like a teenager, but it will soften wrinkles, blemishes and unevenness in the skin in a somewhat natural way.
I’ve seen a few tutorials out there that tell you to duplicate your photo on a layer, blur the detail out of it and then mask that layer off almost entirely only painting in the areas where you want to get rid of wrinkles. Yes, this method works, but in my experience it looks unnatural. There is no texture to the skin where the effect has been applied. My method is similar to this but offers a bit more humanness to the blending.
You could also remove wrinkles and blemishes with the Heal tool and, if that works for you–awesome! But as impressed as I am with the Heal tool, sometimes it replaces wrinkles with what look like collagen injections that were administered by a cake decorator from Dairy Queen.
Now that I’ve insulted every other method, now it’s time to put my Wacom tablet where my mouth is. My method is quite similar to the blur method I described, but it adds back a level of detail that makes the softened areas look more believable in my opinion. Here’s how it works:
We’re going to start with this image I bought off of iStockphoto.com. As you can see, even at this reduced size, the model in this shot has quite pronounced lines and wrinkles on his face. Now, what we’re going to do is not to attempt to turn back time 30 years or make him look like he’s fresh from a boy band–the man has lived his life, lets not have his photo protest that fact. We can, however, make him look like he’s lived a life less harsh on his skin. He’ll be the same age, he’ll just look like he drank a bit more water and possibly even used a night cream once in a while… okay, maybe that’s pushing it.
Have a look for yourself:
He’s still the same age, he just looks like he doesn’t have as many miles on him.
Next, we’ll have a look at a close-up to show you the detail you can really see in the image shown here.
Here’s our starting point…
…and here’s the after.
He still has the wrinkles (and the bloodshot eyes…that will be another tutorial), they’re just not as pronounced–they’re softer. Also notice the subtle texture of the skin–it still looks like skin.
This is the kind of detail that you lose using the Clone tool or by simply blurring the area out.
Okay, enough of this: let’s get to the tellin’ how it’s done. It’s really easy.
Step 1: Median, not blur
Side note: If you are applying this technique to an image that is already made up of a series of layers, go Select>All (Command-A), Edit>Copy Merged (Shift-Command-C), Edit>Paste (Command-V) and then make sure the newly created layer is brought to the top layer position.
I duplicate my Background layer (see side note) and with this new layer selected in the Layer palette, I go Filter>Noise>Median… and adjust the slider until you no longer see the dark shadows of the wrinkles you are trying to soften. For the image I’m using, a setting of 15 did the trick.
Why Median? Why not Gaussian Blur? Have a look:
Gaussian Blur set at 15 pixels
Median set at 15 pixels
Do you see how the Median filter took out the wrinkles without obliterating the “good” edge detail and how it left the contoured tones of the skin intact. To me, this just looks more natural. Also, when we add a layer mask and start adding this layer in with the Brush tool, we will be able to go in between the eyebrow and the eyelashes without picking up dark tones that would have spilled into that area if we had used the Gaussian Blur.
Step 2: High Pass
What is High Pass?
We played a bit with the High Pass filter way back in one of my first Photoshop tutorials here.
The filter hangs out in the “Other” category when it should almost be included with the Sharpening filters. If you were to take an image, duplicate its Background layer on a new layer, apply a High Pass of 1 on that layer and set the layer’s blending mode to “Overlay”, it would almost completely duplicate the effect of applying an Unsharp Mask of the same magnitude to that image.
The High Pass filter allows sharpening while allowing you to fully edit the “sharpening.” Imagine now: you can blend it, blur it, dodge it, burn it. Very cool.
This is where we add a bit of detail and texture back to the image.
Duplicate the Background layer again and bring the new dupe up to the top of the Layers palette and make sure it is selected there.
Now go Filter>Other>High Pass… and give it a low setting (I used 2). As you use this technique, experiment with different settings.
I then added a few percents worth of noise to my High Pass layer (Filter>Noise>Add Noise… set to 2% and Gaussian distribution … if you’re worried about color shifting, set it to “Monochromatic”)
Looks great, huh? No, I know, it looks like hell–but we’re not done.
Get your Layers palette out, hold down the Option key on your keyboard and click the line between the Median layer and the High Pass layer in the Layers palette This is what is called a Clipping Mask and, though you barely see anything change right now, it means that no part of the High Pass layer will show unless there is image showing from the Median layer below it. It means in this case, the effective Fill value of the High Pass layer just dipped down to match that of the Median layer.
Now change the Blending Mode of the High Pass layer to Overlay.
Now things should look… interesting.
Step 3: Painting out the wrinkles
Select the Median layer in the Layers palette and go Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All. Make sure that new layer mask is selected in the Layers palette; it should be after newly creating it.
Now is the time to tap the X key on your keyboard (to reset you foreground and background colors to white and black) and get out the Brush tool. You can now paint away all of the wrinkles in your image by applying the Brush tool to those areas of the new layer mask you created on the Median layer.
By making the Median layer a clipping mask of the High Pass layer you paint in (and out) both of them together.
That’s it–that’s the technique.
The values I’ve plugged into the filters in this example may be too strong or not strong enough for your images. The beauty of layer masks as opposed to applying filter or tools directly to the image is that you can use this pair of Median and High Pass layers to affect the wrinkles that they suit and then create others (stronger or weaker) to affect others.