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Professional Photo Retouching for Perfect Skin

Professional Photo Retouching for Perfect Skin

Skin tones are rarely even, as a retoucher it’s important to remember that after your healing and dodge and burn (click to read the previous articles) you need to even them out for good results. If we take a look at the following shot provided by Fantasy Fotos:

Notice that the model’s skin tones vary, if we focus generally on the legs you’ll see what I mean, there’s a little too much red in the knees and the feet are less saturated than the thighs. That needs fixing, and we’re going to do it with a Gradient Map.

Here we are after a little dodge and burn (just enough for the purposes of demonstrating the gradient map, it’s a super quick job to even out the luminosity and it deserves to be afforded a lot more time in this);

For the Gradient Map we need to sample an area of skin colour we’re happy with, and in this image I’m looking at the model’s left upper arm.

Grab your Eyedropper Tool (I) and sample a highlight from that area. Hit X to swap your foreground/background colours and choose an area of shadow;

In your Adjustment Layers Panel, choose ‘Gradient Map’ and those colours you selected will be mapped over the whole image, from the brown shadows to the peachy highlights;

Turn off the Gradient Map layer’s visibility for a moment (the Eye icon), select your working image layer and using the Eyedropper sample a mid range colour;

Turn the Gradient Map’s visibility back on and double click the Layer’s Icon;

Colours don’t realistically shift from one tone in shadow to another single tone in highlight, so we’re going to add a middle colour with our new sample. Click once on the gradient bar shown below;

In the Gradient Map dialog box that opens, we need to drop our middle colour into the gradient. Clicking in the middle of the bar will add that point. I decided after dropping the point to shift it a little to the left (further into the shadows). You can experiment and shift your middle colour further into shadow or highlight at any time to get the best result.

Click OK, and select the Gradient Map’s mask in the Layer’s palette;

The Blend Mode of the layer should currently be set to Normal, change it to Color, then hit Ctrl+I (Cmd+I on a Mac) to invert the mask, turning it black and hiding the effect;

Now with the mask still selected, take the Brush Tool, change your foreground colour to white (is it hasn’t by default), and paint those areas through that we identified as a problem earlier.

Set the Opacity as desired for the results that look best to you, I’ve settled at 60%. Here’s the effect of the Gradient Map with a comparison below:

The rest of the skin now more closely matches the arm. This is purely demonstrative, I’ve almost jumped straight into the gradient mapping to outline the technique, see my portfolio for examples where I’ve spent considerable hours tweaking from start to finish.

Download Source File for this Tutorial

About the Author:

Daniel is a professional retoucher with eight years of experience in digital photo-manipulation and retouching. You can follow him on twitter at

Leave a comment


  1. Alejandro says:

    Very nice and softly result! im gonna try it right now, i wanna see the effect by myself instead of working hard on curves and maks! Thanks so much!!

  2. Tomas says:

    Extra tutorial, tutorial effect after the completion of electrifying:)

  3. vijay gupta says:

    great tutorial Daniel! so simple and easy, end result is awesome…thanks for sharing it

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