How to Photograph and Flatter Skin Tones


Lesson Info

Simple Retouching Techniques for Skin

So kinda what I was showing you guys there was the same light, in the same position, on different people, looks totally different. And the highlights look different and the texture looks different. And so, if I photograph Madelyn in this light, it would be really flat and glowing, but maybe I liked more of the directional light on Godfrey because the way that it carved out his features, it depends on what you're going for. These are so cute, he's adorable here. Alright, so what I want to show you is last thing, let me check, good, alright let me pick a photo. Okay, so this is cute. This would be completely fine portrait lighting for somebody with more textured skin. Somebody that's a bit older. And because I'm still giving him a little bit of shape to his face, but I picked a soft enough light, low enough into the front without being flat. So that's how you get it to be nice and flattering. Alright so I'm going to open this picture real quick in Photoshop. So for example, for him, if I...

were analyzing what I want to do to the skin, I definitely, definitely don't want to get rid of wrinkles, like I don't want to eliminate them, that would look ridiculous you know. So what I want to do is I just want to tone them down a bit, and I was going to show you two quick ways that you might do that. I have bunches of classes that are on blemish removal, and some evening out skin, so check those out if you want to know those but let's say I just want to fill in the shadows underneath his eyes a bit. So what I'm going to do is I'm gonna duplicate by background. And I'm gonna use the clone stamp, now the clone stamp is the one that most people mess up the worst because basically it's cut and paste, and if you cut and paste wrong it either duplicates texture, so like you can see there's the same pattern everywhere, or you start with a low opacity and you go over it once, twice, three times, and now it's blurry, and that's how you can tell. But what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna use the clone stamp but more selectively, and so up here where it says normal, this is something called a blend mode, and it changes how the brush behaves. So what i will do is I'm going to change it to the blend mode of Lighten, and what it's going to do is when you change the blend mode to Lighten, it lightens the shadows only. So when I clone, it's only gonna fill-in in the shadow ares and leave the highlights alone, so it will be a more natural look. So I'm gonna grab this, make my brush a little bit bigger, and I'm gonna do a lower opacity or lower flow, in more in-depth Photoshop classes go into the difference. Just something maybe around there. And I'm just gonna do one pass of a clone, okay one pass underneath. Maybe two but watch just the difference. See how I'm just, like it's not, I'm not like trying to eliminate them. I'm just trying to soften them a bit. I'll do it one more time. Do one more roll over it. So taking a look between the two eyes, you know it fills it in a little bit. But, the better way, the more precise way, is actually to lighten the shadows but not with clone. You're actually using curves or layers. So all you're doing is you're going into those shadows, and making them a little brighter, and so this isn't a version of localized dodging and burning, which localized dodging and burning is basically fancy for like making things lighter and darker but real close up. So, I'm gonna grab a curves layer, and I'm gonna grab curves adjustment layer, if you don't know adjustment layers don't worry, I'm basically just gonna be brightening the wrinkles here. I'm gonna go to curves, and there's a pre-set under default, which is called Lighter, okay, and so it's gonna lighten everything up. I can also drag it and make it more extreme, but I don't actually want the whole photo to be lightened, and so with the adjustments layers and layer masks, I can actually hide the effect, so I'm gonna selectively paint it on. So just know, I made it all brighter, I hit it and now I'm gonna apply that brightness. So I'm gonna go in now, and I'm gonna grab my brush, and all I'm gonna do is paint in the shadows right here, and make sure the soft brush, low flow, alright so let's see. Real quick. Alright, so all I'm doing is I'm lightening in these shadows, you're not going to be able to see it until I do the before and after. And you would want to do this with a tablet, and you would want to go and do this more carefully but I'm gonna be doing it in like two seconds. But all I'm doing is I'm painting over those shadows, making it a little lighter, so I'm gonna back up in a second, and I'm also gonna lighten up, see here where it's darker in his eye, that'd be really hard to Photoshop out right, cause how are you gonna make that transition smooth? So I can just lighten it up a little bit right here. Okay, good, so this is like my two second one right, see how it fills him in a bit. All I was doing is with curves or you could do it with levels, it's a little lighter in filling it in. So when I zoom out, especially near the eye, you can see kind of how it's lightening some of the dark areas, and you could go do the same thing here on the wrinkle on the forehead here, just watch the quick difference, and it makes it much more subtle. So actually if you really want to take skin with texture, and you don't want to get rid of it, you just want to tone it down a little bit, you're better off not removing it and then backing off with the opacity, you're actually better just lightening and darkening those tones. So, to summarize everything, this is why we photographers should get paid a lot of money. There's a lot of things we have to think about and a lot of gear considerations, we need to consider our lighting, we have to consider the white balance, we have to consider the monitor, and the calibration and the retouching, so making someone's skin look good is a lot more than just lighting, it's kinda of all of it working together, and the other part is, there's not one size fits all. There's not one solution for every skin type. But if I had to give you one that was the closest, bigger light sources, closer, a little flatter on, is what's going to make the most skin look decent. But maybe not your photos that interesting, so that's kind of where you have to learn all the rest of the photography, and apply your knowledge of skin in conjunction with that.

Skin is one of the most important things to flatter in your portraits and there are so many elements to consider! In this course Lindsay Adler will cover the most important ways she ensures that she flatters her subject's skin. She'll walk through every consideration leading up to your shoot from modifier choice, position of the light, white balance, color contamination, makeup, and more. Learn how to capture great skin in-camera so you can save time in your post-processing.



  • The topic is too big to cover all the solutions in depth in such a short amount of time, but this seems like a great overview for beginners to understand the range of problems with making skin look good in photos. Lindsay does a great job of making her class topics easy to understand.
  • Great primer on skin tones, lighting, and considerations for different types of skin. One of the few teachers that discusses dark skin tones!