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Rocco's Skin Retouching Technique

Lesson 33 from: Wedding Photography: Capturing the Story

Rocco Ancora, Ryan Schembri

Rocco's Skin Retouching Technique

Lesson 33 from: Wedding Photography: Capturing the Story

Rocco Ancora, Ryan Schembri

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Lesson Info

33. Rocco's Skin Retouching Technique


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Define the Goals of Wedding Photographers


The Importance of Wedding Photographers


Shooting Philosophy


How to Build a Shot List - Bride, Groom & Formals


Tye the Wedding Story Together


Capture Stories in Wedding Pictures


Get the Right Exposure


Lesson Info

Rocco's Skin Retouching Technique

Okay, so let's begin, first and foremost with a skin retouching technique. Okay, so I've opened up this image as a PSD from Lightroom. So it is in 16-bit. So let's have a look at what that means. It's a 16-bit image and it is a PSD, and we're going to retouch and smooth out the skin. Now, there is a lot of techniques out there on skin retouching. You would've heard of frequency separation being one of them, which is high end. And then there's a lot of other ones out there as well. Today, I'm gonna share two major techniques. One of these actually a quick version of doing frequency separation, but the downside of that is that it employs an additional piece of software that you need to purchase to run as a plug-in with Photoshop. The other one, it's just purely an action. Okay and it's very simple and it's very, very effective. Let's look at the skin now, first and foremost. Now, ideally what we wanna do with any skin retouching, whether it's for a wedding album, or whether it's for a po...

rtrait, is to maintain the integrity of the texture itself. How many times have you seen images out there where brides just look like this plastic doll? It's just, you know, it's just not right. It just doesn't look natural. At the end of the day, we wanna be able to apply invisible Photoshop, especially with our retouching, to enhance and not really detract because of some hideous effect that we've applied to create this skin that just doesn't even look like skin. You'll notice I've made a copy of the background. Never work on the background. We've made a background copy. And the first thing that we need to do, I guess, is get rid of anything that's obvious as far as blemishes, you know, hairs, et cetera, et cetera. And clean the bigger areas. And then, as a secondary thing that we'll do to this is, of course, smooth out the skin using the technique itself. All right, so, there's a couple of different tools that I use. First one for removing hair is our Spot Healing tool. I've got it set to content-aware and here you'll notice that I can vary the brush size and all I need to do to get rid of the hair is just brush on. Photoshop does a very, very good job in matching the surrounding skin. Which is pretty good. The same thing with this little scar, here. Photoshop's come a long way. And it used to be a nightmare to try to retouch these. I remember the days, back when I first started with Photoshop in the late '90s, early 2000, you're trying to use the clone tool to be able to retouch things like hair and it was an absolute nightmare to try to maintain texture. 'Cause the healing tool wasn't actually invented as of yet. So here we go. We're gonna retouch this. You're gonna see me go through the paces. Now, in an album situation, essentially, the amount of retouching that we do to an image really depends on the size of that image in the page spread. There is no point retouching, you know, a face high-end that's spending hours on it if it's gonna be a little three by four print in the corner, left hand corner of the page. Hardly worth the time. But if it's a big image on a page, then we need to pay due respect and treat it accordingly. I'm using the Spot Tool here to get rid of all the obvious little bits and pieces. So here we go. And you know retouching's one of those things that after a while becomes, for me, it's very therapeutic. You know, you have the music on in the background and depending on how you're feeling you could be playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Metallica but just depends on the mood that you're in. Lately it's been a lot of Metallica. So, here we go, just retouching that. So we keep on working around and just turning it on and off to see just what we're doing. And you can see here I picked this shape on purpose because there's a few issues with a lot of things here. Obviously not only the skin but the makeup is not awesome. But we need to be able to work with that and still create a nice, beautiful, natural result. So we keep going using Spot Tool. And if we have bigger areas, of course we can use the Healing Tool which is important. So increase the size of our brush. Now I like using the elliptical brush. So they way we make ane elliptical brush, that all brushes start off round, and you just pinch in the sides, it gives you a nice elliptical option and then we can just, you know, you can just sample off areas and clean the skin that way. I find that with the brush being elliptical it allows you to get into spots and it just gives me, it's almost like using a real brush. The nice broadness of the brush. The other thing also I should mention at this stage when using the Wacom tablet here that I'm using with the pen is that I have the pressure sensitivity turned off. In other words, every time I press I know exactly the amount of, you know, if I'm using a brush, the amount of ink that'll come out. Okay, so you can control that through, a little bit later on you'll see me control it through flow and opacity, et cetera, et cetera. What I'm doing here is not affected by the pressure of the pen. So every time we, so, just go back, so we retouch that up. And for wedding images, you want things to look great but if this is gonna be a magazine cover or a high-end retouch, maybe for a competition or a high-end portrait, fine art portrait, then it'll be a totally different technique that we would employ. So this is a wedding retouching for most of the commercial work that we do as wedding/portrait photographers. Once we've done that, I should clean the forehead a little bit more because it's not, not awesome. Just clean out these obvious areas. Which is pretty cool. Now this technique that I use is not a new technique. This technique as been around in various forms for quite some time. And you modify techniques that you find to suit what you want to achieve. So, I'm pretty happy with the general clean up of that. And obviously down here as well. We wanna be able to clean the shoulders and any other piece of skin that's down here, which is cool. It's funny 'cause most photographers, you know, we get focused on this area here and we forget about the fact that the bride might be wearing a low cut dress and from up here onwards it looks amazing and then down here, ah I forgot to retouch that, shame. Okay, so, that's pretty good. So now what we're gonna do we're ready to apply the technique. I'm gonna duplicate this background copy, that's the one. And then what I'm gonna do is I'm going to invert it. So the shortcut for that on the keyboard is Command-I. So we end up with something that looks like this. And it's darn perfect, kidding. Once we have that, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go into Filter, and I'm gonna turn this into a Smart Object. So I'm gonna convert this for smart filters. All that means is that if it's a Smart Object, I can apply a filter to this layer and come back to it as many times as I want and apply that effect to a different degree whether it's a blur or a high pass or whatever else I want to use. In this case what we're gonna do is we are going to first and foremost run a filter and it's gonna be a High Pass filter. I'm gonna start with High Pass of 25. I'm just gonna leave it at that for now. I'm gonna go into Filter, I'm gonna go into Blur, and I'm gonna go into Guassian Blur. And we're gonna leave that at five for now, a radius of five. Now this'll vary depending on the resolution of the image but this is gonna be a really good starting point. And I'm gonna press OK. And I'm gonna change the blending mode of that to, where are we, Linear Light. And at the moment, we see like, the skin here is looking pretty good but everything else it kinda looks like you've had way too many drinks and we need to be able to fix that. And the way we fix that is very, very simple. We're gonna go into Layer, okay, then we're gonna go into, where are we, here we go, Layer Style, Blending Options, and Photoshop give us the ability to interact layers with underlying layers. So essentially what's happening here is we wanna remove the effect from the darker areas and the lighter areas and blend it through the mid-tones. So by hitting the Alt key on the keyboard, right, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna click on this arrow here on the left hand side and we're gonna push it out, push it out to about 160, 63, and then I'm gonna do the same with the highlight. Hit click split the Alt key and we're gonna come down all the way to about 48 or thereabouts. 40, 48, okay. We got rid of the edge problem but obviously you see that she still looks like she's had way, way too many drinks. So I'm gonna change the blending mode now to Vivid Light. And things now change dramatically, so have a look at that. Have a look at this, so this skin essentially doesn't even look retouched but it is 'cause if I switch it off you see what is actually happening. But the beauty of this is when we start to apply subtly. Extremely subtly, how do we do that? We're gonna create a layer mask, right, and I'm going to invert that layer mask, Command-I on the keyboard. What we do is we're gonna grab a brush and for the sake of the exercise I'm gonna bring this down to about say 50% or thereabouts. And what we'll do is we'll just brush in that softness using a white brush, 'cause white reveals in the mask. Black hides. And we're just gonna paint it on and we're gonna achieve a nice, beautiful result. Now the idea with this to make it work properly is that you wanna stay away from edges and you don't wanna go too heavy with this. Okay, and I'll show you what I mean in a minute. So just having a look at the mask and seeing how our progress is, pretty good. So we just keep on brushing on. Brushing on. Okay and then we need to, you know, we're gonna increase this a little bit more capacity wise and we're gonna brush in the rest of the skin. Just evening out. The essential thing here is that we haven't ruined the skin texture, yeah, it still looks good and has integrity. But as I said to you earlier, working with the Smart Object we can come back to this backwards and forwards and change those settings to bring in more texture or less texture or more blur or less blur depending on the look that we want to achieve. From experience I can tell you that less is more. So have a look at this, okay, how beautiful that looks and let's have a look at our original. The most problematic area really here was the forehead so let's have a look at that. So this is before and this is after. This is before and after. And I could do this all day, before and after, but we won't because there's so many more things we need to do. Okay, so you can see it's a great simple technique to achieve great results. Now, the way that it works is very, very simple. I'm gonna delete that because if we now play it as an Action now, the idea with Actions is that they assist your workflow. I mean, can you imagine trying to apply this to every single file? So let's play the Action. And the Action will set everything up for you. Once you've done you're basic retouching and got rid of all the pimples and all the things like that it'll create the mask and then all you really need to do guys, is just go in and paint it on. How awesome is that? So let's do that again. And now we'll go back into the Smart Filter settings and I'll show you what those settings actually do and why they do it. Alright, if we look at the Gaussian Blur filter, let's click onto that and go back into Gaussian Blur. Now watch what happens as I reduce the amount of blur. As I reduce the amount of blur I'm actually softening the skin. If I increase the amount of blur I'm actually increasing the amount of texture present in the skin. Depending on the image, four, five, six, is probably around where you wanna be with this. I normally always sit around between four and five. The High Pass deals with the smoothing out of the tonality of the skin. Almost like what frequency separation does but it does it in a single layer. So if I bring this down to zero, we can start to see the blotchiness of the skin and as we increase the radius we start to get a look which is not very natural. You bring it back, you adjust it accordingly, and around 25 is a really, really good spot. For the Gaussian Blur we'll stick to five for this particular image. Now, if you have say, maybe a full length of the bride and you need to apply this technique what happens is you need to come down with your high pass radius and you'll see it visually because it's a smaller area that you're dealing with and you might have to increase your Gaussian Blur radius to bring back the texture a little bit more. But essentially it becomes a really quick and easy way to retouch skin, no fuss, no plug-in required. So this is what I love about it is that you don't have to buy any additional software. Does this same technique, like when the bride let's say she has blotchy skin-- Yeah. Would the same technique work for that? Yeah it would, it would Okay, awesome. I'm gonna show you now another technique. We have a little more control and it's using Frequency Separation but using, it's a cheats version of Frequency Separation. 'Cause as wedding photographers there is just no way we can do you know, proper Dodge & Burn in Frequency Separation to all the images in a wedding. It's just not commercially viable if you wanna make a profit so I'm gonna show you how we even out skin that way too. At the end of the day with Photoshop, it's about getting to a hurdle and knowing how to overcome that hurdle. No two images will ever be the same and some things work for one type of image and then might not work for the others. So our skills in Photoshop have to be broad but after we broaden the sense of understanding fundamentals on how we deal with things and then we can take things further by being able to deal with problems like blotchiness and color shifts and et cetera, et cetera. So that is one skin retouching technique. The other one of course is Frequency Separation. So once again, I would still retouch the faces as I would normally do and get rid of all the most ghastly spots that are obvious because essentially what Frequency Separation does is that it separates texture from tone. It allows us to deal with those two different elements in different layers. So we can maintain the integrity of the texture or repair the texture or do things like texture grafts where we can move good texture and replace it with an area where it has bad texture or indeed just workout where tonal shifts have occurred within underneath the texture itself and evening those out. But once again, it's about applying it subtly so we don't get a result where the bride or our subject looks totally unrealistic and there's a lot of that around. But you guys won't be like that. Frequency Separation because this is a 16-bit image it works a little bit different than 8-bit and we'll go through the settings. So essentially I'm gonna make two copies of that retouched layer and the bottom copy we're gonna call this our low frequency layer. Now low frequency layer just means it's basically our tone layer. Tone and color sits in low frequency and the high frequency is going to be our top layer and that's gonna be our texture. Let's turn off the top layer. Let's work on our low frequency layer. And what we need to do here is apply a blur. So we're gonna go into Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur and the idea is to apply blur to this image until the texture is no longer visible. One little tip here guys, if you push the radius too far not only will you be extracting texture from the actual layer, but you're gonna bring some color information with you as well. You don't wanna do that. You wanna be able to keep the color information quite separate from the texture itself. Here I'm quite happy with a radius of possibly 3 1/2. I mean you can see here if I click onto the preview on and off we've got texture and then we don't have texture and you could probably just bring it down maybe a little bit more. Once again, it depends on the resolution of the image. This number will change depending on 'cause 2.8 pixels on say a 60 megapixel file is different to relative proportional. So here we just click and make sure that 2.6, three is good. Just go with three. We press OK. Then we go into our high frequency layer and we're gonna go Image, Apply Image. Now what we need to do is select our low frequency layer. Now this being a 16-bit image we need to invert and change the Blending mode to Add. Now the Scale is two and the Offset zero. If you're working with an 8-bit image those figures will be very different. Your Blending mode will be Subtract, your numbers will be two and but you wouldn't be inverting it either if you're working with an 8-bit image. So a 16-bit image these are the settings for a 16-bit image. So we're gonna press OK. And if I zoom into this you can see that we've extracted texture from the image. In fact in the skin part, where it's the most important part, there is no color information there. Where the color is more prominent you can see a little bit of color creeping through where the higher saturated areas of the lipstick here and so on. Now once I've done that what I do is I apply a Blending mode onto the highlight layer of, where are we, Linear Light. So essentially these two layers now can switch them off but I've got a high frequency layer which is my texture and I got a low frequency layer there which is just the tone of the skin itself. Now what I do because I never ever like to work on just a single layer of the high frequency or the low frequency because if you make mistakes you need to go back so I make a duplicate of the low layer and I duplicate the high layer but what I do with that, I clip it with the underlying layer and just leave that Blending mode to Normal. So essentially this is giving us the linear light Blending mode with the high layer and then the high copy on top is the copying that we'll work on but that's just blended normal but the fact that it's been clipped with the underlying layer, the blending mode of this high layer overrides everything else. So we can work on the high layer without effecting it and if we were to make mistakes, we can just throw one out and duplicate it again and start rather than go through the whole process again. Essentially we got to this place here where we split the high frequency and the low frequency. Now, there is retouching software out there and the retouching software that you can use to use with frequency separation is the Imagenomic one, Portaiture. Who's heard of Potraiture? So watch what happens now when I apply the Potraiture to the low copy. So I'm gonna go into Filter, Imagenomic, Potraiture. I'm happy with our settings, 20, 20, 17. You can experiment depending on different things and you can actually do all sorts of things with this software in regards to having presets et cetera. But 20, 20, 17, it already creates a master where the skin is, I'm gonna press OK. I'll turn that on and off. Can you see that? It's ever so subtle and this is normally the work that you'd be doing with like with Dodging & Burning to get rid of that but Imagenomic does a great job. Now once again, what we need to do is two things, first is mask it out because it's been applied everywhere and we don't want it everywhere. Brush it on, this time I'm gonna use an opacity of 100%. So I wanna apply the effect only where it needs to go. And then we're gonna take it further by essentially really reducing the opacity of the layer itself. So we can control softness that way. So let's have a look. And then just knocking that back just a fraction. Once again we've got nice, beautiful, gorgeous skin. It's still employing frequency separation so I can go into here now and do all the things that you could do with frequency separation and replace texture. Good texture with bad texture if I needed to or indeed just have a blank layer and things that you could do is select a color. Opacity down quite low and lighten certain areas and still have the control that you would normally have with frequency separation. The question earlier was how would you get rid of blotchiness? I would probably apply this technique, then a blank layer, with Normal blending mode, and make that sit between your high frequency layer and your low frequency layer and with the paint brush, in the flow set to 1%, very subtly, you could almost use it to sample lighter areas and just brushing to get rid of blotchiness in the skin. Like here we have a little bit of red marks and down here for arguments sake I can click onto here. See that redness there? We can kind of get rid of it. If she has blotchy arms, then, see that. The other way of doing it is creating a blank layer again. Changing the Blending mode this time to Color. Sampling a neutral color within that area. Now with sampling also make sure that you're not on Point Sample. 5x5 or 11x11 so it's getting a broad sample of the color of that area and what we do then with our brush once again set to 1% flow. With Photoshop it's all about applying things subtly, very subtle. It's pretty much like using garlic in cooking, we use it subtly and it goes a very long way. Sometimes way too long but you can see here if I change that Blending mode to Color, have a look at that, I turned it on and off. You see the redness is gone and it comes back on, gone and. It's very subtle but it's yeah, it's there. So the idea is if you do have blotchy skin this would be the technique you would use but it would mean that you would need to go down the road of getting an Imagenomic Portraiture which is quite a good program or using the other method that I've shown you and using a color overlay mode or color blending mode on a blank layer and just painting in color to get rid of any color shifts that are in the skin. Questions? Can I get those settings again for apply image? Yeah, absolutely, we'll go through it again, we'll go through it again 'cause it's important. Let me just go back into here, Command-J and I'll just bring this up to the very top so we don't ruin all the beautiful work that we've done. We'll just switch everything else below it off for now. So you got a background copy which is our retouch copy essentially. Duplicate it and duplicate it again. So we have our low layer. Oops, didn't quite grab it. And we have our high layer. Why are you not writing? There you go. Our high layer. Switch off the high, you got the low, Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur, we said three was good so we leave it at and go into high. Let's go into Image, Apply Image. So these are the settings here for a 16-bit image. So we've got low, RGB Channel, Invert, Add, Scale of two, and the Offset to that is zero. If this was 8-bit sometimes you might work on a 8-bit image, and 8-bit PSD. Considering you're just gonna retouch skin you're not do anything extensive through Dodging & Burning and so on. Then you might leave it as an 8-bit. Then your settings would be as follows. It would be still the low layer RGB but this time it'll be Subtract. Two, 128, and we take off the Invert if it was an 8-bit image. So that's the way it would work. What was the blending again? The blending is subtract. How about for 16-bit? Add. Add and Invert, so that's for 16-bit. You'll notice that as you go Add and Subtract those numbers change automatically but depending on if you've done something else with apply image those numbers might not be that, they could be something else. You gotta make sure that it is Add, two, zero, 16-bit and Subtract, don't Invert, two, 128. You gotta question over here. So how do you generally address retouching with your clients, especially if you're giving them some photos immediately and then later they're gonna be more retouched. How do you talk about that? So what happens is this, I mean it comes down to the lesson that we did earlier about educating your clients and what the expectations are and what you're services provide. This is what we provide, we provide high res color corrected images which will form the entire image collection for your wedding then should you choose to go ahead with an album, the images that you choose or the images that make up the design which is coming up in another lesson, they get retouched and with retouching we try to keep the image as natural as possible so things that are included as part of our retouching would be skin. One thing that we're very, very careful in not doing is removing things like birthmarks, beauty spots, unless specified. And these are all in your terms and conditions that the client signs. So you gotta cover yourself. Alright. I've heard horror stories where a photographer decides to remove a beauty spot off the cheek and the bride said I'm not happy. The album was printed, see ya later, I had to reprint the album, had to retouch the whole album. It's a very, very expensive exercise. Retouching has gone absolutely ballistic as far as what people do to images. One thing we're very, very big of, Brian and myself, it's about keeping the integrity of who you are as a person with minor retouching like skin. We wanna make it look the best that you possibly are. Sometimes we do a little bit of nip and tuck as far as you know, the bride's are always very conscious about arms, bringing those in and the wider areas so bringing that in as well. But that once again comes down on requests of the final image. We don't get there and do that to the collection of 7/800 images, that would just be nuts. But anything that is ordered through us is beautifully retouched. Okay, and you educate them in advance so they understand. Absolutely, so we give them beautiful color-corrected images, beautifully toned, et cetera, et cetera. What it doesn't include is obviously the retouching, however, should they then purchase an album, there's retouched images that form part of the album. They also form part of their collection. So those, you know, as in incentive to buy an album you're gonna get however many images you put in the album, whether it's 100, 200 images, beautifully retouched. Got it. Using techniques like Dodging & Burning, beautiful skin, et cetera, et cetera. Okay. Okay. Great, well done. Fantastic, alright so, that's the settings there for the high and low frequency.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Posing Guide Book Chapter

Ratings and Reviews

Jerry Willis

Ryan & Rocco, in my very humble opinion, are THE best wedding photography instructors in the entire industry! I've been watching their work for years now, which just so happens to win a most grand-scaled competitions, and they somehow continue to keep getting better! I first drilled Ryan at WPPI inquiring about what made his workshop different from all the others. His response, me paraphrasing, "If you're looking for tools to learn, come to my workshop. If you're looking for inspiration and smoke blowing, don't come." That's exactly what I needed to hear. Straight tools, no fluff. THE BEST photography workshop I've EVER taken, by far. You want the best photography education, learn from the best. This CreativeLive workshop is the PERFECT complimentary refresher and companion to what I learned! Thank you so much for having them! It's not the same as the workshop, which it shouldn't be, but they ARE reinforcing many things that have slipped my memory! I'm for sure buying this! :-)

Neeraj Arora

WOW!!! I have started a few CL courses but not finished as I got distracted by "life" and it took me a while to get back and finish them. But these guys!! They were simply superb. I finished this course really fast. Amazing artists, they explain things so well, Ryan is such a charmer and engaging teacher, Rocco is a fountain of knowledge. I am an enthusiastic photographer with aspirations to start my own business soon. I learn't so much from this class that will help improve my photography even if I don't become a professional wedding photographer. Great job guys, keep it up. I will need to come back to the lessons and I very much appreciate the key note pdf. All CL courses should include the slides like they did here. Thanks CL.


I am a newborn photographer by trade, but I really want to venture out and photograph more weddings so I decided to purchase a wedding class on creative live. Of course when I typed in wedding, quite a few classes came up. But when I saw the image and title "capture the story" I was definitely intrigued. I've always been touched by the photographs that have emotion and that's what I'm passionate to photograph! Always a little nervous when you purchase a class because you don't want to feel like it was a waste of money, but this knocked it out of the park for me! Thank you to Ryan and Rocco for explaining so much, showing the pull backs, and moving your subject and explaining why! This has opened my eyes so much to how beautiful photographing a wedding can be and not so terrifying as I've been making it out to be. I'm really so thankful to hopefully being a great wedding photographer and making more income for my family, while having fun creating something beautiful

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