The Beauty Behind Natural Retouching

January 19, 2016

By Daryna Barykina

My teacher from photography class once said, “Photoshop is good when it is invisible.” Especially nowadays—when blurry, plastic faces are considered to be the quintessence of poor taste and a raw look with rich skin texture is in vogue—we should pay more attention to our retouching routines and try to make Photoshop’s impact invisible.

Natural retouching does not mean you will spend less time on the image, though; in fact, you’ll likely spend more time than anticipated. You want to keep as much of the natural texture as you can, which makes you zoom in a lot and work very gently, choosing between the major imperfections you want to remove and minor natural flaws you want to keep.

Even without massive corrections to this portrait, the after photo (right) makes a much better impression, leading your sight directly to the eyes and lips. Photos © Daryna Barykina. 

Ready For The Close Up

Even though there were no massive corrections made in the “before” image below, the “after” photo makes a much better impression, leading your sight directly to the eyes and lips, which are the anchor elements of the shot. My task is to soften any sharp lines under the eyes, around the lips and on the forehead, as well as to soften major blemishes and make them blend with the skin tone as much as possible.

The Technique: Frequency Separation

I know a lot of retouchers are skeptical about this technique, though in my routine I find a very gentle and minimal use for it, which helps maintain the natural yet polished look. While separating frequency, I never go by the number since every portrait, depending on the distance to the subject, will require different separation meanings.

Before You Dive In

Make sure the brush settings are adjusted properly: “Current Brush Load” is clear and the icon “Clean Brush After Each Stroke” is activated. My Wet, Load, Mix settings are normally 50 percent. I manipulate the Flow to increase or decrease the effect of the brush. Make sure “Sample All Layers” box is checked. Below are five steps I took to maintain a natural look.

1. Fix Uneven Skin Tone And Blemishes. 
For the image on the opposite page, I used a trial-and-error approach to separate frequency so the majority of the skin texture and the blemishes stay on the high-frequency layer. All actions are performed on the clear layer, pertaining to the low frequency, using the Mixer Brush tool.

2. Correct the skin texture. 
My task here was to remove major blemishes and some wrinkles. I focus on the high-frequency layer and perform my actions directly on that layer using the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush. The “Sample All Layers” box should be unchecked.

3. Dodge and Burn.
I performed this technique on a separate, 50 percent grey layer, using dodge-and-burn tools. I intensified the eye shadow, eyebrows, lashes and lips, as well as the lighting drop off on the side of the face. Cheekbones, forehead, chin and eyelids were highlighted gently, using the dodge tool.

4. Apply Selective Color As An Adjustment Layer. 
I worked on the “reds,” shifting the black marker to the right. This helps intensify and enrich the skin color as well as bring up the freckles. This action is applied to the entire image.

5. Add Some Color. 
In this case, I added more pink to the lips simply by using the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, and I brightened the iris by manipulating highlights on the Layers Adjustment.

Keep In Mind: I never perform this application for the entire face—only the areas requiring correction. This technique is a timesaver, and it helps me to work on the skin tone without damaging the skin texture.

A Trick For All Beauty Photos 

In the selective color dialogue, I work on “whites,” shifting the black marker to the left. This action brings up the highlights, making them very crisp and making the skin look even more realistic. Ordinarily, I mask out this effect and apply it on cheekbones, the forehead, chin, lips (especially the top of the lip), nose and eyes. I especially like this effect on the shimmery eye shadow; they become even shinier and more textured.

Many retouchers mistakenly leave the eye waterline undone. Highlights placed on the waterline and in the corners make the eyes look more lively and defined. I normally perform this action on a separate adjustment layer and manage the intensity of this effect using a mask.

Can you spot the “trick” in this before and after image? Barykina placed highlights by manipulating whites on the Selective Color Adjustment Layer. 

Over The Rainbow

This image was processed slightly differently and faster. I did blemish cleaning first (on a separate clear layer), then I darkened the reds using the Selective Color Adjustment Layer. I used a dodge-and-burn technique on a 50 percent grey layer for body and face contouring, and to intensify the eye shadow. Also, I brightened under the eyes and intensified the highlights. I saturated hair color and eye shadow using the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. The final element was my “trick”—placing highlights by manipulating whites on the Selective Color Adjustment Layer.

Daryna Barykina is a beauty and fashion photographer currently residing in Florida. Clients seek her out for creative lighting concepts, use of color and high-end retouching

Related: Three Approaches to Personalized Beauty Looks