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Retouching Skin

Lesson 43 from: Fine Art Conceptual Photography from Shoot through Post-Processing

Bella Kotak, Pratik Naik

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Lesson Info

43. Retouching Skin

Next Lesson: Spot Healing Brush


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Artistic Vision and Inspiration


Personal Projects


Creative Motivation and Defining Your Story


Organizing Your Inspiration


Building A Character


Creating Wardrobe and Props


Location Scouting


Lesson Info

Retouching Skin

First step first. We are gonna set a new folder and we are gonna name it. We're gonna call this our healing stage. Alright we're gonna call it our healing stage. And in this part of the process we are going to actually talk about how we heal, how we clone and we mentioned earlier about the healing brush and how much fun that is. Okay you mentioned that we wanna crop it first right? Yeah just a little bit. Because if we're gonna work on it we don't really wanna show off that. Yeah. Show that wall off. Okay. That'll do. Lemme just clone in those little bits there okay? 'Cause I know it's probably bothering you as well. Ah, he knows me so well. I complete your PSDs. Oh no! (laughs) I'm trying to hold back. I know you are. You're actually doing really good. He is trying to hold back. Yeah. Yeah. And we're going to be sorting her hair out at some point. But that's all in time, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah. That's all you, actually. (laughs) Oh la la. Okay. Now th...

at we've cropped a little bit, let's see, what can we do first? Yes. Let's talk about the healing stage. The healing, cleaning, whatever you want to call it. Now, we set basically a game plan of what the process is gonna be. The game plan is, as you mentioned, I talked to Bella and asked her kinda what the direction is first. The second thing is identifying what we're going to be cleaning up and going from there. So in an image like this, there're a few key aspects to look at. Number one is that her skin was pretty nice, so that's not a huge concern for me. The biggest concern that I have is just removing a few of these blemishes. Right. Also, ensuring that the consistency of the skin texture is about the same. So maybe even remove these fine lines because it's more fantasy based, I can get away with that. It's not portraiture. It depends on the subject matter. So if you have particular clients who are actors or friends and need for head shots and they don't really need to remove all these lines, that's a different situation. If you're dealing with fine art and stuff like that, based on fantasy, you can craft things more and it's not gonna be as bad. Because you wouldn't process the same with fantasy as you would with head shots. No, certainly not. I honestly think of it as crafting a character rather than crafting a accurate representation of that person. Whereas, if I was taking a portrait of them for them, then of course I would leave, you know, their freckles. And I would leave any beauty spots that they might wanna leave. I would take away things like zits, because that distracts from the personality. It's like when you're talking to somebody, you don't notice any of their flaws. Not really. You notice their eyes and their smile and just their general shape of how they look. So that's pretty much how far I would take it. Yeah, I would still leave things that are very much them. But take away things like, you know, the odd spot because who needs to remember that? So, that doesn't define who they are. That's right. Yeah. Also, one thing to note is that when you use a healing brush or a clone brush, what tends to happen. And this is just how it's programmed by default. Is if you hit Option to Source, Option or ALT, and I click on the layer, itself, you'll see a sample move around with me. I tend to turn that off, just because when I heal, if I start healing... Without healing, you'll see it looks like it's already covered up. I don't like that perception difference. I like to see it completely opaque, okay? The way that I do that, and this was the case before, I don't know which version it was, but they did that more recently than Photoshop has been around. Under Window and Clone Source, there is a palate here. It's called Show Overlay or Clone Source Show Overlay. When I uncheck that, you see, it goes away. It doesn't show me where I've cloned from. If I check it, it comes back. This is useful if you're lining up things. It's not as useful for skin. It also slows down your machine when you're working. So for the most part, I don't really need to know. And when I do, I can turn it back on again. Yeah? So let's turn that off momentarily. I'm gonna put that back in. Now, is the fun part. I'm gonna add a new blank layer, I'm gonna put it inside the healing folder. Or if you're lazy, you could just, you know, not organize yourself, but normally, it's a good thing to organize yourself. The healing brush. That's what we're starting out with first. I always start with the healing brush first. Why? Does anybody use a clone brush over the healing brush all the time? (laughs) Good. I use the healing brush because it's a little bit easier to use, and it's more accurate. The healing brush accounts for everywhere you're healing it adjusts for the color, the luminosity of the location that you're healing in. So for instance, if I decided on this image that I wanted to source from a brighter area, and then I want to start brushing in a darker area. When I let go, it accounts for the difference in tonal changes and color changes. The clone brush does not. And so that's why I use the healing brush. It's more forgivable, even if you mess up. That's tip number one. The second tip that I have for you is by default, in the newer versions of Photoshop, under preferences and tools, it says "Use Legacy Healing Brush Algorithm". Does anybody know what that means? I'm sure you do. Don't lie. (laughs) What that basically means is that now Photoshop comes as a update. If I do not have that checked, what happens is, it comes with a live healing brush. What a live healing brush is, is that if you have versions of 2015 and above, or 2015.5 and above, it comes with a live healing brush automatically. And you'll know that you have a live healing brush because when you select the healing brush, you'll see a diffusion slider. So you're like "What's the difference between a live healing brush and non-live healing brush? Is it dead?" No, it's not dead. (laughs) What it is, is that when you have your healing brush set to what it is in the most updated versions, I'm gonna sample here. And I'm just gonna start running around the image. And you'll see exactly what I mean. I'm gonna sample. I'm gonna start healing. You'll see that as I start healing, it updates as I brush. And what happens is, it doesn't even know how much I'm sourcing before it starts healing. It just starts healing right away. It doesn't ask me "How much area are you gonna source first?" before deciding what to heal. It's intuitive. But that intuition comes with a price. And the price is that it's not accurate. Especially when you build up multiple layers, working high and retouching. It's not accurate. You can get away with it for simple things, especially if you are not keen on images that have a tremendous amount of detail. You'll see texture start getting really blurry, and that's how you know it's not working. You'll suddenly realize, like "Oh, wow. The healing brush is really hard." It's not really hard, it's the fact that it changed the algorithm. The difference, and if I turn that off. Let's go to Preferences, again. Photoshop CC, Preferences, Tools. Or if you're a PC, it's Edit, Preferences and Tools. Is that I'm gonna use the Legacy Healing Algorithm. Which means that every other version of Photoshop had this version all along. So what happens now, is that if I try to do the same thing: Sample, and I start brushing. It doesn't heal first, it just actually copies and pastes and waits for me to let go of the brush. When I let go of the brush, then it decides how to heal. So it does a calculation and then it heals. So the difference, again, is that the first part: the new healing brush, will start healing before you actually finish brushing. And that isn't as accurate. But, with the Legacy on, it allows you to start healing and it waits for you, then decides how much to heal and exactly what to replace. So that calculation is more accurate, okay? So always turn that off if preferred... If you have a preference. If you don't, that means you can't. Upgrade your Photoshop CC, okay? Now that we have that out of the way, first thing first, is you wanna set your layer here to Current and Below. It will not work if you're in Current Layer. This is the biggest mistake people make, is when they try healing on a blank layer. So like "How do you heal on a blank layer?" Well, it's simple. You have to make sure that the healing brush is Current and Below. Because what that does is allows you to sample in an area, and then when you start brushing, it actually works. And the cool part is it pastes everything on this layer. Yep. So I turn that off. And it's here. So again, Blank Layer, Healing Brush, Current and Below. Really simple. Now it's a lot easier, okay? So now, the other thing that it does keeps your file size really light. Step number two: you do not want to start at 100 percent. Because if you do that practice, when all sensors become 100 megapixels, you're gonna have a terrible day. (laughs) You do not wanna be here going "I'm gonna remove this blemish and that blemish and that blemish." Because guess what, at some point, nobody sees that. What happens is, is this information gets compressed. So what happens is: you have a file like this. Guess what? It doesn't matter. If your output is web or your output is 8x10's, guess what, it doesn't really matter. It's getting compressed, okay? That's step number two. Don't focus starting out like this. Focus starting out with the big picture. You can see what needs to be fixed, you can see what needs to be taken care of so you don't waste time, right? And also at the end, what that does is it keeps that detail there. That's really hard to distinguish; how do they keep all that detail while doing the flaws? If you start topically and remove all the flaws first, then you see what's left over. What's left over is the original soul of the image. When you take out that soul, you remove all aspect of reality. And why do we buy sharp lenses if we're trying to remove all that detail anyway? Have you thought of that? Everybody does it. We all buy our Primes and we're like "Gotta remove all that detail out." Don't do that. You keep it there, it's there for a reason. Kay? So, philosophies of retouching. So, we'll do that. We'll go ahead and start by healing, and we're gonna go in and just remove a few of these blemishes. Get rid of this line. As you can see, we're only at 29 percent. We don't need to be at 100 percent. She has flawless skin. Almost. We'll see. (laughs) No, she does. She really does. Especially in comparison to what could be. It was a really great subject. And I think it really was a testament to picking your team before shooting. You really don't want to spend unnecessary amount of time if you can, you know, pay a little bit more for a great model. Because that's why, you know, you have a lot of professional models. Not only do they pose better, but they take care of their skin. The little details like that, you know? They're more particular about elements. Well that's actually a great point. If you are going to be shooting a piece that is dear to you, or you're shooting work for a client that's important campaign advertising, look book, any of that kind of stuff that you're working with a client. Sometimes, just seeing the model's portfolio isn't enough. Get yourself down to the agency and have a meeting face-to-face with her, or essentially have a casting where you invite other models and you just have a face-to-face personal look at the girls and you decide to go from there. Because with Photoshop, you can hide a multitude of sins, and it is a shame when you are shooting, when you do have a girl come for a job and the modeling agency didn't tell you that she's suffering from, you know, cystic acne for a little while. And, you know, while that's obviously not great. Yeah, I would definitely just say have a face-to... Meet the girl face-to-face before you get a chance to shoot with her. We didn't have that with this girl, but to be honest, this is a teaching segment, and I didn't mind even if she did have, you know, bad skin. That's okay, cause then we would just teach you how to... Right, we would teach you how to use the same techniques to... Use the same techniques to clean her skin. Which is exactly this. We would clone and set. Right. Yeah. The other thing is when you have little stray hairs like this, going across different zones. It's quite easy to take care of it. Now, you see me rotating this canvas, right? You're like "What the heck is he doing?" (laughs) But, on your keyboard, there's an 'R' key. 'R', the letter r. All you do is, you hit it. And what happens is that you can rotate. It doesn't change the properties of your image, it just changes the perception of how it's viewed. So that means is if I save this image, it's not gonna be saved like this. It's just a interface thing. Why do I do that? You do that because you brush smoothly at a particular angle. Yeah, your hand is used to brushing at a particular angle, and so you just rotate to accommodate the best possible brush stroke. That's right. And so some angles for me a lot easier to just swoop and brush. Some angles are not. It doesn't work with the wrist. Just like drawing. How many of you draw? Okay, perfect. So just like drawing, it's the same thing. Your angles of your wrist dictate how smooth the strokes are. Unless you're like, super talented, and then I hate you. (audience laughs) Well that will intimidate Yeah, I know (laughs). Thanks, Bella. That wasn't a joke, really. So I'll do the same thing. When it comes to hairs, I am actually going to do them step by step. You see, I didn't do the whole hair in one go and then curse myself and do it again. I just did it in step by step pieces. So I don't have to worry about, well, you know, is it accurate or not? The healing brush is forgiving if you have the right setting. So I'll do that. I'll get rid of these little fly aways, not fly aways, these little arm hairs that end up becoming caught by the light. Also, when it gets too close to the edge, I can switch over to my clone brush, change my flow to 40 percent or so, and do it that way. Basically, I'll only zoom in if there are details that I know I can see from a distance, okay? So I'll continue. Just a little bits here and there. He actually makes this look really easy. It is. And everyone can do it That's the thing, because... I think with practice, because I'm still practicing as well. Yes. We're gonna see Bella do it next. (laughs) Yeah, but watching you is always really fun as well, because you do make it look very easy. But it really goes to show, these simple tools, they all have the potential there. So don't think like "You know what, no. There must be something else to it." The reality is, these are the tools that we use as professionals to tackle these common issues. That's right. And you don't have to have these super fancy techniques that necessarily don't even give you as good of a job and take sometimes a lot longer. I was gonna say. Also, some people are always trying to find shortcuts. So, I don't really believe in shortcuts. Exactly, and the best results always take time. Just with photography, you know, we did all this work with the set up and a little bit goes a long way. So let's zoom out here. So you can see now, it's quite clean. See how much we did in a couple of minutes. Not bad, right? We've got the texture still there, it's really clean.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Practice PSD File - Sleeping Beauty
Pratik Naik Retouching Actions
The Royal Collection - Fine Art Actions
Practice PSD File - Location Shoot (~700mb)
Practice PSD File - In Studio Shoot (~1.3gb)

Ratings and Reviews


Great class and great instructors. Genuine and informative. Practical tips to create stunning images. Seeing them work through the process from shoot to finished image was great and I loved that they shared the thought processes behind the creative decisions. Definitely recommended!


Truly a remarkable duo. Bella is so down-to-earth and humble for a photographer with such a strong beautiful and ethereal voice. Her explanations of her process really inspired me--I was sketching concepts throughout the class. Pratik's process really opened my eyes to "smart" retouching--understanding what can be done in fewer brush strokes and slimmer PS files. All in all a really unique and inspiring class that makes me excited to realize my next conceptual shoot. They're also adorable together!

Mai Her

I've gained sooooo much from this I can't even contain my appreciation and excitement! So much inspiration and so much generous advice and tips to help me! Thank you so much Bella and Pratik and Creative Live!

Student Work