Apply easy skin retouching for pro-quality portraits

Use Photoshop’s Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tools to quickly and easily remove spots and blemishes on your subject’s skin.

One of the most essential skills for a portrait photographer is the ability to retouch skinwithout it looking unnatural and overworked. Whether you’ve been shooting a model with an excellent complexion and professionally applied make-up, or just a friend or family member, your images can still benefit from a few simple post-processing tweaks. This is an especially important skill when your subject is side-lit, which can show up imperfections in the same way that craters are more visible around the border between the light and dark sides of the moon.

The methods we’ll be using to remove spots, blemishes, scars and under-eye shadows are easy to learn, quick to apply, and incredibly effective. Master the technique, and you’ll be able to achieve professional-looking results without spending hours behind a screen. We’ll be using Photoshop’s Healing Brush, which samples one part of the skin to ‘fix’ another without compromising texture, and the Clone Stamp to reduce under-eye circles.


1. Select the Healing Brush Tool
Open your image in Photoshop and select the Healing Brush Tool from the Tools palette. In the panel above your image, click the Brush Picker icon and set Size to 80px, Hardness to 100% and Spacing to 25%. Make sure the Source is set to Sampled and the Aligned Sample is on Current Layer. Now locate a skin blemish that needs healing and zoom in on it using the Zoom Tool from the Tools palette.

2. Fix skin blemishes
Choose an area of unblemished skin adjacent to the spot or imperfection you want to fix. Press and hold the Alt key on your keyboard and click once on this area. Now release the Alt key and move the cursor over the blemish. Click to copy the ‘perfect’ area of skin over the top of the ‘imperfect’ area, removing it completely. Do this for the entire face until the skin is smooth. Press Ctrl+Z if you make a mistake.

3. Create a new Layer
If you can’t see the Layers palette on the right-hand side of the screen, go to Window>Layers to open it up. At the moment you only have one Layer, which will be labelled Background. To add a new Layer, go to Layer>New>Layer. You can name this Layer if you wish, or simply leave it as Layer 1. Click OK. Your new Layer should now appear in the Layers palette above the Background Layer.

4. Set up Clone Stamp Tool
Select the Clone Stamp Tool from the Tools palette. At the top of the screen, click on the Brush Preset picker and set Size to 200px and Hardness to 0%. Now set Opacity to 30% and the Flow to 30%. Change the Mode from Normal to Darken, the Clone Sample mode from Current to Current & Below, and ensure the Aligned Sample box is checked. You’re now ready to start cloning.

5. Remove under-eye shadows
Choose an area of smooth, evenly-lit skin, such as the forehead. You’ll use this to brighten the dark areas under the eyes. Hover over this smooth area with the cursor, and click once while pressing and holding the Alt key. Now release Alt, move the cursor to under the eye, and click and drag across the length of the area you want to fix. You may need to apply the brush two or three times for the desired effect.

6. Reduce Layer opacity
You can now try the technique to brighten other areas of shadow. If the areas you’ve worked on are looking slightly unnatural, you can lessen the effect of the cloning simply by reducing the Opacity of the top Layer. To do this, go to the Layers palette and change the Opacity slider to the point you think looks right. A figure of 75% is a good starting point. Once you’re happy, go to File>Save. All done!

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Practical Photography magazine - download back issues here.