That’s a terrible title, but I’m sticking with it.

I got home from work Friday after a particularly frustrating week and realized one of the errands I had on my plate for the weekend had already been taken care of by my husband, so that was nice. He went out for the evening to jam with some friends and I decided at the last minute to throw on some stage makeup and a wig and take a few photos, since I haven’t done that in quite a while – well over a month, I think. I didn’t get too fancy as it was already five o’clock in the evening when I got started, and I mainly wanted to see what results I could get taking portraits using my new telephoto lens in my tiny little office/studio. None of the photos were anything groundbreaking, but it was interesting to see how close up I could get with the 70-200. I planned to process some of the closer-up close-ups (if you think about it, that does make sense), but when I started working on the first photo I got distracted by attempting some new Photoshop skin smoothing techniques I found on YouTube.

It’s not often that I feel inclined to try out new editing processes, although I try out new lighting and shooting techniques all the time – once I get down to editing I want to go with what I already know and get to the end result quickly. But Friday night, for whatever reason, I felt ready to tackle skin smoothing on a new level. Perhaps it was because these photos on their own were nothing I hadn’t done before, except for use a new lens, so I felt open to trying new things out on them to see a different result when I was done. Whatever. If anyone’s interested, I followed this eight-minute YouTube tutorial as I worked:

I don’t want to get too into the steps involved here, because as usual I cannot speak about it in a technical manner, but suffice it to say this process involves creating a mask layer consisting of a serious amount of blur (on my 45-year-old face, anyway) then using a brush to essentially ‘paint’ the blurred effect onto the skin wherever it is needed, while avoiding edges and lines like eyelashes, lips, eyebrows, etc. In this manner, the end result is skin that looks soft, while everything else remains sharp and detailed. That is one seriously crappy explanation, but it’s all I’ve got, so if you want a better explanation watch the video above. However, I can still show you a few examples, because you all know how into before-and-after photos I am, so let’s start with this original. I’m warning you, keep in mind that I was using a telephoto lens and therefore am REALLY CLOSE in this shot. I must be crazy sharing such close-up images of myself without any editing at all on the internet, but whatever. I don’t think my source material is all that bad to start with, so if the internet sees my wrinkles so be it. It’s still fun to compare. And yes, I was being silly in this photo, but I liked it anyway:


Now, for anyone who’s tried to use simple skin smoothing software when editing a photo, you know it makes the entire photo, not just the skin, way too soft and unrealistic; I always think, when I see such edits, that the person looks like they’re carved out of butter, with all their lines and angles mushy and melted. As an example of this, below is the same photo, run through a pretty basic skin smoothing filter from Paint Shop Pro:

Kinda mushy, and not very smooth to boot. 

I’ve come up with a few solutions to skin imperfections in portraits over the years that have served me well, but I always knew there were even better ways to pull it off – as I said, I’d just not been willing to take the time to learn them. I think I did OK with the two shots I’ve processed so far, but in the future I probably need to zoom WAAAY in when editing to target problem areas more closely and get the edges precise (of course, the fact that the model in the tutorial is about 17 years old while my “model” is 45 probably had something to do with the amount of editing/smoothing my shots took versus the video version). But anyway, here’s my end result using the layering/masking/painting technique:

I also added some extra lighting on the face as well as reducing contrast on the skin when I pulled the photo over into Snapseed, by the way. And if you really want your mind blown, scroll back up to the original. Yep. 

This process takes a long time to execute, so as I mentioned previously, I’ve only edited two shots so far. Without any more gabbing, here’s the original of the second one:


And here’s the final version:

Another bonus is how much better my hands look – I’ve always had wrinkly hands and fingers

I also used a pretty cool lighting technique on this shot, but I’ve got more to process  and share, so I’ll talk about that later. I’m excited to see how much better I can get at this with some other photos, but I start to get sloppy with this sort of detailed work if I do too much at once, so I stopped with these two for now. And I can also talk about that lipstick later, which is another of my fab-for-photos-but-awful-on-me-in-real-life purchases. I’ll save those discussions, and more photos, for later. Happy weekend everyone!

15 thoughts on “Smoothsayer

  1. You are quite an extraordinarily beautiful woman without any touchups! The result with the little rework you did is that you could grace the cover of any magazine! The last photo has a very vintage quality to it and very much reminds me of a photo of someone.

  2. You killed it. That really does smooth everything out, without blurring and melting, and the added lightening/lighting effects worked perfectly. I plan to put a new picture of myself up on the one year anniv of my blog and was just going to Pixlr it in your honor (so my snoopy inlaws can’t find me so easily) but now I might toss it into Photoshop and see if I can do the same thing. Luckily neither you nor I have any serious wrinkles or lines yet, but I imagine I will have at some point down the road and should get ready to improve my online image — especially for FB, which is where I usually put recent photos, about twice a year. Great suggestions and the results speak for themselves. I can’t use Snapseed or PaintshopPro because my Macs are old. So, I am stuck with the things that work on PCs, but I haven’t done anything with them, so now I am motivated.

    • If you know the basics of PS, that video is easy to follow. I never could get the step to work where you show the layer using the backslash key, so I just put the opacity up to 100% while using the brush so I could see very clearly where I was applying it. Be sure to use a drag queen makeup tutorial or two too, so your makeup will be camera-ready LOL!

  3. # 1 really fine by me.I can see how your edits create different results. But without the “base” shot
    being worthy, no amount of foolery wins. Amazing , your versatility.. And “45 yrs young” , please.
    I’ve a close friend who’s 61 and blessed with I think your same “genes” allowing her a much younger appearance .Try not to sweat that “age” bugaboo. Just keep giving us “you”.

    • Thanks – I’d love to get really good at doing this sort of thing though. I know there’s loads of controversy surrounding Photoshopping like this, but at the end of the day, I just find it fun to do. I love to see a photo transform into something high-fashion and glamorous.

  4. I think your before photo looks great you have great skin. On the other hand what you did to make it smooth looks amazing of course but I like the original better 😛

    • I’ve always been lucky as far as blemishes go, i’ve never much had to contend with that, but my pores are definitely larger than they used to be and there are wrinkles to contend with. I’m only speaking from an editing standpoint and not from one of how I feel about how I look. As far as that goes, I’ve got no complaints. But when editing a photo, I see everything I’d like to perfect for the final photo, and I want utter perfection! Haven’t achieved it yet, but I’m trying out a more complex technique today so we’ll see how that one goes.

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