Use Photoshop to Smooth Skin and Make Eyes Pop
Enhance your portraits with natural looking results
This tutorial will teach you a simple technique for subtly enhancing portrait photos with Photoshop. We will gently smooth the skin to improve the overall tone and help reduce unwanted blemishes, then draw focus to the eyes by increasing their contrast and saturation.
Begin by opening your image in Photoshop. I am using this excellent free stock photo
Double click on the Background layer to unlock it, you will be prompted to give the layer a new name.
Right click on the image layer and choose 'Convert to Smart Object'. This will allow us to apply non-destructive Smart Filters.
Duplicate the Smart Object layer twice so that you have 3 copies in total. Place the top two layers in a group called 'Skin'. Hide the visibility of the top one for now by clicking the eye icon and select the other visible layer.
With the visible layer selected, go to the Filter > Blur menu and choose Surface Blur. Enter 55 for the Radius and 30 for the Threshold, this will apply a smoothing effect to the entire image.
Select the previously hidden layer, and make it visible. Set the Blending Mode to Linear Light and Opacity to 65%.
Go to the Filter > Other menu and choose High Pass. Use 1.8 for the Radius. This will add back some of the details lost by applying the Surface Blur effect.
Select the Group layer then go to the Layer > Layer Mask menu and choose Hide All. This will mask the smoothing effect and allow us to draw it back on with the Brush tool.
Select the Brush tool and choose a medium sized soft brush. If the foreground color is not currently white, reset it to default by pressing D and then X once to flip foreground and background colors over.
With the Mask still selected in the Layers panel, you can start carefully painting over the skin with the Brush tool. This can be done by eye, but if you want to ensure good coverage, I recommend going to the Channels window and clicking show visibility on the Skin Mask layer to enable a red overlay.
As you carefully paint over the skin area, be sure to avoid the eyes, nostrils, lips and hair. If you make a mistake, switch the foreground color to black and paint over it, then try again.
When you are finished, click the eye icon next to the Skin Mask channel to hide the red overlay and check the results.
If you want to reduce the intensity of the effect, change the Opacity of the Skin group layer to your desired amount.
Create a new empty Group layer and name it Eyes, then go to the Layer > Layer Mask menu and choose Hide All.
Select the Brush tool and choose a small hard brush.
Go into the Channels window and click the icon next to the Eyes Mask to show the red overlay again. Similar to last time, set the foreground color to white and carefully paint over the pupils. I recommend zooming in and getting as close to the edge of the pupils as possible.
When you're done, go the Layer > New Adjustment Layer menu and choose Brightness/Contrast then click OK.
In the Properties window set the Brightness to 45 and Contrast to 95.
Go to the Layer > New Adjustment Layer menu again and this time choose Hue/Saturation.
Increase the Saturation to 20.
If you want to reduce the intensity of the effect, change the Opacity of the Eyes group layer to your desired amount.
Result & conclusion
Here is the before and after comparison:
As you can see the skin is much smoother on the right, and the eyes are definitely more vivid than before. However the effect doesn't look overly airbrushed or unnatural. This is a great way to subtly enhance a portrait, and because we have used Smart Filters and Adjustment Layers it is completely editable, you can tweak the intensity of any of the effects or even revert to the original image if you want.
Download Portrait Enhancing Actions
This action for Photoshop makes the process of enhancing your portraits simple and easy. Smoothing out skin, drawing focus to the eyes or lips and removing red tints from skin can traditionally be a very complex to achieve. With this action the only work you’ll have to do is tell Photoshop where to apply the enhancements.