Not all photos really need to be fully retouched. Sometimes we only need to deal with the color. Most people know about general overall color correction and are comfortable with that. However, most skin changes color throughout its surface and will look more attractive with the color evened out locally (or in other words: taken care of in small patches). We really don’t tend to notice these color shifts in real life especially since they’re often introduced by lighting and cameras. The exceptions are glaring tan lines and sunburns. (And yes, I deal with both of those as well.)
Hyperpigmentation of certain areas is common and you can end up with strange things like green shadows or glowing red fingers even when you do everything right in camera. Let’s take a look at some of the top ways to fix these. It’s really quick and easy and, better yet, no one really tends to question whether it’s ethical to remove a green shadow from someone’s face when the lighting introduces an aberration. Color correction is about as far as you can get from controversial.
Today, we’re going to improve a set of images without touching the cosmetic portions at all.
I’m going to be working with a shoot where we used no makeup whatsoever so that you can see this more clearly. We were working with nothing that might help to even out the skin tone. Additionally, I haven’t done any other retouching on these images except to remove a few dust spots that appeared because I forgot to clean my lens before shooting. (Oops!) These are not the most severe discolorations I’ve worked with, but they’ll work for demonstration. One thing to note is that very few people are the same color all over their bodies. The most common thing I see is different colored legs than faces. However, I didn’t have any current samples of that I was allowed to show you. The same technical principles apply, however. The only technique I’m not covering is dual RAW conversion which I hope to cover in the future.
So, here’s an image with some issues:
Here is the corrected image. In this particular image, I used a combination of techniques. I used a simple Hue/Saturation layer to tone down the hands. For the face, I used a layer set to color blending mode and sampled a more pleasing color and painted that onto the problematic areas. I then adjusted the face saturation with a second hue/saturation layer and then applied a curves layer to add some color and tone contrast. This is the only image where I really mixed techniques. You can click on it for an animated before and after.
On this next image, we had a lot of smaller problems going on all over the place, so I decided on a global technique that I often use. This is a very unifying technique and is often useful for series of images where you want to keep the skintone very consistent. I selected a gradient map (available in your adjustment layers menu) and created a custom gradient map based on skintones already existing within the image. I picked the ones I liked best. I decided to go warmer here. I usually set the very end highlight to white otherwise I personally feel it gets muddy. I then applied a black mask to the layer, dialed back the opacity, and painted with white in the areas of the skin that I wanted to have that color (most of it.) Note: avoid the eyebrows. You can also click on this one for before and after (The effect is subtle so watch closely.)
This last one was a minor adjustment, but I wanted to demonstate it. Strictly speaking, this adjustment wasn’t necessary on this image as it was meant to be contrasty, but it could have gone either way. I particularly use this for legs, though I typically also have to adjust color for legs as well as tone. Here, I simply used a masked curves layer to lighten her back to better match her face tone to give the image a more consistent lighting look. I used a sloppy mask because I wanted a little light on the backdrop behind her as well. I did not address the color issues on her face here. Again, click to see the before and after.
My point with this post and my point in doing this with no makeup and no cosmetic retouching is to demonstrate that not all images need lots of retouching. We can make a significant difference with color and tone only. They go a really long way in improving an image. Body positive retouching can be about evening out inconsistencies that have absolutely nothing to do with how a person looks. Saghar, my model, is absolutely gorgeous and is totally confident. She walked into my studio and immediately told me “I want to shoot without makeup.” Me being me, I thought this was great. She was a fabulous model who absolutely rocked the natural look and I love her photos both before and after cosmetic retouching.
You will come across situations where you can’t or shouldn’t cosmetically retouch something. I, personally, do not consider color work true retouching, though it falls under our job heading and is an absolutely crucial part of what we do. I feel that most images can benefit from both global and local color work and sometimes, all I do is color work. I do come across occasions where I insist that the person needs no retouching, but I can almost always find color problems and sometimes fixing the color takes an image from average to outstanding. Local color work seems like a little, subtle thing, but it makes a huge difference.
You can see more photos of Saghar (most of which have cosmetic retouching) if you poke around the blog and my various portfolio and social media sites. I loved working with her and have used a number of her photos.