Editing newborn skin in photoshop
Newborn photographers know that editing newborn skin can be a challenging task. You do get babies that have perfect skin, but often, newborns will present with a myriad of skin issues. These can include jaundice, redness, flaky-skin, and dreaded baby acne and cradle cap. In this article, I will cover the 8 best tools to edit newborn skin in photoshop (from my experience!)
Many photographers will use actions to speed up their workflows and this works beautifully for them. My preference is to hand edit 99% of my image, but I do use a handful of actions on the more extreme cases, since they just do a great job. I use all of the tools in every single edit, newborn or otherwise.
To edit newborn skin, the best tool to use is Photoshop. It is a powerful application, with many precise tools that will help you combat these challenges. Photoshop also allows you to create your own actions for your own tools once you sort out your preferences and methods of editing newborn skin.
The 8 Best photoshop tools to use for newborn skin
- Patch Tool
- Clone Tool
- Dust & Scratch filter
- Frequency Separation
- Curves and layer mask adjustments
- Selective Color
- Dodge & Burn
1. Using the patch and spot healing tool for editing newborn skin
The patch and spot healing tools are great for tackling obvious problem spots that are smaller in size. Some examples are flakes or single little pimples or red spots on the baby’s skin. When you make your selection over the problem area with the patch tool, you can easily drag it to a clean area of skin in the surrounding areas to “copy” it into the original spot. The spot healing tool quickly samples the area you are clicking on to “heal” any issues.
You can also use the patch tool to “tone down” a frown line, or undereye bag. You can do this by duplicating the background later, setting it to a lower opacity, and patching the frown line onto a “clean” skin portion. The frown line will still be there, but it will be more subtle and less contrasty.
2. Using the Clone Tool for newborn skin
Similarly, the clone tool can be used in a similar way to the patch tool. Sometimes with certain skin issues, the patch tool can make the result a little muddy. For instance, if you are around hard edges or contours (think nostrils, or the edge of the face) where there is a higher contrast of color. With the clone tool you can be a little more precise in eliminating the skin issue without the muddiness the patch tool can sometimes cause. A great example is the use here, in eliminating some eye gunk on baby where there were hard, high contrast lines.
3. Using the dust and scratch filter for editing newborn skin flakes
The dust and scratches filter is a neat little tool that helps to eliminate some of those tinier dry skin flakes- note that this won’t work on larger blemishes or flakes. It sort of blends the colors and textures together when you apply it. You do have to play around with the settings of the filter to see what level of blending you like the best.
4. Frequency Separation – my favorite!
Frequency Separation is one of those tools that I absolutely hated in the beginning. I just couldn’t get the hang of it. With time, I started understanding the nuances, and I use it ALL the time now to edit skin. Frequency Separation allows you to separate color tone from the texture of the skin. You can work on the colors separately from the texture, so it is easy to even out the skin color where you want to without taking away skin’s texture, and adjust any funny textures without altering your base color.
The below is a terrible example because baby had basically perfect skin, but i did use it to clean up some red blotches and minor texture marks on the color and texture layers separately.
5. Curves and Layer Mask Adjustments for correcting color tones in skin
Correcting skin tones can sometimes be one of the trickier elements to newborn skin correction. Babies can have red and jaundiced skin at the same time, they may have cooler toned hands and feet as well. Curves adjustment layers often help me in the blue, red, and green channels to adjust certain casts. The color channels in the curves adjustment panel work as follows:
- Blue neutralizes yellow, and vice versa. If the baby is too cool, you can bump up the yellow in the blue channel. The opposite is true as well.
- Magenta neutralizes green, and vice versa. If the baby has green tones on their skin, pulling in a little magenta will balance this. Conversely, if a baby is too pink, pulling in more green will neutralize the magenta tones.
- Red neutralizes cyan, and vice versa. This can help with grey-ish skin tones by bumping a bit more red into them.
By masking these adjustments onto the problem areas, you can neutralize a majority of different color casts on skin.
6. Selective Color Layer for Tone corrections
I use the selective color layer tool mostly for toning images, however, it can be used to isolate and adjust certain colors. For skin tones for instance- under the red color channel, you can pull out some of the CYAN to give your skin tones a more pinky, natural tone in the skin. Otherwise, I tend to stick to selective color for overall image toning. This is just to show you that there are so many ways to accomplish similar end results. The same color concepts listed under curves above, can be used here.
In the example below- the baby had a bit too much red in his skin overall, so I pulled up the cyan under the RED tab, to neutralize the redness for a more natural tone.
7. Dodge and Burn for editing skin
Dodge(lighten) and burn (darken) can be used to enhance light areas and shaded areas, or correct lighting where lumps, bumps, or shadows may be exaggerated. But this isn’t your typical dodge and burn using the dodge and burn tools themselves. I duplicate my background layer twice, once in multiply mode (darken), and once in screen mode (lighten), create layer masks, and adjust the opacity. From there I brush on the areas I want to darken and lighten accordingly. Using this method, you are avoiding the saturation issue that can happen with the dodge and burn tools themselves. I find this to more non-destructive as well.
To minimize distractions, you can create a black and white layer on top, so you only see light and dark, and NOT color. Trust me, it helps. See an example below.
8. Using Actions to help your workflow
If you don’t want to manually edit every single part of your workflow, you can rely on actions to help speed up your process. For some trickier skin issues, some developers have created wonderful blemish reducing, skin softening, and tone correcting actions that allow you to think less and spend more time on the details.
Some of my favorites include sets from LSP and Pro-Retouch and Hello Little. They have various actions within their skin retouching sets, but typically I only use one or two from the set to help with significant problem skin or tone adjustments. This is where I find that certain actions help the most- with bad blemishes, and bad color casts on skin.
Watch this video to see all of these skin editing steps in action!
Everything I mentioned above is in use in this video – for the sake of time, it is sped up, but you can see the tremendous difference made in the after when compared to the original image straight out of camera.
Sofia Ribeiro is an NJ Newborn Photographer, NJ Maternity Photographer, and NJ Family Photographer servicing North and Central New Jersey, NYC, and Delaware. Union, Essex, Monmouth , Middlesex, Somerset, Bergen, & Passaic counties, as well as Staten Island included.