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How to change skin color in Photoshop

Daniel Scott


Want to achieve that sun-kissed glow without the UV rays? Or maybe your photo has the model looking a little like a lobster. Don’t worry, whether you want to warm up the color or reduce the red, this tutorial will show you some simple steps for retouching skin in Photoshop.

If you are completely new to Photoshop you might want to check out my Photoshop Essentials training course first. It covers all the essential tools that you need to know to get started with Photoshop, you’ll be an expert before you know it!

If you are already confident with the basics, then read on to find out how to retouch skin tone in Photoshop in a few simple steps.

Step 1 – Selecting the skin

Before we can start retouching the skin color, the first step for adjusting skin in Photoshop is to make a selection of just the skin tones. Sounds pretty tricky, right? But fortunately, Photoshop has a handy feature that will do just that. It’s hidden in the Color Range options.

Let’s try it out.

1. From your menu along the top choose Select > Color Range.

A photo of a woman looking at the camera in adobe photoshop

Start by choosing the Color Range option from the select menu

2. Then click on the Select dropdown, at the top of the Color Range box, and choose ‘Skin Tones’.

Two black and white photos of the same woman in adobe photoshop

Try the Detect Faces option to see if it give a better selection of the skin areas.

3. You’ll see a ‘Detect Faces’ tick box – try ticking this to isolate the face. See what you think – depending on your image it may, or may not, help.

4. You can also adjust the fuzziness slider to increase or decrease the selection.

THE GOAL – to get a good selection of the face without including too much of the background. (The areas showing as white are selected).

A black and white photo of a woman in photoshop

For a larger view of your selection change ‘Selection Preview’ to Grayscale to preview your selection on your image.

QUICK TIP – Change ‘Selection Preview’ (at the bottom of the Color Range dialog box) to Grayscale to preview your selection on your image – it’s a bit bigger this way so it's much easier to see the detail of what’s selected.

5. Click OK when you are happy.

Step 2 - Adjusting the color

Now onto the main event – retouching the skin tone in Photoshop.

1. Go to your Adjustments Panel.

2. Click on the ‘Color Balance’ adjustment (the icon looks like a pair of scales).

A photo of the color balance adjustment tool in adobe photoshop

Find the ‘Color Balance’ adjustment - this allows you to change the color but also lets you come back in and change it later if needed.

3. Where it says ‘Tone’ you can switch between adjusting Highlights, Midtones, or Shadows. You usually want to start with midtones as that will have the most effect.

4. Play with the sliders – in my example I want to make the skintones warmer so I’ve adjusted the Cyan/Red towards Red and adjusted the Yellow/Blue towards Yellow.

A photo of a woman in adobe photoshop

In my example I want to make the skin tones look warmer.

Step 3 - Edit the layer mask

1. When we made the selection, using Color Range, it included some of the background.

2. Let’s paint on the layer mask to get rid of this. Hold down Option (MAC) or Alt (PC) and click on the mask in the layers panel.

A black and white photo of a woman in the layers panel in adobe photoshop

You’ll see the mask on the Color Balance layer in the Layers Panel – hold down Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) and click on the mask icon.

3. Now using the Brush Tool paint with black – to color in any part of the background that is showing, leaving just the skin areas as white.

Two black and white photos of a woman

Before and after painting on the mask

4. To see your normal image again, hold down Option (MAC) or Alt (PC) and click on the layer mask in the layers panel.

5. Now you’ll see the color balance changes are only applying to the areas that you left white on the mask, successfully adjusting the skintones of the person’s face, arm and shoulders. YAY!

6. Click on the eye icon, beside the color balance layer, in the layers panel to turn off the changes and see your original image. Click again on the eye icon to turn the changes back on and see your final result.

A photo of a woman standing behind a tree with her eyes closed

The setting can impact how professional your portrait photography looks. Why not try getting out into nature to mix things up a bit? Image credit: Adobe Stock

If you’re looking to take your portrait photography to the next level, the setting has a large part to play. This article from Maria Bailey on Shutterstock takes you on a journey away from your desk and into the natural world to cover some important tips and tricks, camera settings and showcases some inspirational examples of portrait photography in nature.

A advertise for an article about taking portraits in nature with a woman standing by a tree

Check out this article from Maria Bailey on Shutterstock for portrait tips and tricks

Too warm?

Often when you take a photo using the camera on your phone the skin tones can come out looking a bit too red. This is distracting and causes your image to look less professional. On my example the person’s face is too red. Follow these steps to reduce the red and improve the skin tone.

1. Start the same way as in the previous example - from your menu along the top choose Select > Color Range.

2. Then click on the Select dropdown at the top and choose ‘Skin Tones’.

3. Try ticking the ‘Detect faces’ box and see if it works on your image.

4. Adjust the fuzziness slider.

5. Click ok.

6. In the Adjustments Panel click on the Levels adjustment.

An image of the levels adjustment tool in adobe photoshop

The Levels Adjustment lets you change the lightest tones, darkest tones and mid tones.

QUICK TIP – the Curves Adjustment also performs a similar function – try both and see which you like best. For an interesting article on when to use Levels or Curves adjustments on your images read this description by Photographer Les Meehan.

7. Click on the RGB dropdown and choose Red – this means that we are only changing the Red channel.

A photo of a woman sitting down in adobe photoshop

By choosing the ‘Red’ option we are only adjusting the dark, light and mid tones for the Red channel.

8. Now play with these sliders to reduce the red in the image. There’s not a right and wrong setting – you can do it by eye.

An image of the color properties tool in adobe photoshop

Use your judgment to determine the best settings for your image.

QUICK TIP – click on the eye icon at the bottom of the adjustment panel to turn the preview on and off on the image – this will help you to compare it to the original image to see if you have changed it enough.

Tag: An image of the color properties tool with the eye icon circled in adobe photoshop

Try clicking the eye icon to see your image before and after the changes

9. If you feel like the background or other areas of the photo are being affected you can follow ‘Step 3 – Edit the layer mask’ to paint on the layer mask and reduce the areas that the Levels adjustment is changing.

Using these simple steps to first make a selection of the skin tones using color range, then retouch the skin tone using color balance or levels, you can improve the color quality of your images. You can use this same technique to warm up the skin tones to achieve that healthy glow, or you might need to remove a red or cyan cast to give a more natural look for the final result. On the whole adjusting the color will give your portrait photography a much more professional look, so why not give it a try?

These steps are based on a video in my Advanced Photoshop training course. Now that you have mastered adjusting skin tone in Photoshop, check it out for more awesome tricks, real world examples and practical projects to enhance your Photoshop skills and turn you into a Photoshop expert.

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Image credit: Adobe Stock