How to Smooth Skin and Enhance Portrait Lighting using a Wacom Tablet

This tutorial will demonstrate how to use Smart Objects, Filters and Layer Masks combined with a Wacom Tablet to smooth the skin of a model and then selectively enhance shadows and highlights within the scene.

I am using this Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet to complete the tutorial, however the techniques we will use can be done with any Wacom tablet. If you are interested in Digital Art and don?t have access to a graphics tablet, I strongly recommend looking into picking one up. Check out Wacom?s entire line of creative pen tablets here:

Step 1

Begin by opening your chosen image in Photoshop. I am using this image from Unsplash which you can download for free to follow along with the tutorial:

Step 2

Double click on the Background layer to unlock it, give it any name and click OK to confirm.

Step 3

Press CMD+J or CTRL+J twice to duplicate the layer and create 2 copies. Group the top two layers into a group called Skin and click the eye icon next to the top layer to turn off visibility for now.

Step 4

Select the visible layer inside the Skin group and go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. Enter Radius 55 and Threshold 30. These settings are pretty universal and should work with most images.

Step 5

Turn on visibility for the other layer in the group, set the Blending Mode to Linear Light and Opacity to 65%.

Step 6

Go to Filter > Other > High Pass and enter 2.0 Pixels for the Radius. This will add back in some of the details that are lost to the surface blur on the layer below.

Step 7

Select the Skin group layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.

Step 8

Select the Brush Tool, and choose a soft round brush around 400 pixels. Set the Opacity of the brush very low, around 15% and using your Wacom Tablet, gently paint over the face with White (#FFFFFF). On this first pass, use soft smooth strokes to gently apply the effect to the entire face area.

The red overlay in the screenshot below is for illustrative purposes only. If you look at the layer mask thumbnail you can see how soft the strokes really are.

Step 9

Lower the brush size, and increase the Opacity slightly to around 25%. Using your tablet again, paint with white onto the layer mask. This time only focus on the trickier areas of the face, such as creases around the nose and below the eyes and areas with harsh light. You can use low to medium pen pressure.

Step 10

Reduce the brush size again, increase the Opacity to around 65% and focus only on the very problematic areas, using hard pen pressure.

When you are finished, there should be a very obvious difference in the smoothness of the model?s skin. You can always adjust the opacity of the Skin group if you want to reduce the effect.

Step 11

Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer above the Skin group and reduce the Saturation slightly to about -21.

Step 12

Create a new blank layer called Highlights, set the Mode to Overlay and set the Opacity 50%.

Step 13

Select the Brush Tool again, set the foreground color to white (#FFFFFF) and using a small round brush at 50% Opacity gently paint over the naturally occurring highlights in the image with your tablet to enhance them. Some areas to focus on with this image are the lower lip, eye lid, hair and jacket zipper.

Step 14

Create a new blank layer called Shadows, set the Mode to Linear Burn and set the Opacity 50%.

Step 15

Still using the Brush Tool, set the foreground color to black (#000000) and using a medium to large round brush at 20% Opacity gently paint over the darker areas of the image with your tablet. Some areas to focus on with this image are the tips of the hair, the back of the neck and the edge of the model?s face

Result & Conclusion

Here you can see the result, we have used Smart Objects, Filters, Layer Masks and the Wacom Tablet to smooth the skin of the model. Then used the tablet to selectively enhance shadows and highlights in the scene.

Here is a before and after comparison to show the results of this technique

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