I learnt about this technique from Lee Varis. The skin tone is the most important color in any portrait so we just have to get it right.
I have this candid image of my sister. As you see the skin color in the image has too much magenta and cyan.
Yes, I know the background is overexposed. This is a common problem when shooting on a bright sunny day. We will take care of the background later. For now let us correct the skin tone.
Sampling the skin tone
To evaluate the skin tone, we need to place a sampler. Select the Color Sample tool (under the Eyedropper tool) and place the sampler on the skin. Make sure your sample size is not Point Sample, as you do not want to sample only the noise in the image.
In the Info palette (Window > Info), you see the info about the pixels you sampled. By default, you see the RGB values. Click the little Eyedropper icon near the RGB info for your sample and select CMYK from the drop-down menu (see the screenshot on the left).
A good skin tone for a Caucasian has about 35% magenta, 40% yellow and only 10% cyan. Well our sample has 40% magenta, 27% yellow and 37% cyan. You see we have a little bit too much magenta, a way too much cyan and not enough yellow. Let’s try and fix it.
You have to take it for a rule to use a new layer for each adjustment. This gives you a chance to back off if you do not like anything about the final result you get. It can save you lots of time if the client does not like something in the image and you have to tweak it again.
Create a new Curves Adjustment layer (click Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and select Curves; you can see the icon hints when hovering over them with your mouse).
We will be correcting individual channels—red, green and blue. So select Red from the Channel drop-down menu. Hold down the Shift and Ctrl keys on the keyboard and click on the color sampler in the image to get the point for the skin tone on the curve (see the screenshot on the right).
We have a curious situation here. Our sampler values are in CMYK while our channels allow us to edit RGB values. However, this is not a problem. Remember:
- To reduce cyan, you add red.
- To reduce yellow, you add blue.
- To reduce magenta, you add green.
And vice versa:
- To add cyan, you reduce red.
- To add yellow, you reduce blue.
- To add magenta, you reduce green.
It is not that difficult as it may look. When you click the point on the curve, you can use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move it up or down. These are the final curves for our Red, Green and Blue channels.
The screenshot on the right shows the result we’ve got.
Then we used the Healing Brush to lighten up the shadows under the eyes and the Spot Healing Tool to remove some skin defects. Of course, the image needs more retouching, but we will do this in another tutorial. For now, just look how much you can improve an image by adjusting the color of the skin tone.
See you next time.