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Color Correction - Skin Tones Part 2

Friday, August 19, 2011
In the last digital photography tutorial I wrote about how to correct skin tones using curves on a duplicate layer using the color blending mode. The last photo (in the previous post) consisted of a person in a photo where the color in the whole image had to be considered during the correcting. This next method of color correction for skin tones makes use of masks to change the color. I am considering the different parts and shapes within the photo. The model, the clothes and the surrounding background. I can change the models skin tone, make sure the clothes are the right matching color and clean up the background (or change the color if it emphasizes my subject better). Since this tutorial is about skin tones that is what I will focus on after correcting some of the photo through curves.

If I has a swatch for the skirt, I could match that color and hope that the whole photo will fall around the color correction properly. But I do not. If it is a Brown skirt, then the LAB numbers of 34, 16, 6 are telling me it is a Reddish Yellow skirt and not a brown skirt. The strobe cover in the top right measures to a neutral Black.

You can color correct the whole image with curves or use the masking method I am going to show you below. I wanted to change the skirt color because I was not comfortable with it being a Reddish yellow instead of a Brown (Yellowish Red). With these curves, I changed the color of the overall image, specifically added Cyan to the models face and made the skirt a Brown color (which I think it should be).

Which gave me this color corrected photo with a Brown skirt and a more pleasing skin tone color. But we want to go further with the models skin tone. We want to control exactly how it is going to print via layering a more typical color. Now to masking the skin tone color correction.

Skin Tones in Caucasians that are light can be considered C10, M27, Y32. So this is the color I am going to use for the photo below. Where did I get those numbers? From experience, from messing up plenty of times, from studying the color of skin tones in different people for many years. There are plenty of skin tone swatches you can download on the internet if you do a search. In the photo below, I see there is too much red and yellow in the skin color.

At this point you want to make the foreground color in Photoshop the light skin tone color I suggested before. Or save the swatch below, click on it with the eye dropper tool and set the foreground color that way.

Now goto -->> Layer -->> New Fill Layer -->> Solid Color

Change the mode to Color or Hue (blending mode) and hit OK. The pick a solid color display will come open. You can change what color you want with this or keep the one we chose. Hit OK, and the whole image has that color as a color cast. Now open the layers list,make sure the mask is selected, and fill it with black to block the skin tone color. Now take a white brush, at 100% opacity and paint in the skin tone color where you want it to show through. Then toggle the opacity of the layer depending on how much of the effect you want to show through (also decide if Hue or Color blending is better). I chose 45% opacity in color mode to cut down on some of the problematic Yellow color around her skin. The photos below are before and after the painted on skin tone color correct.

The skin tone mask cut down on the variety of different colors in the models skin and created a much more uniform base with which to work artistic magic with. Look at the palm of her hand or parts of the side of her face in the original image and the new color corrected skin tone photo. The yellow color cast has been eliminated. There was also a point on her elbow that had more magenta than yellow and now it is within a skin tone parameter. At this point you can alter the mask in certain areas to let the original color show through more or create another layer with a solid color, essentially painting like an artist in front of a canvas. Go as far as you want as an artist or leave it as natural as you like. Use color and tone masks to highlight facial areas and minimize other parts. You are now the makeup artist. I have given you the Photoshop technique that fashion magazines use to make these changes to the skin tone. It is up to you how far you want to go.

Skin tone color correction is one of the hardest parts of post processing. So give it time. This was a minor example just to show the technique of masking skin tones for color correction. 


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