How to use Photoshop action for fast and effective High Pass skin retouching

June 5, 2016   10919 views

Introducing this technology of High Pass Retouch I would like to say that I am not an inventor of this technology. An understanding of image processing offers photographers a number of solutions and their primary task is not "an invention" of the technology but rather a search, understanding and exploration of the existing technology.

While shooting a large amount of shots I need to automate post processing of my pictures and I try to tweak things to my own way and style. I can show you a method that is quite rough but very fast to process your image. 

What can we do if we need a sensitive, high-quality treatment and when there is a situation when we don't have the time to do the retouch. Of course, the best way is to send your pictures to a professional retoucher. Some professional photographers have a team of freelance retouchers that they can use for assignments. Some photographers even employ  qualified retouchers in their staff. But there are several disadvantages in this approach:

1. Money. A good portrait retouch starts from $ 20-30, and if after the shoot you have to pay for at least 10-12 retouched photographs, the processing will take up a significant part of the budget of the shoot.

2. Time. The technical retouch is only part of the postprocessing. The selection process is first, then RAW-processing and only then your pictures are sent to the retoucher. After that they will return to you ,at this stage you put your artistic flair and style into the shots, giving them your own style. Quality processing is very slow process especially when shooting on high end cameras. (16-bit TIFFs I get with my 31 Mpix Hasselblad camera  around 200 MB in size), you will have to wait for upload and download time to the retoucher. Not to mention the "queue"! Every good retoucher is so busy and you can't be sure he will start retouching as soon as he get your photos.

3. Unpredictability. Only you know what to expect from retouching and post processing of your pictures. You have to build a relationship with the retoucher so he knows your style. Each photo is unique, you often have no way to convey your thoughts and ideas to the retoucher. And then you can get unpredictable result. Not because of the the retoucher is no good , just that you have not briefed him the right way. So If I don't have to retouch several hundreds pictures after shoot I prefer to do it myself!

In this high pass terouching tutorial I offer Photoshop action, which immediately gives you a wide range of tools of portrait retouching and you can use it simply by downloading the file to Photoshop application and run it every time you need it. Just click over the Highpass.atn file to see it in you Action folder in Photoshop.

Now let's talk about all the possibilities you can get using this action. And at first let's look at the original file.

High Pass Retouching retouch action photoshop tutorial

This is a picture that I made in high-key style. I was trying to process this picture from RAW to TIFF very carefully to protect the texture of skin but I have to say that usually I prefer to slightly overexposure high-key portrait (1/2 or 2/3 stops) to get picture brighter and to avoid over-needed details and texture of models face. Lets talk about what do we need to make this picture retouched with nice detail.

The first step is- to remove pimples and wrinkles on the face,

The second step - to "smooth" the face to remove unnecessary convex and hollow places making it more flat,

And the third step- to give nice skin tone over the entire surface of the face.

So, let's start from the beginning:

Here you can download zip file with my .atn action Retouching High Pass (Oleg Tityaev) (to do this just click over the link or click with right button and choose "Download file"). Unzip if you got it as .zip file and then just click over .atn file and find this action in Actions Folder in Photoshop.

Now when you play this action you get a set of layers that will help you to retouch portraits in very quick, efficient and impressive way. 

All changes that you can see after playing this action, are divided into two major parts:

The first part - the actual skin retouching - removing pimples, wrinkles and other unnecessary details,

The second part - the color and tone correction.

Why are these two procedures are combined into one action?

The reason is that this action is based on the principle of high pass filter - all the information about the details of the picture remains in Details (skin texture, wrinkles, pimples etc), all the information about the colors and tones is located in the layer Blurred. This is the work of Linear Light blending mode of the layer the we got with Apply Image filter with necessary settings. This principle is very similar to the widely used High Pass filter widely being used by photographer to get the same effect. That's why I call it High Pass Retouching Method. 

Now retouching details in Details layer we can use even Clone Stamp replacing details (texture) from one part of picture to another. The colour and tones information doesn't work in this layer, that's why you can do retouching faster, efficiently and cleaner. You can take samples for Clone Stamp or Healing Brush not thinking about colours at this point, and not being afraid to get "dirty" points on the skin. It is important to use the current layer mode when working with Healing Brush or Clone Stump tools.

The main changes that we can make in the layer named Blurred is to change the brightness and color, without touching the details we worked before in Details layer. You just need to use Paint Brush tool with getting suitable sample of colour and tone (pressing ALT button on your keyboard) and paint with small opacity over this layer, changing only the color and tone, but not interfering as I said to the details of the skin. It is not right to work exactly over Blurred layer and I make addition layers to make this work more careful and returnable:

COLOR LAYER with color blending mode. You will only change skin colour not affecting the lightness or darkness.

TONES LAYER with normal blending modes. This is the layer to make main changes to brightness (tone) of the skin. Drawing over this layer will change both color and brightness of the skin.

CURVES UP and CURVES DOWN LAYERS with normal blending modes. Curves adjustment layers help you to change only tones, not colours of the skin. I use it to make brighter or darker some part of the model face and also flatten it removing very dark parts around nose and eyes and bright spots on nose and forehead depending on the style of picture your after.

Now I want to show you step-by-step using of this action with the picture we were talking about.

Here is the source TIFF file:  

High Pass Retouching retouch action photoshop tutorial

High Pass Retouching action photoshop tutorial   High Pass Retouching tutorial poctprocessing

With every picture I will give you snapshot of Layer Folder in Photoshop to understand which layers are working in every step and which is not being used.


Look at the face after using healing brush tool on the Datails layer. At this step there is no difference with the usual using of healing brush tool, except for one thing: if the  face has huge defects it is better to remove them before using this action. However, we are talking about such huge defects as scars, pimples and moles. On this photograph it is not necessary to correct anything before using this action because the skin of the model doesn't have defects that need removed in this action. 

You can also use Clone Stamp on this stage and it will also handle only  details (as healing brush) but it has one additional interesting feature - you can use it with various amounts of opacity that healing brush tool doesn't allow to do. The time taken working working at this stage means the quality of the skin on your picture. I pay as much attention as I can at this stage, I usually don't allocate less than 5 minutes, rarely increasing to 10 minutes. If you work efficiently 5 mins is usually enough for any portrait taken at any resolution. Look at my results at the end of this stage:

High-Pass Retouch action photoshop tutorial

High Pass action photoshop  High Pass

Working with CURVES UP AND CURVES DOWN layers

Now it is time to start to work with Curves Up and Curves Down layers. Here I try to flatten the face. 

You have to try at this stage to flatting the face here leaving working with TONE layer only, just for polishing details at the end of your retouching. Lightening or darkening some areas around the model face you can effectively reduce the bags under the eyes, reduce wrinkles, smoothing skin irregularities, making the face look smooth and flat. The degree of influence at this stage is determined by your aesthetic but in any case it is hard to  "overdo" here instead of the next stage correcting TONE layers. Look at the photo below to see how the face become more smooth and flat, less "textured". No more than 2 minutes for this stage.

High Pass Retouching action photoshop tutorial beauty

High Pass Retouching action photoshop tutorial  High Pass Retouching Retouch

Correction on the TONES layer

Now it is time to a more radical tone correction. It is simple but at the same time the high efficiency are based on the possibility of using painting brush tool.  Pressing ALT for taking a sample and then drawing over this layer changing the tone and color and not touching details is a great way to redraw the face on your picture. But you should remember about "a sense of proportion": with every stroke of the brush you will make your picture more artificial and seem more like a painting not a photograph.  Every step should be checked as you can easily turn your shot into a bad result at the end of this stage. Try to keep correcting only defects and not redrawing the face on your picture. I usually use painting brush with 10% opacity doing several strokes over every part of face always taking samples by pressing ALT button. It is necessarily at the end of this stage to compare the result with the initial condition turning off layer visibility and maybe to decrease the opacity of the layer to the amount where your improvements could be seen, but not overdone

For this stage I spend no more than 1-2 minutes.

High Pass Retouching fast beauty

High Pass Retouching action photoshop  High Pass Retouching retouch fast

Color correction on COLOR layer

And finally the stage of color correction. Using the samples of the right color of skin I change the color just using painting brush tool over the COLOR layer. Because im applying Color Blending Mode for this layer, all changes affect only skin color without affecting brightness. It is necessary to correct skin tones in different areas as well as to correct the difference in the shades of lighting, to correct shadows tints giving the skin the right color and condition. However, I want to warn against too strong correction of skin tones. Each area of ​​the skin must have a unique hue and color and exceeding colouring of the face will make it "clay" looking i.e. artificial and affected. Therefore as in the previous case after finishing this stage I slightly reduce the opacity of this layer. About 1 minute at this stage.

High Pass Retouching Photoshop action

High Pass Retouching fast action high key picture   High Pass Retouching action retouch

Look at the result. Smooth, flat, well retouched face has no sense of artificial or over post processing and seems  very smooth, healthy and the fresh skin of young model. You have a quick, easy and most importantly an effective tool for retouching that I hope will reduce time retouching or give you the option not to send your files to professional retoucher , saving you time and money

P.S. Please note amount of changes I made. 

The challenge of a retoucher is not to redraw the face but to fix defects, to make it more smooth, healthy and to correct some faults of lighting. The finished retouch does not show a big difference in the eyes of Photoshop fans but in my opinion if all the stages I have suggested in the article are completed, you should end up with good retouched skin tones. which is a sign of your mastery of postprocessing, at any level in your photography.

Good luck!