Color Correction for the Best Skin Tone

Subtle Adjustments Make all the Difference

Every photo needs some amount of adjustment to enhance its presentation, even really good photos can benefit with the right adjustment. However, if you ask 5 different people what needs to be done, you’ll get 5 different answers, or worse, no answers, simply, “it looks fine!” Things become really difficult when there is no obvious problem. There are simple things to check for, like making sure there is a good black point (and possibly white point) in the image to insure that there is maximum tonal range. Other choices are purely personal, according to taste, or creative choice, but careful consideration can often reveal a correction strategy that can bring out the best in any given image.

I think most photographers have a hard time stepping back from the moment of capture in order to really evaluate the image as it would present itself to a viewer who is not intimately connected to the experience of taking the photo. We remember how good our subject looked in our minds eye, and this alters our perception of the collection of pixels that is the result of the picture making process. The truth is that the photo we take elicits  a response that is dependent on our memory of the experience – when you take that memory away, as it would be for anybody who was not there at the moment of capture, the response is only dependent on the photo. This is one reason it is so hard for us to edit our own work! Its almost impossible to be objective enough.

I have found that careful attention to basic color correction principles can help re-calibrate our subjective evaluation of an image to a point where effective adjustment choices can be made. I also find it extremely helpful to get as much practice as possible working on other people’s images, as this helps us become more objective about our own work! I have the good personal fortune of benefiting from the work of my fiancé, the amazing Bobbi Lane, who happens to be a really extraordinary portrait photographer! I will examine my decision making process in a recent color correction of one of her images in the remainder of this post.

Here is the image as it was given to me, already processed into a Tiff file from the original dng:

Take the Red Out

Compare the final corrected image to the original…

1st & last

The final image seems much “cleaner” and certainly more natural!

Most people wouldn’t have thought that the original color was particularly bad, and most photographers wouldn’t have bothered to correct it in any way! But it pays to apply a little numerical analysis to any image, just to see if there is anything that could stand some improvement. Sometimes I am surprised to find problems when my first impression was good, but one can almost always improve on a default rendering, and you never know how good an image can look unless you try! The take away here is the Channel Mixer adjustment – try correcting the original image with a single Curve – its possible to improve things, but it requires a more complex multi-point shape in the red channel curve because the point has to be placed very high up, near the upper end point, and its hard to move that point without damaging other parts of the image! The Channel Mixer fixes the problem of red-saturation easily and makes the final curve very simple! You can grab a copy of that first image with a right-click, just remember that everything on this site is copyrighted & this particular image is ©2014 by Bobbi Lane!

If you’re interested in getting some color feedback on your own images, you should consider taking my PPSOP course: Portrait Retouching Fundamentals – this is a 4-week course in Portrait Retouching with video step-by-step instruction, work files and assignments, that includes weekly critiques – sign up here!

I have an in-depth, Portrait Retouching Intensive, coming up Jun 21st & 22nd in Santa Fe, where I will be covering all aspects of Portrait Retouching, including color correction – sign up here! 

Have fun with your pixel wrangling!


8 thoughts on “Color Correction for the Best Skin Tone

  1. Pingback: How to Color Correct for Skin Tones. | Eduardo Angel

  2. Pingback: Skin tones correction from Lee Varis | FRAZ Photography's Blog

  3. Nate McLean

    Thanks a ton for the demo, do you buy chance do skin correction in after effects for video? Or talk about bit depth with secondary corrections? Would love to hear what you have to say about those topics. For example, if there is a significant enough difference between using the GH4 plut atomos shogun to get the 10-bit video or instead just use the A7S with Atomos to get the 8-bit and additional dynamic range. Stuck debating weather to have 10-bit or 8-bit with way better dynamic range.

  4. giggsy12

    Hi Lee. CMYK I use in PS for Skin buy why do LR and Capture One use RGB instead of CMYK. It would be easier to get skin correct in Capture One then PS? Is there a ratio that can be used for CMYK into RGB?

    1. LeeVaris Post author

      Lightroom does not support number readouts for CMYK, and its RGB number readouts only supply the internal Lightroom colorspace numbers which don’t relate at all to regular workspace numbers like Adobe RGB or sRGB. The color controls in Lightroom also don’t really lend themselves to the kind of precision that you get in Photoshop—the best you can do is visually reference a file color corrected in Photoshop to the CMYK numbers with a raw file in Lightroom, and adjust the basic panel color balance to get as close a visual match as you can. I don’t know anything about the current versions of Capture One—older versions were no better than Lightroom with regards to CMYK number readouts, but at least it supported regular colorspace RGB numbers.

  5. Pingback: Lee Varis’ 10-Channel Workflow – Part-3 –

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