How to Airbrush Photos in Photoshop
Probably one of the most commonly know photomanipulation touch up and treatment processes it Airbrushing. It is commonly used in high profile photography, to smooth skin, remove blemishes, and create a softer more surreal model. There are many ways to airbrush, but the concept behind airbrushing is the same: Remove blemishes, reduce details, and smooth the skin. This process can take a little while to master and create a style of your own. I will walk you through the simplest process of airbrushing, using one of my images as an example. Below is the original unedited image.
Spot heal doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to air brushing. While you very well could spot heal every single blemish, it would be just as effective to change the color of every pixel. What you need to do is use the Healing tool. Select a fairly clear portion of the skin as a base, then work outward from that area to create a equilateral skin tone, color, and constancy. Try to keep a fair amount of detail in this process, and be prepared this is the longest and hardest part of airbrushing. Below you can see the previous image after being healed.
2) Surface Blur
If you didn’t already know, I’ll let you in on the huge secret behind airbrushing. It’s simply blurring. That’s pretty much all airbrushing is is controlled blurring. Surface Blur is probably one of the best blurs for airbrushing, with the Box Blur following closely behind. You are welcome to try any blur you want to try to find one that works the best for you. I used a Surface Blur with a 92 Radius and 34 Threshold on the image below, but you should try experimenting with different settings to find what works for you. Make sure you duplicate the healed image and apply the blur to the duplicate image. You will need both layers for the next step.
Select your duplicate blur layer. Go to Layers> Layer Mask > Hide All to apply a layer mask. You will notice that the blur disappears. This is because you are placing a mask on the image that hides the contents of the layer. Select your brush and set it to a soft brush with and opacity of between 80-90%. Set the color to white. The way a layer mask works is that it will either hide or show the contents of that layer based on the shape of the mask. It this instance the mask is black, meaning it is hiding the entire layer, but by using a white brush you can reveal the layer. This also means the using a black brush will hide parts you accidentally uncovered. This method works well for revealing and erasing easily.
4) Reveal the mask
Using the white soft brush start going over the skin of your subject, make sure to only get the skin and avoid eyes, hair, eyebrows, lips, and cloths. If you make a mistake just go over that area with a black brush. Below is the previous image after revealing the mask.
5) Final Corrections
Sometimes after airbrushing you realize that the image is too dark, you want to create a stronger contrast, or and number of reasons. This is a perfect time to correct anything, especially if you are planning on dodging and burning. For example, I realized the image was too dark so I used levels to brighten it, and I dodged and burned the eyes to make them more radiant.