Almost all portrait photographers will incorporate some degree of skin softening during their retouching workflow. Some of these techniques can involve hours of painstaking dodging and burning. For photographers that routinely shoot families, weddings, and newborns, a quick finishing step can generate rapid and pleasing results. Here I go over how to use my favorite free skin softening plugin.
The skin softening filter is called the Dynamic Skin Softener, and is buried within the extensive list of filters of the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 editing software. The Nik Color Efex Pro 4 software was made available for free as part of the Nik Collection in 2016, and can be downloaded here. The software can be used as a standalone application, or as a plugin within Lightroom or Photoshop.
The Dynamic Skin Softener performs skin softening with a single click, and the built-in controls enable the fine-tuning of both the degree of softening and the area of the image to which softening is applied. The filters can be stacked, so that different settings can be applied to different regions of the image. This is useful for images containing people with different skin tones.
Here’s a quick example of the Dynamic Skin Softener in action. In this image, I am using the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 as a Photoshop plugin.
Here is the full image before and after the application of the Dynamic Skin Softener and sharpening. This task took less than 20 seconds to perform, and I use it to finish many of my family, wedding, and newborn portraits. While some applications call for more precise attention to the skin, this is a quick way of smoothing skin with decent results. And did I mention it’s free?