How to Retouch Skin Using Dodge and Burn to Get a Natural Result

The trend in the portrait, fashion, and beauty industry is to come back to a more natural look while still removing the unwanted blemishes. But without the proper techniques and settings, it’s difficult to make an image flawless while avoiding the overly retouched look. Zoë Noble is a talented photographer and retoucher based in Europe, and she’s created a series of tutorial to teach the methods that will help you reach that high-end look. In this one, you’ll learn how to use dodge and burn to even out the skin.

Dodging and burning is an essential part of any good portrait retouching workflow. It usually comes right after cleaning the skin like previously shown in the article about using the clone stamp tool. In the video above, Noble explains what settings she uses to set her brushes and also how she relies on curves to dodge and burn.

While she doesn’t go into details when it comes to color correction, she does touches interesting points that you could then further explore. Some of them have already been talked about here on Fstoppers, and others will be in future articles I plan on writing. Also keep in mind that mastering dodging and burning to even out the skin takes lot of work and practice. It’ll take a few months before you can retouch images quickly and fully understand what you should edit or not.

I’d love to hear some of your biggest issues when it comes to retouching and retaining a natural look when editing. Do you have troubles with color correction? Or is the texture the most troublesome part of the workflow? Do you find seeing issues a problem or does it come naturally? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to write more articles about post-production in the upcoming weeks.

[via Zoë Noble]

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Gabrielle Colton's picture

Dodge and burn forever <3. It's def a must for skin to not look fake or too photoshopped

Dan Lubbers's picture

Agreed! People are going to hate on me for this, but I hate the look of FS. 90% of people don't know how to use it properly and should just take the time to learn how to properly D&B and not cut corners with FS.

Dave McDermott's picture

I'm with you on this. More often than not, FS looks like textured plastic. It has its place in certain types of images but for the most part it just isn't necessary.

Alex Dylikowski's picture

Why not to leave the skin as it is?

Kirk Darling's picture

Because people over 25 see themselves in the mirror 5 years younger than they really are. In addition, the camera emphasizes faults that even other people don't notice.

When, for instance, a 45-year-old woman is getting married, she feels young and vibrant in that moment. She wants to see herself portrayed as she feels--young and vibrant.

When clients are paying serious money for photography, they want to see themselves as they see themselves and as they felt about themselves in the moment, not as a mechanical device coldly renders them..

Alex Dylikowski's picture

I think the time will come very soon when people will be tired of looking identical in pictures. Photoshop defines skin and everything today. Sure, can look 5-10 years younger in pictures, but there is no retouching done when they wake up in the morning and look in the mirror:-)

Kirk Darling's picture

I'll say again: "...people over 25 see themselves in the mirror 5 years younger than they really are." I see it myself, even knowing better. I look at myself in the mirror--not bad; I see my photograph--sheesh!

There are both psychological and optical reasons why that is the case.

Back when I was a wee photo-bairn, one of my first ambitious portraits was of my high school Latin teacher, Mrs Shutz.

Mrs Shutz was a "teacher emeritus"--'way over the normal retirement age. Although gray and "wizened," Mrs Shutz had eyes like cracked blue crystal, a flashing ready smile, and knife-keen wit and humor. She was funny as hell and totally on the ball.

But my photograph of Mrs Shutz merely showed a coldly accurate image of an old, old woman. None of that sharp wit, none of that keen humor, none of that sparkling personality. It was what the camera produced--physically accurate, but a falure as a portrait.

I'm a whole lot better now. I know how to light, how to pose, and how to use retouching judiciously to emphasize that which enhances personality and de-emphasize that which detracts from it.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

When looking at a photograph, you can see details you'd normally not see when looking at someone in real life. Some people also shoot beauty, fashion, or fine art and want to remove any disturbing detail to let the makeup, hair, product, or the overall art be the subject of the image, not the details no one care about – pimples, nose hair, etc.
The goal when retouching an image shouldn't be to remove all imperfections, but only the ones that don't add anything to the image and that aren't part of a person – for example, a pimple is usually not on someone's face forever, so why leave it on picture that's going to last forever?

Kirk Darling's picture

Yes. When we experience a person in real life, we experience the with two or three or more senses. We experience their personalities--happy or sad, clever or dull, inspiring or terrifying. We see their faces in constant motion, and the light in constant motion upon them. The still camera can't capture that on its own.

Painters start with a blank canvas and add to it everything that they /experience/ of the subject. They don't paint anything they did not experience. Creative photographers also experience their subjects, but have the opposite problem of removing that which they did not experience. They do this by knowing the optical/mechanical limitations of their cameras to select lenses, to pose, to light, and to frame so that it captures close to their experience of the subject, then go farther in the darkroom to zero in on their precise experience.

Now, I do understand that some photographers simply give all or part of that decision making to the camera and accept what the camera gives them. Okay for them.

But what I want /my/ image to display is my own experience of the subject.

Still looks pretty plastic and fake to me...even before the D&B with only her "cleaning" process.

But then, I've noticed that about every single one of these articles talking about how to achieve "natural" skin with photoshop - it still always looks fake.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

These articles are meant to give you an idea or techniques on how to achieve the said result, but then it's on you to make your images look how you believe them to look natural :) What's shown in the video above may not look natural for you but may for others.

If that looks natural to anyone, they need to get their eyes checked...or step away from the Photoshop for awhile.

I'm not against the techniques. Heck I just used local D&B on a few shots this past weekend to clean skin - its a great tool and I learned from videos just like this. I don't even mind it being used to show how to obtain a result like that in the video. Its a very popular style right now, ESPECIALLY here on FStoppers. If that's what you like - have at it.

But the title doesn't match the result. It doesn't look natural for anything this side of a plastic doll (which granted, is better than a porcelain doll). And note, this isn't just you - this is literally everywhere that discusses how to obtain natural looking skin through post processing techniques.
For once, it'd be great to see one of these articles/videos actually show natural looking skin.

At the end of the day if the client asks for something we deliver right? It doesn't matter what we think. If it is for your own personal folio and you are developing a style, fair enough. However we must be prepared to change what we believe to be right and for our images to meet the needs of others and not impose what we believe to be correct on others. After-all we have to pay the bills! I once had a job to retouch images for a beauty product and my edits were not smooth enough. They kept going back and back till the skin was so plastic and fake looking it made me wince!

Kirk Darling's picture

I've had portrait clients--a big proportion of them--ask me outright, "You're going to Photoshop me, right?"

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

No point. CVS won't tolerate this type of work for it's promotions.

Thanks for sharing <3