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How to Fix Shiny Faces in Person and in Photoshop

Specular highlights on the face of a subject will be something every photographer encounters. So, you may as well know a few ways to deal with it.

If you've taken a portrait, you've seen shiny skin. It's a natural part of human anatomy prevalent in all ages, genders, and races, but it can be annoying. The way people have been dealing with it predating the camera is makeup, which is indeed effective, but not everyone wears it, not everyone wants it, and the highlights can still penetrate.

During more focused and honed editorial shoots, I rarely run into this problem; the makeup artist will be more conscious of it than I possibly could be. However, with corporate headshots, you'll run into it every few minutes. My go-to fix is to use the largest, double-diffused softbox I own so the light isn't too intensive. If the problem persists — and particularly if the subject flags it up — I will fix in post with various action sets. David Bergman's feathered patch tool is a useful technique which will work in many situations, though in certain situations it can make a bit of a mess.

How do you handle shine and specular highlights on skin? Share your method in the comment section below.

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Dave F's picture

First, a technicality but one that is so often perpetuated in photography “education”… it’s not “hard light” that’s causing this, it’s specular light. The “double diffusion” in the soft box is exactly that… it’s not “softening” the light, as he says, it’s diffusing it. “Soft light” has become such a marketing term that nobody seems to understand what it means anymore.

Second, the “gradation” as he says (which IS soft vs. hard light), isn’t reducing the hot spots.

Third, I wish everybody would stop saying to feather modifiers because it’s “brighter” in the center. Hello, you’re in complete control of “brightness” with both the camera settings and the strobe’s power. Being brighter in the center means absolutely nothing. If it’s too bright, you turn it down. Now, hot spots CAN be more specular, because the light is coming through less diffused than it is on the sides. That’s why feathering works. Also, feathering does not make light “softer”. If anything, it makes it slightly harder, because you’re reducing the size of your modifier in relation to your subject. And if you're THAT CONCERNED with how much "brighter" it is in the center of a softbox... use an indirect modifier with a white interior. The light output is usually much more even.

Regardless, the makeup made the biggest difference in his example.

An alternative to using the patch tool, so you don’t mess with texture as well, is to create a solid color adjustment layer, use the color picker to select the hot spot, change the blend mode to multiply, create a black layer mask, and use a low flow to brush in the color. Typically works great for hot spots.


Jan Holler's picture

Fully agree. You could easily reproduce shiny foreheads or noses with a huge softbox. This has nothing to do with soft or hard light but anything with the surface of the object. (Use make up powder as they use in the television studios or in professional photo studios.)
And to fix it later in an image editor is just not professional. If you got glossy spots of this size you failed before.
(I am annoyed of the waste of time with all this videos of such "pros").

William Faucher's picture

I agree you could easily reproduce shiny foreheads with a giant softbox. You are both correct, soft or hard light won't change the specular highlights. HOWEVER, it would have been beneficial to remove the lighting from the equation, and compare more evenly. The comparison in the video thumnail shows hard light in the shiny forehead photo, and a nice big soft light in the matte photo.

If you're doing to do a comparison, do it right. Factor out any inconsistencies, and prove your point. Don't try to exaggerate the comparison to bias the conclusion in your favor. In this case, use the same lighting for both examples. Not one hard, one soft.

Jan Holler's picture

"Hard" light throws shadows which are darker and more defined than "soft" light. That's it. Anything else, e.g. if you got an overexposed forehead is about the amount of light reflecting from it and not about the size of the light source. On the contrary, the bigger the light source on convex surfaces the bigger the spot which is reflected.

William Faucher's picture

Yes, I am aware of how light works. I'm simply saying if you're going to compare things, compare them in the same lighting conditions.

Jan Holler's picture

Are you addressing your statement to me or to the protagonist in the video? I do not really understand your point if you are addressing me.

William Faucher's picture

I was originally referring to the guy in the video. Not you personally. I was agreeing with your original statement. As for my second comment I replied because you replied to me. I bear you no ill will sir! Just a misunderstanding it would seem :)

Ivan Lantsov's picture

if make up person notice mor than you you not pay atenshun!

Teresa Oldenbourg's picture

Not everyone dislikes the shine

Stuart Carver's picture

This is true, i dont shoot people but ive been dabbling in a bit of still life, experimenting with directional light and an apple i had some of that shine on the fruit and decided i actually liked it, so rather than try to remove it i let it stay.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I learnt a long time back that excessive shine is best solved the point of shooting, with simple makeup techniques.

I'm no makeup specialist but it is relatively easy to have a kit which can solve most issues.

I use MAC makeup and carry a few powders - different ones for different skin types, plus 3 types of simple primers which make a big difference. Along with a few standard brushes, I've got a wonderful vibrating brush that applies makeup very smoothly.

In case anyone is interested, here's my standard kit: (all MAC with exception of one primer)

4x Blot Pressed Powders... Light, Medium, Medium Dark, Dark
Studio Fix Pressed Powders... NW20, NW25, NW30, NW35,NW40,NW45, NC35, NC40, NC44.5, N5
MAC Prep & Prime Primer (use before any powder)
MAC Matte Primer (never used with powders)
Clarins SOS Green Primer (to reduce redness)
Disposable foam applicators for primers
MAC 129S Brush(s)
Magnitone Brush (vibrating and wonderful)
Micellar Water (wipe face to rid of grease before makeup)
Cotton pads - quality, don't skimp
Brush Cleanser - choose your favourite but don't skimp
Nivea face moisturiser

Blot powders work best on darker or non-caucasian skins as different skin types shine for different reasons. They can of course be combined with other powders.

The MAC Matte primer is used on its own, and is the perfect solution for taking shine off quite dark skin where getting a makeup match is tricky.

The MAC Prep & Prime primer is amazing at getting a matte base before applying powders. makes a big difference.

The Clarins SOS Green is fantastic at reducing localised redness. Goes on green but rub it in, wait a minute and apply the MAC Prep & Prime before powders. Works a charm.

ALWAYS use the micellar water before anything. No point in makeup over greasy or sweaty skin...!

I now use the above on my headshot shoots and for a TV broadcast studio series where I add makeup to my DoP credits.

Women will often come with makeup on of course, but the above can still help reduce shine from inherently shine type makeups or trouble spots - just match carefully and a light touch. :)

In Covid times I have an enhanced cleansing and sanitising regime of course, with Isopropyl 70% sprays for the powders and brushes, along with a special spinning brush cleanser system with soap and extra cleansing, isolation of brushes and powders.

Sometimes our photographic solutions aren't always solved with photographic techniques.

Paul Trantow's picture

Fix it on set! Bring a tiny powder kit, 2 shades, one brush. Everyone gets powder (when it's not a pandemic) and this problem goes away. Takes 10 seconds. Photoshop takes several minutes. Source: 20-year pro with thousands of headshots made.

PS—I find polarizers do weird things to skin tones.