Monday, April 19, 2010

Skintone Tutorial + Color Cast Removal

Yes, the dreaded skintone subject. The bane of my existence for oh so long. Today I'm going to broach it. I'm going to attack it, scramble it's brains and leave it eating my dust. If you're struggling with skintones hopefully this tutorial will help.

I've learned the hard way that most of the time it isn't enough to set custom wb on your camera or use a grey card and to the exposure just right for beautiful skintones. Of course those things are quite important and I recommend you learn those first, but sometimes you've got color casts and you just gotta go in and fix them yourself.

So lets begin!


We'll start off with this lovely SOOC image of Kate & Kara. These girls are super cute. They were however, holding the yellowest flowers known to mankind. Their super adorable bright pink polka dotted dresses also wreaked havoc on their skin by causing magenta color casts.

To the untrained eye there isn't a thing wrong with the color in this image. But if you zoom in...

Notice that her chin looks kinda pink and her nose is definitely picking up some yellow from that flower. Her overall color also has a tinge of blue. We don't want that. Zombie kids generally look kinda scary.

So we're going to fix it.

First I like to start with an overall color correction. This will adjust the majority of the skintones. So I'm going to add an adjustment layer. If you're working with elements, I apologize because I don't know if you can do this or not. You might have to duplicate the layer, do your curves adjustment and then adjust your opacity.

I'm going to pull down on my blue channel in my curves adjustment layer. And if it's a bit much, I'll either adjust it or adjust the opacity of that layer.

Looking better already. I think these two are a tad underexposed, so I'm going to do another curves adjustment layer but I'm not going to actually adjust my curves. I'm going to set my blending mode to screen and adjust the opacity of it. I can then mask out any areas that get too bright like their hair and the flower on her headband.

A quick glance at their arms tells me I'm in the right direction.

To get decent (and realistic) skintones you probably should check your numbers. To do that, select your eyedropper tool and your info palette should display numbers when you hover above an area of your image. Here are some numbers that you can use that will tell you roughly where your numbers need to be.

African American: (RGB) 128, 58, 45/ (CMYK) 32, 81, 81, 34
Asian: (RGB) 199, 151, 120/ (CMYK) 15, 44, 55, 1
Caucasian: (RGB) 227, 176, 149/ (CMYK) 10, 33, 40, 0

Remember, these are just an ideal. Your colors should be somewhere around these numbers. After some time, you should start to develop an eye for this and you wont need to check your numbers as often. I still do if something doesn't look quite right in an image. Just remember that everything is opposite. If your image is too yellow, you'll add blue. Too blue, add yellow by taking out blue. Too magenta? Take out green. Too green? Add magenta by taking out green. Skintones looking just a bit grey and drab? Add just a teensy hint of red. Too vivid? Take some red out.

So. Our basic skin is fixed, but we still have color casts to get rid of. Lets dig in.

Though there are many techniques for this, my favorite way of getting rid of color casts is to recolor. It gives me the most control and I'm kind of a control freak when it comes to my pictures! I always always do this on a separate layer because it's very difficult to get it just right.

You'll need to select your brush tool and then change the blending mode of your brush to "color".

Your flow to 1%

And your opacity to 50% Note that this is one of the rare times I adjust the opacity of my brush. :P

Now we're going to attack her chin to remove some of that magenta. Since I want something that's the same light value as the area I'm going to be coloring, I click on my color to bring up my color picker and then use my eyedropper tool to click the color cast area. And I know that the opposite of magenta is green, so I'm going to slide the little slider up until I have a greenish color. You'll develop an eye for picking the ride shade as well. Just think opposite!

Next I go over it lightly with my funky green color. Don't be afraid to experiment with your shades.

Looks better already, doesn't it?

I'm going to do the same thing, but with a blue color on her nose, tip of her chin, etc to get rid of the yellow I'm seeing.

And since we mixed yellow and blue, a few areas got a tiny bit green, so I'll choose a magenta and go over those areas as well.

I do the same for Miss Katelynn who is OOF I might add, and the reason this photo got rejected. It's great for teaching color cast removal though! She has the flowers closer to her face and really got a dose of yellow.


Then, I'll do another bleaching layer to brighten a few spots by creating another soft bleach layer using my curves adjustment layer, inverting the layer mask and exposing the areas I want to brighten - basically any areas that sort of look grey.

Last, but not least I'll run my luminous facial scrub action from my photographers toolkit which is basically a copy of your red channel set to luminosity blending mode to smooth out their skin. Which might just be my next tutorial. ;)

Note that I would also probably have completed most of my normal editing which I covered in my last tutorial.

Here is a before and after!


  1. Incredible difference. You are so sweet to share... the girls are just too adorable!

  2. Awesome tutorial!! I know that took a lot of time to do, but it will help so many others. I am starting a photography resource blog of sorts and I'm adding this tutorial there so hopefully others come by to see it too.

  3. Wow, this is great, thank you. I've got my CS5 coming in the mail (only have PSE8 right now), so hopefully I'll get to try it soon.

  4. I just spent like 2 hours trying to remove a color cast on skin to no avail. Then I remembered a friend recommended this tutorial to me. Worked great!! Thanks so much!

  5. you are THE BEST!!!! thank you SOOO much for your time doing this, you are greatly appreciated! Your work is lovely!

  6. Hi there! I would like to ask if running an action removes color cast? I am beginning to doubt about my shots