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noticed this skin-softening technique in Scott Kelby's Photoshop CS Book for Digital Photographers. It's fundamentally the same, but here I've added a twist. Duplicate the original image twice, blur both layers, set one's blending mode to Lighten and the other's to Darken, and then use masks to show or hide the softening effect. Sounds easy? Let's dive straight in.

1 In the Layers palette, make two duplicates of the original image Drag the background layer onto the "Create a new layer" icon, or just use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd and J

2 Double-click the middle layer, rename it Darken, and set its blend mode to Darken too The shortcut is Alt/Opt Shift K

3 Be sure that the Darken layer is still active and apply some Gaussian Blur with Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur

Use quite a high amount-4.0 or 50

4 Reduce the Darken layer's opacity to 30-50%

5 Double-click the top layer, rename it Lighten, and set its blend mode to Lighten The shortcut is Alt/Opt-Shift-G

6 Select the Lighten layer and apply some Gaussian blur Use a higher amount than was used for the Darken layer—60 to 80 is fine

7 In the Layers palette, click the "Create a new group" icon This is going to contain our Lighten and Darken layers At this point Scott Kelby merges the two layers instead of placing them in a group—

although it makes little difference, I prefer the layer group's flexibility and trade it off against increased file sizes

8 Select the Darken layer and drag it on to the layer group, then do the same with the Lighten layer, making sure the Lighten layer is on top

9 Reduce the layer group's opacity to around 40-50% Because the set's blending mode is Pass Through, this adjusts the combined opacity of the Darken and Lighten layers

10 While the softening effect is now completed, there is another important step that is often needed Usually, you only want to soften parts of the image—dry skin or wrinkles beneath the eyes, for instance-but leave the eyes and other details sharp So, now add a mask to the layer group The quickest way is to make sure that the group is selected and then click the "Add layer mask" icon at the bottom of the layer palette

11 Now paint the layer group mask with black to make the important details show through, and with white to apply the softening effect

Light hands

The layer group saves the effort of masking both the Darken and Lighten layers If you are using an older version of Photoshop that doesn't have the Layer Group or earlier Layer Set feature, or if you want to produce a smaller file, hide the background layer, create a new transparent layer, and select Merge Visible from the Layers palette to merge the Darken and Lighten layers Then mask it as shown with the group

The hands and the coat are very different in tone, so I used Select > Color Range because it was faster to select the hands than using tools like the Magic Wand or Magic Lasso I then filled the selection with white, so that the skin is softened while the button, belt, and coat fabric are unaffected

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