by Oleg Ti

Without doubts the time spent on retouching is practically a synonym for quality of this retouching. Any retoucher will tell you that only a careful hand working, inch by inch, is a guarantee of good results, while the automation of the process would not lead to the expected results and would be capable to satisfy only taste of unpretentious amateur .

The time is a resource we always miss and understanding necessity to spend a lot of time retouching our pictures sometimes we need a quick result.

I will give you a decision, which I started to use a few years ago and successfully have been doing this time. On the one hand – this is the solution for a quick retouch when there is no time, on the other – a tool to make the filigree “polishing” of the final result.

But let’s start doing it step by step.

Here you can download my action Blur + Grain (save it pressing Downloas Linked File As…), which you can install in Photoshop on your computer. Find Action Window and Load this action. I think it would be better to install in the beginning to fully understand the solutions presented to you.

All settings that are given in this action are set specifically for my tastes, my camera, my computer, my aesthetics. Therefore understanding all steps of this process, you will be able to make fine tuning of this action by yourself, making changes in certain settings.




At first flatten all you layers to get just one resulting layer. And change the mode to 8 Bit/channel. However If not the action do it itself.

Without doubts we can not do very well without pre-retouching. Going through the skin with healing brush tool is necessary in any case. And if in the quality retouching this stage is the main taking a lot of time, here I am confining myself only to remove gross defects and artifacts. Let me remind you that sometimes the retouchers spent dozens of hours working just on one picture. In the initial conditions we don’t even have dozens of minutes so at this stage I can afford to spend just 2-3 minutes. Believe me, It is enough to me to clean the rough skin defect in any photo. Remove the main skin roughness, wrinkles, pimples, moles, artifacts, and proceed to the next step.



This is just one of the first steps for us and don’t look at the condition of the skin. We’ve got a very smooth “plastic” skin having no any kind of texture. The settings of this stage should be chosen such that the skin would be well blurred,  but it would not make the skin flat and not allow the blur to go much through the border of the skin. For the 30 megapixel portrait the value of gaussian blur should be at the level of 30-40 pixels but for a full body picture you have to stay at the level of 15-20 pixels. So lets make a copy of the layer and make Gaussian Blur with necessary amount of pixels in settings.



Now you need to add grain. The purpose of this step is to add grain over the blurred layer which would resemble the skin. You need to choose you own settings of grain for you style of photos but I usually select Contrasty type of Grain with “intensity” level at 50% and “Contrast” level at 40%. In my opinion it is most closely matches the task.

In order to get ability to change this setting later I do it this way. I make a new layer with the filling of 50% gray and change the blending mode of this layer to “Overlay”, which in not visible in this regime. When I use Grain on this layer I get the same effect but now I can change the opacity of this layer that means that I can change the efficiency and visibility of this effect. Do not forget to make Desaturation of the layer and use Create Clipping Mask to get this effect working just with our Blurred Layer and nothing else.



We need the influence of this effect not for the whole picture but only for parts of it, so the new step is to create mask of Blurred Layer. And fill this mask with black color.

So it becomes invisible.

Now we can mark visible parts of Blurred layer with painting by white brush on the mask of this layer. And do it with skin areas whose we would like to improve.

At first I do it with 100% white brush. We understand that there may be the areas that need not the whole effect (for examples the areas of the skin that lay out of field of depth) and it is important to demonstrate the accuracy in that case and gently walking on them with 20% brush changing the color of brush getting increasing or decreasing of effect. And the same we will do later with Grain layer to eliminate grain visibility on that areas. At this stage I work just for 1 minute. It is sufficient for this procedure.



You see what result we got. Even in such view the picture has very artificial style and seems rather the picture from computer game than a real photo. Of course in such a view we cannot show it to our client.

So we do the next step. We have to change the opacity of Blurred layer to get it seeming like the texture of the skin, without giving it artificiality but only softening skin, putting the texture and removing the most visible defects. I usually put the opacity of this layer at 40% level, a smaller value will make it just invisible, a bigger will show us  its artificiality.



Here we have to find the necessary level of Grain level and I make three “substeps” here:

– The total amount of the influence of noise. Each photo has a different degree of contrasty and the saturation of colors so it can gives the grain much visibility. But you can choose less level of opacity of this layer removing the efficiency of grain. But you should remember that the very low label will mean the turning the skin into plastic surface that make the skin very artificial. I can vary this level but usually use 70% opacity.

– Remove or reduce the grain in areas that fall from the depth of field. To do this is to add a mask to this layer. Neck, shoulders of model, sides of the face – go over it with a soft black 20% brush to remove unnecessary amount of the grain in that areas. It does not in any way necessary to remove the noise completely not to make this areas very artificial and blurred that would be very noticeable against other part of the picture.

– Correction of the influence of the grain in the dark areas. It could be more visible in that areas so just do the same you did with black 20% brush in areas going out of the field of depth.

It takes just 1 minute for the stage.



So we’ve got about 5 minutes to obtain the result (and a few hours to write and prepare this articles :-). Believe me, I spent exactly this amount of time working on this example. Very often the customer does not make great demands for retouching, not all photos will be printed by one to one meter size. This action will handle the retouching of portrait photos in just minutes.

If you want you can repeat this action for some areas of the picture that as you see need it again

Try it! Good Luck!