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7 tips for natural-looking beauty retouching

Kayleigh June is a beauty and fashion photographer who regularly shares retouching and photography tutorials on her YouTube channel. She joins us here on Spotlight to share her top tips for preserving the character and details in beauty shots using the non-destructive retouching tools in Affinity Photo.

If there’s a main difficulty to be said about beauty retouching, it’s that it can be very hard to make it look natural at times.

In this day and age, it’s important to realise that less is more when it comes to beauty editing and that the days of overly smoothed and blurred skin, enlarged eyes and reshaped features are long gone.

There has been a shift in retouching trends for the better, with many more improved retouching techniques and methods to focus on.

In this post, we’ll go through seven tips on how to achieve natural-looking beauty retouching. These tips are listed in conjunction with ensuring that detail on the skin is preserved, and the retouching overall is non-destructive to the image.

Let’s get into it!

1. Use Dodge and Burn—but don’t zoom in too far!

Dodge and burn is a skin retouching technique that has been around for many years. It is a versatile and detail-oriented technique used with the aim of not destroying or altering skin texture.

There are several ways to set this process up in Affinity Photo, but in general, it involves using light and dark to fill in any skin unevenness, blemishes, lines or other unwanted elements. Personally, I like using the method of creating two Curves Adjustment Layers in Affinity Photo, making one brighter and one darker, then using a paintbrush at a 1% flow to paint onto the image.

The only issue with Dodge and Burn is that it’s very easy to go ‘too far’ with your retouching and spend potentially too long on a single image.

This is why this first tip focuses on not zooming in too close to do your Dodge and Burn skin retouching.

It can force you to focus on tiny details which would otherwise not be seen on the image when viewed generally or from afar. In turn, the skin can end up looking overly smooth and waxy. When you want a natural effect overall, you don’t want to be retouching out every small detail on the skin. I would only ever zoom very close in if I were working on a more macro style image, or if it was specifically needed for client work.

So, by all means, use this technique, but refrain from zooming in too far when you’re applying it. This is so you can achieve a natural effect on the image as a whole.

2. Keep retouching on the eyes/iris’ to a minimum

It’s important to be light-handed when retouching the iris (coloured section of the eyes) or sclera (the white part of the eyes).

If you’re too heavy-handed and lighten these areas too much or saturate them too much with colour, it can look unrealistic and doll-like.

I feel this is an important tip as it was something I was drawn to doing when I first started out!

You should definitely have the option to lighten these areas, maybe even adding a bit of saturation to bring out the iris colour more, but keep it minimal.

3. Don’t change too many shadows and highlights within the image

Sometimes when retouching, it can be tempting to smooth out or remove every little shadow or highlight from the image or skin tone—especially if some shadows/highlights seem unflattering or mildly distracting.

However, in my experience, this can give a very plastic and strange appearance to the skin tone, almost two-dimensional. I would always recommend you perfect the shadows and highlights in-camera before the editing process begins, if possible.

4. Be very light-handed around the under-eye area

Once again, this area was something that I was very tempted to retouch out altogether when I was a beginner. However, this is potentially one of the most important things to refrain from doing if you want to achieve a natural beauty retouch, as it can really remove the “character” from someone’s face.

My main tip would be to lighten the area slightly and use the healing tools to carefully remove any unwanted fine lines or makeup creases, but I wouldn’t go much further than that.

5. Use the Clone Brush Tool to soften skin tone texture

A little trick I like to use when the skin tone appears rough or overly textured is to use the Clone Brush Tool at a low opacity and flow of around 30% each, combined with a soft brush. Then I would select parts of the skin tone and apply the Clone Stamp over the rougher areas of the skin.

Repeatedly applying this technique to these areas can help soften the appearance of roughness whilst still keeping a natural textured look and not applying destructive methods to the image.

6. Keep skin colour correction in mind—especially when colour grading

It’s really important not to forget skin colour correction when beauty retouching. Ensuring the skin retains a natural colour appearance is one of the key points to achieving a professional whilst still natural-looking image.

I usually like to alter this in Affinity Photo using the Selective Colour function using an adjustment layer and masking the layer to only apply it to the areas I need.

7. Don’t remove all freckles and moles

When most of the freckles and moles are removed from a model’s face, it starts to detract from a natural effect, and it begins to remove parts of a person’s character.

I personally never feel the need to remove freckles and moles as I feel they are an important aspect of having a natural-looking portrait. They are also, of course, a naturally occurring permanent element—as a rule of thumb, I try to stay away from removing anything that would be considered permanent on a model’s face.

I hope these seven tips on how to achieve a natural beauty retouch have helped you today. Once again, keep in mind that less is more!

After all, a natural retouch should ideally equal minimal retouching. Thanks for reading! :)

About the photographer

Kayleigh June is a beauty and fashion photographer based between Sydney and Melbourne who discovered her love of photography at the young age of 15.

Over the years, Kayleigh has developed a style to reflect her interest in the latest makeup and fashion trends, using vivid tones and distinct lighting to differentiate her work.

She has also taken on the role of educator, creating a YouTube channel to share her knowledge of retouching and photography that has amassed over 85,000 subscribers. Check it out for more handy tips and tricks!

To view Kayleigh’s work, visit her website and Instagram account @kayleigh_june.