I’ve seen a few video tutorials about getting good skintones in Photoshop. Some were illuminating, some even inspiring — but all were more involved than they needed to be: using numeric templates or eyedropper-tool tricks in concert with the info panel and a calculator, etc.
Time for an easy select-click-done tool: SkinToner
May 2022 Update: The new publication of the Monk Skin Tone (MST) Scale is a big step forward in rendering great skin tones for everyone. The illustration of the scale above, along with HSL hue values, show that unlike the common Photoshop folklore, skin hues are _not_ always uniform in hue, not even linearly changing from light to dark.
Tones can become further complicated when multiple people appear in the frame. The SkinToner tool offered here is thus crude in two respects: it only offers a single adjustment per image, and it may apply that (potentially close but imperfect) adjustment to all faces in the frame. The good news is: SkinToner creates adjustable layers so if you chose to ask or alter them, it's still easy and fast.
SkinToner works in any recent version of Photoshop, and should be able to present you with great-looking neutral skin tones for photos of anyone regardless of their complexion or ethnicity.
Like ChartThrob, SkinToner is a Photoshop script rather than an Action or PlugIn — you trigger it from the Photoshop “File->Scripts” menu. If you already know how to install Photoshop scripts, you can skip down to Usage
If you just download SkinToner.jsx (right-click on the link and choose “Save Link As…”) to any old place on your hard drive, you can find it from within Photoshop by using Photoshop’s “File->Script->Browse…“ menu item.
An easier and faster way to use it is to copy the
SkinToner.jsx file specifically to the
Presets/Scripts folder within your particular flavor of Photoshop. For my Mac circa January 2019 that’s in
/Applications/Adobe Photoshop CC 2019/Presets/Scripts/ — put the script there, restart Photoshop, and then SkinToner will just appear directly as part of your Photoshop “File->Scripts” menu, as part of Photoshop itself. It’s faster to use and can even be incorporated into keyboard shortcut actions.
Load any RGB picture, select a sample area of the existing skintone pixels, and run the SkinToner script.
The script will add a Curves adjustment layer named “SkinToner” to your Photoshop document. That new layer will map the color found in your sample selection to a more-convincing skin tone.
Because the curves layer is… well, a layer, it comes with a layer mask. The Curves adjustment created by SkinToner, by default, affects the entire image. If you want it to only affect a limited region, Just invert the mask (that is, make the mask black) and then paint-in (using white on the mask) the areas of skin you’d like corrected.
Sharing the correction between documents is also easy — you can copy and paste the adjustments layer freely to get one good skin tone for an entire photo shoot.
What Might Go Wrong
Occasionally photos won’t work with SkinToner, but it can catch many common cases before they occur. The script will present you an alert warning of common error cases like these:
- SkinToner only works on RGB-mode pictures.
- It needs you to select some area(s) of skintone for sampling before you run the script.
- It wants to look directly at pixels, so be sure a picture layer is selected, not a layer group or similar editing tool.
It’s also possible that SkinToner can deliver odd results in a few special circumstances:
- Exposure: If the image selection is over-exposed or under-exposed, the correction can end up “pinned” – some channels will get forced to 100% or 0% in parts of the picture. Sometimes this can be fixed by using a layer mask, but sometimes… sorry, sometimes there’s just not a good color in there to start from.
- Saturation: Likewise, if the photo is strongly de-saturated, the resulting color shifts can be too strong. SkinToner likes simple, middle-of-the-color-range photos as source material. It can’t do anything with a black and white photo.
- Selected Areas: Be careful to select areas of smooth consistent skin color, avoiding shiny highlights and makeup. Those highlights are not skin color, and they will pollute the color correction! In the sample above, I selected an area around the neck and clavicle, rather than the face, to get a highlight-free tone.
- Mixed-Color Lighting: There are lots of great photos where the skin color varies from multi-colored lighting from different sides of the subject. An example might be a portrait of someone lit by a warm interior lamp while standing near a cool-toned window. SkinToner will do its best, but if you correct an image to be, say, more green on one side of the face, it will be more green on the other side, too. One option in these cases, if you want to get more uniform skin tones everywhere, is to just run SkinToner multiple times: run it once with, say, one part of the face selected, then hide (and potentially rename) the SkinToner layer, reselect your picture layer, select another part of the face (lit by an opposing light), and run SkinToner again. The script will add another curves layer. Repeat as you like. By mixing these curve layers together via layer masks, you can quickly rebalance the photo any way you’d like.
SkinToner is part of this github repository. I always appreciate feeback and pull requests for improvement!