Photos of three different people with different skin tones.

PHOTOSHOP FEATURES

How to adjust skin tones in Adobe Photoshop.

Fix color casts and match skin tone color across photos.

Do right by your subjects.

Whether you’re doing a fashion shoot, taking candid photos, or capturing people on the street, you may get back to your computer and find that the skin tones are a little off from how they looked in real life. Easily adjust skin tones with some quick color enhancements in Photoshop, and show people in the best light. 

Before and after photos of a person, side by side. The person's skin tone is different in each of the two photos.

What is a color cast?

Color casts or color contamination can happen when colored light bouncing off of other objects distorts the color of your subject’s face. Yellow or blue casts can also happen based on the type of lighting used to create your photo.

Eyedropper tool being used on a photo of a person.

Correct white balance.

To see if your image has a color cast, find an area that should be neutral like a white or gray wall, and see if it actually looks neutral in your image. If it doesn’t, making manual adjustments to white balance will not only fix this but it will also help correct all of the colors in a photo, including the skin tones. 

Color Balance slider superimposed on before and after photos of a person. The person's skin tone is different in each of the two photos.

Undo color contamination.

If you still notice some color contamination you want to counteract, even after fixing your white balance, use the Color Balance sliders. Choose Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Color Balance. Adjust the sliders to balance the hues in your photo.

How to correct skin color to look more natural.

First adjust red and yellow colors. All skin contains some red and yellow tones, regardless of the subject. Next, for some darker skin tones, you may also need to adjust the blue tones.

You can apply edits to the whole image, but if your image contains colored elements in the background that you don’t want altered, create a layer mask over the person in your image. The Select Subject tool is a quick way to select just the subject so you can make selective color adjustments to those pixels only. 


1. Create a Selective Color adjustment layer.

With your image open in Photoshop, select Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Selective Color in the top menu.


2. Open the Selective Color panel.

Double-click the selective color layer thumbnail in the Layers panel to open the Selective Color panel. 


3. Experiment with adjustments.

Select the Red, Yellow, or Blue color channels in the drop-down menu in the Selective Color panel, and then adjust one or more of the four sliders.

 

  • Cyan: The opposite of cyan is red. Move the slider to the right to increase cyan and to the left to increase red.
  • Magenta: The opposite of magenta is green. Move the slider to the right to increase magenta and left to increase green.
  • Yellow: The opposite of yellow is blue. Slide right for more yellow, left for more blue.
  • Black: Moving this slider doesn’t have much effect on skin tones.

Play with subtle slider movements until you see the skin tones you want in your image. 


Correct skin tones and other colors with the Camera Raw Filter.

Another great feature to use for tonal adjustments is the Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop. To open this workspace, go to Filter › Camera Raw Filter. 

Exposure slider superimposed on before and after photos of a person. The before photo is darker than the after photo.

Make basic adjustments.

Under the Camera Raw Filter drop-down labeled Basic, use the sliders to tweak things like white balance, exposure, shadows, and color saturation. These edits will affect your entire image, including skin tones.

Color Mixer drop-down superimposed on a photo of a person.

Adjust the hue and intensity of skin tones.

Open the Color Mixer drop-down to change the hue, saturation, and luminance of individual colors. To target the colors in a skin tone, choose the Targeted Adjustment tool to the right of the drop-down and click and drag directly on the face of your subject.

How to match skin tones across photos.

Replicating a skin tone across multiple photos is a little more advanced, but if you take it one step at a time, you can get an exact skin tone match. Follow the steps below or watch this video tutorial from Photoshop expert Jesus Ramirez.

With the Move tool, drag the image you want to sample (let’s call it “the sample image”) onto the tab of the image you want to edit (your “project image”). Place the sample image where you can see the skin tones in both images.

Select the Eyedropper and adjust the sample size in the top menu to 5 by 5 Average so you’re sampling more than a single pixel. In the sample image, sample the skin tone in an area that’s not too highlighted or too shadowed. 

Create a new layer. Enlarge the Brush size and set the Hardness to 100, and just paint a swatch with your sampled color near the edge of the project image canvas.

With the Brush tool still selected, you can hold down Alt on Windows or Option on Mac to enable the Eyedropper tool. Take your midtone sample from the subject’s skin in the project image, release the Alt or Option key, and paint a swatch next to the swatch from the sample image. 

In the project image, use the Lasso tool and draw a circle around the face to create a layer mask. This will help you see how your edits will affect the skin tone without your adjustments affecting the original colors in the layer below.

With the layer mask selected, create a Curves adjustment layer by clicking Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Curves.

Find the Color Sampler nested under the Eyedropper tool. Click it on the sample image’s color swatch and then on the project image’s color swatch. In the Info panel you’ll see all of the RGB color information for each sample. (Select Window › Info if you don’t see it.)

Enable the On-image adjustment tool in the Curves panel. (It’s the pointing finger at the top left.) Hold Ctrl+Shift on Windows or Command+Shift on Mac and click the project image’s skin tone swatch. Nothing will happen on the RGB graph in the Curves panel, but when you open each individual channel in the drop-down menu, you’ll see a new point somewhere in the middle of the graph. 

With that point selected in the Red channel, match the Output value to the value in the info box for the sample skin tone. Press Enter or Return, and do the same with the Green and Blue channels. The skin tones in the layer mask should now look much more like the ones in the sample image. You can add a slight S curve to the RGB graph to increase contrast.

You can delete the layers with the sample swatches and the sample image. Then select the layer mask and fill with black. If black is set as your background color, just select Ctrl+Backspace on Windows or Command+Delete on Mac. Then select your Brush tool and reduce the Hardness to zero. Now you can paint on the effect with white to make the sample skin tone show up exactly where you want it on your image.

Learn more about color and light with Photoshop tutorials.

Take your skills to the next level with expert advice on how to play with color and light.

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Explore color correction.

Learn how to use the Hue/Saturation adjustment tools to get a more accurate color temperature in your photo or create a specific mood.

 

Change colors

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Add color to a black-and-white photo.

Use the Colorize tool to automatically add color to a photo. Then fine-tune your adjustments with sliders.

 

Colorize a photo

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Learn how to light a portrait.

Get the light just right during your photoshoot so you can spend less time photo editing.

 

Explore portrait lighting

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Take contrast to the extreme.

Take high-contrast photos that balance bright light and deep shadows.

 

Try high-contrast photography

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