The BEST Way to Color Correct Skin

color correct GIF

Color correction can be tricky. Fortunately, Affinity Photo allows you to do precise color correction with ease.

beforebefore

 


 

Step 0: Downloading the Images

For this tutorial, we’ll be using this lovely portrait. We’ll also need some help with finding the right skin tones, so we’ll sample colors this palette.

In addition to this written tutorial, you can also watch our video tutorial on how to color correct skin in Affinity Photo.

 


 

Step 1: Select Neutral Skin

Just by looking at this photo, we can see that it has a blue color cast. We know that we’ll need to remove blue from the photo to color correct it, but how do we know how much blue to remove? And do any other colors need to be removed? Should any colors be added?

Instead of guessing to find the answers to these questions, we’re going to match this woman’s skin tone to a pre-made skin tone pallete.

By using a skin tone pallete, we can make sure the color of the woman’s skin is correct, which will also color correct the rest of the photo at the same time.

If that doesn’t make sense right now, that’s okay. Just stick with me, and it will all be clear in a minute.

The first thing we need to do is a get a sample of the woman’s current skin color. To do this, we’ll make a selection around a neutral part of her skin. By neutral, I mean we’re not going to make a selection of shadows or highlights in her skin, just the regular midtones of the skin.

To do this, get out the Freehand Selection Tool.

Free Hand Selection Tool

 

Make sure your Feathering is set to 0 pixels. Then click and drag to make a selection.

Feathering 0 pixels

 

Then duplicate that skin onto its own layer by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).

Duplicate selection

 

Then deselect by pressing Command D (Mac) or Control D (PC).

Now we have a layer with a small patch of neutral skin. But even this neutral patch has color variation inside of it. We want a single color to represent her skin tone, so we’re going to average all of the colors in this duplicate layer.

Deselect

 

To do this, come to the top of the screen to Filters, then Blurs, and apply an Average Blur.

Filters, Blur, Average

 

By averaging all of the colors on our duplicate layer, we now we have one color to represent the average tone of all her skin.

One color to represent tone

 


 

Step 2: Skin Tone Palette

Next, we need to bring in a skin tone palette, which will give us a variety of color corrected skin tones.

There’s a lot of skin tone palettes on the internet, because there are a lot of skin tones in real life.

Once you’ve downloaded a skin tone palette, come to the top of the screen to File, and then down to Place. Then select the skin tone palette, and click and drag to bring it into Affinity.

File, Place

 

Now comes the trickiest part of the whole process. We need to decide which one of the colors in the skin tone palette best represents what this woman’s skin tone should be.  

This can take a little practice to get right, but after some trial and error, you’ll get better and better at knowing which skin colors to use.  

For this example, I’ve already played around with a few of the skin tones, and I like the way this color looks.

Skin tone palette

 

The next thing we need to do is find the exact color formula for our averaged skin tone, as well as the color formula of the sample color from our skin tone palette. To do this, we’ll use the Info Panel. You can find the Info Panel by coming up to View, down to Studio, and then select Info.

View, Studio, Info

 

The Info Panel allows us to see the exact color formula that’s being used to produce any color in our photo.

Info Panel

 

Right now though, the Info Panel is showing us the RGB value for one color, and the CMYK value of another color. We need both colors to be shown in the same color space, so let’s change the CMYK side to RGB. To do this, just press on this circle, and then select RGB from the pop out menu. Now both sides are using RGB.

RGB for both sides

 

Now, we need to sample the color from the skin tone palette, as well as our averaged skin tone color.

To sample a color, click and drag on the crosshair icon, and place it on top of the color you want to sample. Then do the same with the other crosshair icon.

Drag crosshairs

 

Now we have the exact RGB values that are producing each one of our sampled colors.

As you can see, the color from the skin tone palette has a more red, less green, and a lot less blue.

Different RGB values

 


 

Step 3: Curves Adjustment

Our goal is to match the average skin tone in this photo to the skin tone we selected from the palette.

To match their RGB values, we’re going to use a Curves Adjustment.

You can apply a Curves Adjustment from the Adjustments icon, or you use the shortcut, Command M (Mac) or Control M (PC).

Adjustment icon, curves adjustment

 

Then place the Curves Adjustment layer so it’s beneath the skin tone palette’s layer, but above the average skin tone layer.

Below skin tone palette

 

Then we’re going to change the Curves from Master to the Red Channel.

Red channel

 

We need to increase the reds in our photo, but we also need to make sure we move the right part of our curve. To do this, we’ll use the Picker feature. 

Press on Picker, and then click and drag on the average skin tone we created. As we do so, we’ll move our curve up, adding more red to the exact part of the photo that we need.

Try not to lift up on the mouse until you’ve perfectly matched the red value of each sampled color. If you do accidentally lift up your finger though, that’s not a problem. Just click on the node we created, and then use the arrow keys on your keyboard to nudge it up or down.

Click and drag picker up to match red value

 

Perfect! We’ve now matched the red value for each of our sampled colors. Now we can move on to the Green Channel.

Green Channel

 

Once again, press on Picker, and then click and drag on the average skin tone. This time though, we’ll need to decrease the green in our photo.

Our greens are now perfectly matched, but our photo looks worse than it did when we started! Don’t worry though, because we’re not done yet. We still need to do the Blue Channel.

Drag picker down to match green value

 

Just as before, select the Blue Channel, press on Picker, and then click and drag on the average skin tone to bring the blues down.

Blue channel, drag picker to match

 

Great! Now the RGB values for both our sampled colors match perfectly. Now we can exit out of Curves, and turn off the skin tone palette layer, so we can see how the Curves Adjustment is affecting the photo.  

And if you’d like to get rid of the cross hair icons, just press on the arrows in the Info Panel. Then you can exit the Info Panel.

Click arrows to remove crosshairs

 

Now we can turn the Curves Adjustment off and on to see the color correction we’ve done. As you can see, this has made a huge improvement in our photo!

before curvesafter curves

 

But don’t feel like you have to stop here. All we’ve done is match the RGB value of a skin tone palette with the average skin tone in our original photo. There’s no rule saying this is the “perfect color correction”. Using the skin tone palette is simply meant to give you a good starting point.

Feel free to continue modifying your Curves Adjustment to improve the photo even more.

For example, I think I’ll double click on the Curves Adjustment to bring it back up, and then increase the Master curve to brighten the photo a little bit.

bring master up to brighten

 

I’d say this photo has now been successfully color corrected!

beforeafter

 


 

Extra Practice

I know this technique might seem a little tricky right now, but really, it’s easy to do once you get the hang of it. Let’s quickly do one more example together, so you can review how this technique works.

For this next example, we’ll be using the second photo on this page. If you’d like, you can try color correcting the image all on your own. 🙂

Or if you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed, just keep reading, and I’ll walk you through the process.

example 2

 

First, we need to sample a neutral part of her skin, using the Freehand Selection Tool.

Free Hand Selection

 

Then duplicate the selection onto its own layer by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC). Then press Command D (Mac) or Control D (PC) to deselect.

Duplicate selection

 

Now we’ll average the skin tones in our duplicate layer by applying an Average Blur.

Filter, Blur, Average

 

Then we’ll bring in our skin tone palette. 

Choose the skin tone sample that you think best matches the woman’s actual skin color. I’m going to use the 5th sample from the bottom, on the far left side.

Skin tone palette

 

Now we’ll bring out the Info Panel, so we can get the RGB values of the skin tone palette and our averaged skin color.

View, Studio, Info

 

Remember to set both sides of the Info Panel to RGB.

RGB both sides

 

Then, place the crosshairs on each of the colors we want to sample.

Drag crosshairs

 

Now make a Curves Adjustment layer, and place it underneath the skin tone palette layer.

Curves adjustment, below skin tone palette

 

Now we’ll come to the Red Channel, and use the Picker to match the red value of each sampled color.

Red channel, picker drag

 

Then we can move on to the Green Channel.

Green channel, picker drag

 

Then the Blue Channel.

Blue channel, picker drag

 

Now we can turn everything off, to see how our photo is looking.

before curvesafter curves

 

Once again, I think I’m going to brighten the picture a little bit.

master brighten

 

As you can see, this technique works incredibly well, even for photos that need serious color correction.

beforeafter

 

As a final tip for you, you may encounter times when you need to crush the Curve’s spline in order to match the RGB values in the Info Panel. My recommendation is to never do this. It can often make the coloring in your photo worse. 

crushed spline

 

Instead, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to nudge the node up until the spline is just barely above the bottom.

Matching RGB values isn’t worth crushing the spline.

arrows up on spline

 

This technique can work on any of your images, so go ahead, and try it out yourself! 

nice work GIF