Editing skin tone in Photoshop Elements can correct unsightly color issues in your photos. This tried & true method for correcting skin tones gives you objective measurements to help you know you’ve done it right. And while the technique isn’t new, I updated this tutorial in 2016 to reflect the newest best practices for your edits!

The most important tool Elements gives us to correct skintones is the Info panel, which lets us view color measurements.  To view your Info panel, go to the Window Menu and click on Info.

The Info panel looks like the screen shot below, when visible.  If the top left quadrant of the Info panel doesn’t display “RGB Color”, select it by clicking on the arrow next to the name of that quadrant.  As you move your cursor over your image, the Red, Green & Blue fields will reflect color measurements for the pixels you are hovering over.

For best results when measuring colors, use  your Color Picker tool (the Eyedropper) to hover. Set its sample size to a 5×5 average, and set Sample to All Layers when measuring.

Go ahead and give this a try, now that you’ve got it all set up.  Move your cursor around and examine the measurements that appear in the Info panel.

Skin Tone in Photoshop Elements: What do the Numbers Mean?

Let’s take this photo as an example.  Start on a photo whose overall white balance is good, like this one. The color issues come from the orange dress that is reflecting onto her skin face and neck.

 

The measurements for the pixels at the end of each arrow are in this table:

 

[fusion_old_table id=21 /]

When viewing skin tone in Photoshop Elements, these relationships should always be true:

  • Red is always greater than green. Green is always greater than blue.
  • The higher the numbers, the lighter the colors.  See how low the values are on point 2, in the shadows?  RGB numbers run on a scale from 0-255, with 0 being the lowest and 255 the highest.

Whenever red=green=blue, you have a neutral.  Here are examples of neutrals:

  • Black: Red 0, Green 0, Blue 0
  • White: Red 255, Green 255, Blue 255
  • Dark gray: Red 50, Green 50, Blue 50
  • Light gray: Red 175, Green 175, Blue 175

Colors represented by unequal amounts of red, green and blue are, well, colors.  They aren’t neutral shades of gray.  To understand what the measurements mean, you first have to understand that each color, as measured in Elements, has an opposite.

For example, blue and yellow are opposites and are inverse to each other.  At Point 2 above, Blue measures 79.  As its inverse, Yellow would be 176 (or 255-79).  So the lower Blue is, the higher Yellow is.  And the lower Yellow is, the higher Blue is.  These 3 color pairs have the same inverse relationship:

Red vs Cyan

Green vs Magenta

Blue vs Yellow

Now that this makes sense (it does make sense, right?), we can make another observation about the numbers in the screen shot above.  Blue is much lower at Points 2 and 3 than at 1.  So yellow is much higher.  And given that Red is the largest number at each of these points, when we combine the Red with the larger than normal amount of Yellow, we get Orange.  Which is exactly what our eyes see.

In this photo, the orange color cast is quite obvious and the RGB numbers merely confirm what our eyes see.  Using the Info panel’s numbers is especially helpful for photos where you know the skintones are off, but aren’t quite sure why.  Unfortunately, problems aren’t always as obvious as they are in this photo!

Once you’ve used the numbers to identify what needs to be fixed, use one or more Levels adjustment layers to fix the affected areas.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume that Point 1 needs no edits.

To correct the area around Point 2, I need to lighten it and remove the excess Yellow.  Using a Levels adjustment layer, I move the middle slider of the RGB channel to the left.  Moving this slider to the left brightens a photo, and moving it to the right darkens a photo.

Next, on the Blue channel, I move the middle slider to the left to increase Blue and decrease Yellow. When adjusting the individual color channels in Levels, moving the middle slider always increases the color that the channel is named after (Red, Green or Blue).  Moving the middle slider to the right always increases that color’s opposite.  These are my Levels adjustments for Point 2.

 

I tweak both sliders until I am satisfied with the appearance of the dark, shadowed, orange-y area of her skin and finish by using the layer mask to constrain the edits just to this area.

For Point 3, the exposure is pretty good, so I only need to correct the orange color cast.  I do this on a 2nd Levels adjustment layer, moving the middle slider of the Blue channel to the left.  And I finish by constraining the effects of this layer with a layer mask also.

My layer masks for the above Levels edits look like this:

 

After these edits, you can see the following changes in my numbers:



[fusion_old_table id=22 /]

 

Here is a Before and After comparing the changes after correcting the skin tone in Photoshop Elements.  Note that the shadows are lighter in the After and the orange tones are minimized on the bottom half of her face and her neck.  I could do a lot more to tweak the final photo, but this tutorial is plenty long enough as it is!

When correcting skin tone in Photoshop Elements, start by reading the color measurements at several points of your image.  If you want to lighten darker parts of your image, start by increasing the middle slider on the RGB color channel of a Levels layer.  Do this selectively, using the layer mask, to equalize lightness around the subject.

To correct the color channels, it will take experimenting and practicing.  If blue happens to be larger than green, add green/reduce magenta and/or decrease blue/add yellow with the appropriate color channels.  After that, explore the R to G to B proportions of various skin points, and try to equalize those proportions throughout the image.  For example, if green is 15 higher than blue at a good point, try to get the same 15 point spread throughout the image.

Do you get the feeling that this iceberg is much huger than the tip you just explored? Oh yes, it is.  But I think this is plenty for one article!