Pixel level work and the real reason why you should never use skin plugins

Some photographers ask for a more detailed visual illustrations of my work so I created this dedicated page hoping that it will serve this common request. This website used to have a classical page with thumbnail size before and after images but unfortunately the only things you were able to see there were changes of light, shape and color. I said “only” because when you’re looking at the before and after versions of an image at a thumbnail size, you miss a very important part which can be visualized only at a much higher resolution: the pixel level work.

Not every single image can benefit of this kind of procedure, mainly because in order to do pixel level work you need to have pixel level details in your photo and sometimes it’s impossible to get that much information, especially when the model/element photographed is far away from the camera.

When we talk about pixel level work, it’s almost always about skin texture or clothes/fabric texture (very rare about metal or concrete) so this article will be illustrated with high resolution examples of a beauty retouch. The images from this set were done for a beauty salon and that’s why they are a little overdone. Nonetheless, they are good enough to illustrate my point.

As a matter of fact, this is the original version of the image, but I eliminated the color and exposure factor from the illustration, so you can concentrate only on the texture improvement.

Click here to show / hide the visual elements

Pixel Level Work
Pixel Level Work

As you can see, the skin texture is not destroyed (that’s what the plugins do); it’s just improved in terms of light and shape. If this image would have been retouched using plugins, the results would have looked totally different.

When a skin plugin is used, its job is to blur out the image (using a mathematical algorithm) with the purpose of making it look smoother, but blurry has never been and will never be a style. You shouldn’t like the idea that an algorithm will decide the look of the skin.

The main reason why skin plugins are bad is because their functions are based on selective bluring of intermedian frequencies and some details contained in those intermedian frequencies are essential for a good looking image. When a plugin is used, you have no control over the frequencies because the process is automated. On the other hand, when the work is done manually, every stroke is decided by the human’s extremely intelligent (relative to what we know) brain and this cannot be compared with the first method.

The more manual the process is, the better. Using plugins (especially on the skin texture) is just a common practice for people who don’t know any better or don’t have high standards.

I do understand that some of you preffer to use plugins because they are much faster, but for a trained eye the results will look cheap. If your intention is to get results good enough for Facebook, then plugins may do the job, but if you plan to grow as a professional, just forget about them.

© 2012-2017 Andrei Ivascu