The 3 minute retouch.
In fact, it took less than three minutes but who’s counting right? Lets start with a photo of a colorful young lady, courtesy of Kendra at http://www.kendraalexis.com/ Thank you for letting me use this as an example.
Let me start with a small disclaimer:
Your results may vary… Meaning depending on browser, OS, monitor, screen calibration, video card, room lighting, time of day, your horoscope or if you are a cat or dog person; The color, contrast and density may vary on your end. However I can assure you that the color of the finished image is superb to my trained eye. (Trust me, it’s a well trained eye.)
First, I added a Curves adjustment layer and did my patented “S” curve. (OK, It’s no secret but it does work wonders.) Then I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and boosted the saturation to +20 and nudged the hue to +2 to make sure her skin tone doesn’t go too magenta/red. (People with darker skin tend to look better with a touch of green in their complexion.) Next was a quick pass through the NIK Dynamic Skin Softener plug-in filter which is part of the Color Efex Pro 3.0 package. (It is a very good filter, and I’m not typically a fan of filters for retouching.)
I then added a blank layer and using the healing brush, fixed a few deeper wrinkles around her near eye / nose and toned down a few shiny spots on the face. I then reduced the opacity of that layer to 40% so it wasn’t completely masking the skin details below and to keep the image good and natural looking. To finish up, I added a Levels adjustment layer and filled the layer mask with black. On that Levels layer, I set the midtone level to 1.23 and then selected the layer mask and paint brush tool. I then painted with white on the layer mask with a large soft edge brush over a few dark areas (dark area on her head, under and around her eyes, etc) to help lighten those areas in order to blend them with the surrounding skin tones better.
So with the original background layer, that is 6 layers total. And including time to open, assign a profile (shame shame, always save with an embedded profile), color correct, retouch and finally flatten and save, it was a total of about 3 minutes work. (Which ended up a 15 minute writeup here.)
If you really wanted to spend some time on the image (like 5 to 10 minutes perhaps), one might end up with something more like the final retouched version below.