Difficulty Selecting Skin Tones


Today’s Question: I’ve tried using the “Skin Tones” option for the Color Range selection in Photoshop, and most of the time I don’t get very good results. Am I doing something wrong, or is there some trick to using this feature?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In general, I don’t find that the “Skin Tones” option for the Color Range command in Photoshop provides very good results, though turning on the “Detect Faces” feature and fine-tuning the Fuzziness value can help improve the selection.

More Detail: There are quite a few selection tools in Photoshop that provide excellent results with a streamlined workflow. In my experience, however, the option to select skin tones in photos in a relatively automated way does not work very well.

I find that many photographers are surprised that it is even reasonable to expect Photoshop to be able to automatically identify skin tones in a photo. However, this is often feasible because in many cases skin tones will fall into a predictable range of color values.

However, I am rarely able to get a good initial selection using the “Skin Tones” option for the Color Range command. Quite often the skin tones are only partially selected, and other areas of the image with similar ranges of color values also get included in the selection.

The first step within the Color Range dialog (found on the menu at Select > Color Range) is to choose the “Skin Tones” option from the Select popup at the top of the dialog. This will provide an initial selection of skin tones based on an analysis of the image. I recommend turning on the “Detect Faces” checkbox, which in most cases will improve the selection for skin tones within the photo.

Fine-tuning the Fuzziness setting can also help. I typically find that the initial Color Range selection for skin tones does not include enough of the overall skin tone areas within the photo, and so increasing the value for Fuzziness will expand that selection. However, you can also reduce the value for Fuzziness if you need to restrict the range of color values that are being selected in order to reduce the selection size.

Keep in mind that the Skin Tones option for the Color Range selection command really is focused on selecting skin tones, not just faces or people. That said, I do find that this selection option provides very mixed results, and so I generally resort to the “Sampled Colors” option for the Color Range command, or to the use of other selection tools such as the Quick Selection tool.