Every single parent who walks into my photography studio is completely enamored with their newborn. As the mother of three kids myself, I can attest to the fact that all babies are perfect just the way they are. So, as a newborn photographer, my goal in editing newborn skin is to make the baby look just as their parents see them — beautiful.

But, the reality is that newborns are not born with perfect skin. Most babies are born with milia, acne, eczema, jaundice, rashes, hemangiomas, flaky skin or other marks. And when I’m shooting with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, every single little detail gets enhanced — especially when the photo gets printed large. Because these minor skin imperfections are not permanent, the majority of my clients want their newborns to have flawless, creamy skin in their photos.

My challenge as a newborn photographer is to make sure my newborns have gorgeous skin without making them look plastic. I am always very cautious about changing too much, editing too much, or removing something that is permanent or parents may instantly notice, like a mole or a birthmark. But I do create beautiful, smooth newborn skin. Here’s my process:

Editing newborn skin tutorial - a newborn in dramatic light
Editing newborn skin tutorial - newborn with perfectly natural skin

First, I find out my clients’ expectations for their newborn photos.

When my clients come in for their session, I have a conversation with them about what skin marks they would like to edit out of the final photos. It can feel awkward having to point out a newborn’s stork bites, head shape, moles, skin flakes, acne, or birthmarks, but I want the client’s approval to edit these imperfections before I even touch them in Adobe Photoshop.

There are some parents who want their newborn’s photos completely retouched. And, there are some parents who want their baby’s skin to be smoothed but to keep larger imperfections like stork bites and hemangiomas natural  because they want to remember exactly what their baby looked like at this age. I always honor my client’s wishes, because, after all, these are their photos to keep for a lifetime.

Editing newborn skin tutorial

Next, I follow this workflow for editing newborn skin:

Most of my clients want their newborn to have perfect, smooth skin, so I work towards that goal. It’s important to note that I take steps to get my photos as clean and accurate as possible in camera to ensure that my images need as few adjustments as possible in post processing. I use a gray card to get a correct white balance in camera. And, since I use studio lighting, my exposure and white balance stay constant throughout the entire session. I shoot at f/2, so all blur and blanket smoothing is done in camera.

In post processing, I use the following four steps for editing newborn skin:

1. Global adjustments

First, I run my newborn preset in Adobe Lightroom as soon as I download the photos from the camera. My preset adjusts exposure, contrast, shadows, and tweaks the image slightly so that when I pull it into Photoshop, all global changes are done and I can fine tune my editing for each image. 

2. Skin smoothing

Then, I pull the files into Photoshop and batch run Portraiture to help smooth out baby’s skin texture (masking the smoothing off their hair, eyes, and mouth).

3. Adjust reds and purples in the skin

If the baby has spots of red on his or her skin, I run Buffalo Baby Newborn Skin “Remove The Red” action on low opacity to even things out. Or, if the newborn has stork bites that the parents want removed, this action will work to reduce those.

If a newborn’s hands or feet are a bit purplish, I use the Buffalo Baby “Purple Hands & Feet” action on low opacity. See below for how to edit a newborn’s purple feet without actions.

4. Hand edits and final adjustments

Next, I hand edit each image by fixing imperfections and backgrounds. I add any final creative edits, like increasing the shadows for a more dramatic effect.

My favorite Photoshop tools for editing newborn skin

1. Patch tool: I love using the Patch tool to select spots where there are flakes or pimples and replace them with nearby skin that has a smoother texture.

2. Clone tool: The Clone tool is perfect for fixing backdrops with wrinkles, or removing wooden backdrops that are not part of the scene.

3. Curves: I use a Curves adjustment layer to increase contrast and shadows to create drama.

4. Brushes: I use a brush to smooth out backdrops. I select the color of the backdrop near the spot I want fixed and then paint it on at a low opacity.

5. Free Transform: I use the Free Transform tool a lot with composite images. A lot of the time, even when the photo is composed of several images taken seconds apart, the photo does not match in size or angle so by using the Free Transform tool, I am able to make similar photos match to complete the composite.

Editing newborn skin tutorial

I’m careful to keep newborn skin looking natural.

I try not to smooth out a newborn’s skin to the point of looking plastic. It’s important to keep the newborn’s skin texture as much as possible. I also like to see some pink in a baby’s complexion, so bringing back the pinks in their cheeks and not reducing too much red is important.

In this world of Photoshop and social media, everyone wants a perfect complexion with porcelain skin. But it’s a difficult balance to edit out the small, temporary imperfections and still keep newborn skin looking natural. Here are some before and after photos of edited newborn skin. What do you think?

Editing newborn skin tutorial - before
Editing newborn skin tutorial - after
A newborn baby with baby acne in a purple wrap
A newborn in a purple wrap with perfectly edited newborn skin
Editing newborn skin tutorial
Editing newborn skin tutorial
Editing newborn skin tutorial
Editing newborn skin tutorial

How to edit purplish newborn feet in Photoshop

Newborns sometimes have purplish or red hands and feet. Because this discoloration is temporary, I edit it out to make sure baby’s skin tone is even and natural. Here’s how I edit purplish newborn skin in Photoshop—

  1. I use the Curves layer to lighten the skin. This will help pull out some of the purple.
  2. Next, I use the Selective Color tool. I select “Reds” in the color drop down menu and adjust the cyan and the magenta sliders until the purple feet are slightly orange. I select “Magentas” from the color drop down and do the same.
  3. Lastly, I invert the mask and reveal that layer at a low opacity until I get the color that matches the original skin next to the hands or feet.
Editing newborn skin tutorial

All photos by Candy Hoehn

More inspo from pro newborn photographers

We’re not sure about you, but we just can’t get enough newborns! Sure they’re adorable, but it’s a tough business and we’re happy to offer you some great advice from your fellow pro newborn photographers. They are pretty amazing and have a lot to say. Here are a few articles we think you’ll love:

10 Tips to totally rock your lifestyle newborn photography session no matter what

28 newborn photography essentials: Your ultimate studio checklist

A beginner’s guide to newborn posing & studio lighting

How to create a full newborn gallery with just two poses

Tour: See this garage transformed into inspiring newborn studio

5 Poses & a baby: Behind the scenes of a newborn session