Subtle corrective dodging and burning can go a long way to improve the appearance of skin by smoothing the tonal transitions created by shadows. This 30-minute tutorial from photographer Chris Knight demonstrates the effectiveness of the technique from start to finish.
The goal here is to soften the transitions between tones in the skin without losing detail in the textures. The technique can be used to quite dramatic effect, but how far you take it is up to you (or your client). The edits are non-destructive and can be dialled up or back at any stage.
Knight sets up the image by creating separate dodge and burn layers using curve adjustments, and then masks them out. He then creates a 50% grey fill layer set to the color blend mode in order to remove the distraction of color, allowing him to focus on the tonal transitions that this method is used to correct.
In primarily light areas, Knight says he follows the path of least resistance by painting in the dodge layer in order to lighten the shadows, smoothing the transitions. In dark areas, he will primarily paint in the burn layer.
Here is the before and after of Knight’s image:
The technique is very time-intensive, especially when you are just starting out. Following along with this video will help you to understand the level of detail expected in high-end retouching, and with practice will result in much improved beauty and portrait images.