Using Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
Uses Hue/Saturation, Color Fills, Photo Filter, and Brightness/Contrast
Level of Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate
Ever find a nice image, but it's just too blue/green? That happens a lot. Not every picture gives a nice skin-tone to it. Learning how to achieve it with some simple photoshop techniques can be helpful to learn. I've used an image of Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to show an example through creating an icon. This was written specifically for Adobe Photoshop Elements users who are not blessed with Selective Coloring, Color Balance, or Curves. We're not powerless, fellow Elements users. Your system lets you do a lot more than you may realize.
1 - Start with your image and apply it to a blank icon. Do remember that structure is very important. If you have a facial shot, as I do with this, never put the face right in the middle of the icon. Putting it towards either the left or the right creates depth. I always take that first layer, and duplicate it. It's just so that if you mess up, you do not have to crop the image, again. Sharpen where needed.
I went ahead and tried to create contrast. Using the poly lasso tool, I highlighted the background. You need to recognize your background in order to decide what you want to do with it. Since I wanted the sharpened focus on Cedric to pop out, I decided to go with a blur. I took that highlighted background, and went to Filter->Blur->Blur/Blur More/Guassian Blur (depends on just how blurred you want it).
I found that the yellow shirt was going to be an eventual problem. It was not bright enough. I took the brush tool, chose a golden color, and went over the area with Soft Light applicated. If you think that something might not come up later, just go over with a Soft Light of the color needed. You might need to wait until later steps to find out for your picture.
2 - Duplicate your first layer (the pre-sharpened, pre-contrast layer) and bring it to the top. I wanted some of the background to remain, but not to stand out too much. Using Screen works fine, because it also obviously lightens up the picture itself. Take this opportunity to smooth out some of the rough edges of your subject, if he/she/it/they has/have any. A workover with the blur tool is fine for that, but remember to adjust the opacity of the screened layer as you see fit. Mine did not call for anything over half opacity.
I had to go back with the Soft Light tool and retouch the yellow shirt. Duplicate the second Normal layer (the sharpened one) and bring it to the top. It's time to secure your darks and highlights with a strong Soft Light. However, with a green/blue hue, even Soft Light can be overpowering. If you need to, desaturate it (CTRL+U). Set the opacity to what looks good. Bear in mind that it's going to get stronger later. Again, I had to touch up the yellow shirt after that (and do so to whatever you want to have a strong color). Sharpen a bit more if it's needed.
3 - Now comes for the step that you want - achieve that skin-tone. Got to Layer->New Fill Layer->Solid Color. This step depends entirely on what your image tone already is. In general, keep to the pale reds at an Overlay layer. Keep the opacity from being too high, or you're going to give your subject a sunburn.
Now you have your basic base. Your icon has the skin-tone needed to carry on the future steps to working with the icon. Your first step after this is to improve the tones by working with your Hue/Saturation (Layer->New Ajustment Layer->Hue/Saturation).
This might look like a beast to beginners to Photoshop, but it's easier than some of the more complicated techniques not given with Elements (Selective Coloring, Color Balance). However, you have several important stages to work with: Master, Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, Magenta. Each focuses on the said area, and this differs on how you set the entire layer.
Set this one on Normal.
I wanted to focus on warm colors (Reds, Yellows, Magentas). The ultimate area you want to mess with is the Saturation arrows. Moving it to the right will enrich those colors, while moving to the left will desaturate them. Keep that in mind, and adjust those areas where you need to. After that, focus on the Master section.
I would suggest keeping this at a lower opacity.
Make another Hue/Saturation, but this time set as a Saturation Layer. Given a slightly high state of opacity, repeat what you previously did, but be aware that the same adjustments in the Master and Colors may not look good on Saturation. However, continue to focus on your warms. They'll give you that strong skin-tone.
4 - Duplicate your Color Fill Layer, bring it to the top, and lower the opacity down. It's just a final strengthening of the tone.
Now the problem is that the icon looks drab and flat. You change that with a Brightness/Contrast (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Brightness/Contrast. Keep it at Normal because any other layer setting will mess with your overall lighting/shadows.
Moving to the right will enhance, and to the left will dull. Since the icon is dull, the brightness will lighten that up, and the contrast will strengthen it. Do not expect to go too high, because it's a powerful tool. I did not exceed +15 for either one of them.
5 - It's time for focusing on the darks. Duplicate your desaturated, Soft Light layer and bring it to the top. Lower the opacity where needed. Take your blur tool and smooth over your subjects face so that the sharpness does not pixelate.
Working with darks from here can be tedious, and if you want them then you have to practice so that they do not take over the highlights. Soft Lighted layers work well here. Create a Color Fill layer filled with a dark color (I'd stick actually with a dark green or a dark blue), and keep it at a very low opacity. If you put it high, it will completely take over the icon.
You might not see a difference at first, but the little steps do ultimately help. It creates depth. Depth can be important in your icons because it establishes focus.
For the final part of the darks, I decided on using Photo Filter (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Photo Filter) set on Soft Light at a lower opacity.
You have a lot of filters to choose from, or you can just choose a color. Each one produces a slightly different effect, depending on whether you use warms or cools. Your density controls the amount of color that will be used in tune with it. Keep that under control. With an icon that focused so much on warms, a cool filter helped wash over a layer of darks, deepened them.
6 - I wanted to stop at this point. It's simple, yes. But I like the look at it. So I just added text (set at low opacity) and tinytext.