How to get leathery-face look?

When I see this effect that makes a face look like leather (or maybe like elephant skin), I wonder how they do it? Every pore visible, so had to start with sharp lens …

skin of author’s face

The Dragan effect:

Thanks for the hint, tried to reproduce it with darktable and got it easier than with Gimp with two instances of the lowpass filter and the equalizer since I don’t have to handle with layers.
Would like to write a tutorial for darktable here but I don’t have a free licensed RAW portrait of a man, preferably an old one.

Currently I am browsing sites like but I did not find anythin suitable yet.
Maybe someone got a link?

As @paperdigits already noted it is commonly referred to as the “Dragan effect”, but it may be even more general. It’s a push of fine details and almost over-sharpening I think. The photographer Peter Adams does a little something similar in his Faces of Open Source project with some of his subjects.

You can probably achieve something like this using the steps in Freaky Details tutorial, or just cheat and use G’MIC as we rolled the effect into a filter there as well.

Part of this effect is the subject (lots of wrinkles and features!) as well as lighting (oblique lighting that helps to accentuate the texture and wrinkles in the face. Of course, having the resolution to really see those details helps as well… :slight_smile:

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I’m looking through my archives now to find you an image. I’m not hopeful as I don’t recall specifically trying to shoot something for this, but maybe? We’d love a tutorial!

Finally found one good example (license is CC-0)

This is the original:

And these are my edits:

Found it hard to reproduce, there are so many parameters that change so much.

Modifying the width of the gaussian blur in the different layers (or lowpass instances in darktable) changes the smoothness of the contrast, can give a glassy look of the face or a rough and hard texture.

Anyway, my XMP files:
Kn8c2lg4_01.arw.xmp (12.2 KB) Kn8c2lg4.arw.xmp (11.4 KB)

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Thanks, just found a thread at modelmayhem:

There are several photos of an old man with a huge beard taken by a professional photographer.

Just using one of my XMPs posted above look amazing on these photos.

Unfortunately the photographer did not give permission to post images outside modelmayhem, but for experimenting on your computer it should be sufficient enough.

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How about the good old National Geographic Gimp script by elsamuko?

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Wow; thanks for all the replies. I understand why people like to use that with portraits. However, I’m more likely to explore its use with landscapes. Kinda obsessed.

Going back to the original post and the linked b/w portrait, I tried to reproduce the result with a play raw portrait

Made it monochrome and added more contrast with equalizer, tone curve and lowpass filter

XMP file here: MLC-DSC_1922_01.NEF.xmp (13.9 KB, Darktable 2.6.2)

The modules used for this specific effect are named ‘FX’

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In G’MIC I would use “Pyramid Processing”.

G’MIC>Testing>Iain Fergusson>Pyramid Processing (@Iain why is it still in Testing?)

Thereafter a (local) contrast filter or “DCP Dehaze”. Try and play with more filters in G’MIC>Details. “Freaky Details”, as mentioned above, is also a nice choise after “Pyramid Processing”.

I decided to give a try with my quick touchup in Krita 4.3 Alpha. I used Interpolation 2x, HSY’ Color and Saturation along with Guassian High Pass Adjustment Layer. A bit of G’MIC Pyramid Processing.

Since I can’t share .KRA file, here’s the layer setting.

  • Guassian High Pass Adjustment Layer (Flat Light 90 Opacity)
  • Original Layer at Color Blending Mode at 73 Opacity
  • Original Interpolation 2x at 62 Opacity
  • Original Saturation at 100 Opacity (This isn’t needed)
  • G’MIC Processed via Pyramid Processing


My edit in Krita for any one that wanted it- edit.kra (4.0 MB)

Thanks, @patdavid! No longer need to mention how the layers are structured.

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Ah, I forgot about Krita native files - I’ve added .kra files as an acceptable upload filetype - upload away!

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Leathery looks like painful constipation to me.

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I’ve moved ‘Pyramid Processing’ out of 'Testing' and into 'Details'
I also added some more options.


You may also get a similar effect with a “Bleach Bypass”. You can find this in the “Nik Collection”, although that’s not free anymore. A DIY version would be to apply a Black & White conversion with an overlay blend, which is kinda mimicking the film effect.


Nikon, while it was free of cost for a while, was never Free Software nor open source.

I believe there is a bleach bypass in GMICs film emulation.

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That is true, but there are (or were) GIMP scripts for running “Nik” from within the GIMP. But, as you point out, there are other solutions.


I think that the most sophisticated way of doing it in Gimp is using the method described in the tutorial for the ‘Dragan effect’:

You learn about using layers and blend modes and get a better understanding of how they work.
With these ‘filter collections’ your knowledge is limited to the effects that one specific collection contains.

With GIMP only:

  1. Original layer
  2. Mantiuk Dynamic compression
  3. highpass filter with linear light blend mode
  4. new from visible - blue channel with lightness blend mode
  5. new from visible - added saturation