Mastering Frequency Separation in Photo Retouching: A Step-by-Step Guide

TL;DR: Whether you’re new to photography or an experienced hand, frequency separation can be a useful tool in your photo editing arsenal. This guide will lead you through the steps of frequency separation in Photoshop, from setting up your layers to applying the finishing touches, providing in-depth examples to make the process clear and straightforward.


I have to confess, I’m typically a purist when it comes to photo editing – I’m all for presenting the world as it truly is. But when it comes to frequency separation, my curiosity is piqued. As a technique that’s been creating quite a buzz in the photography community, it’s time we gave it a shot, don’t you think?

For our experiment, we’ll be using a stunning portrait of an elderly woman.

In frequency separation, the magic lies in working with two layers – the high frequency layer that captures the texture, and the low frequency layer for color information. Separating these allows for better control over your retouch.

Step-by-Step Guide:

Step 1: Duplicate your background image twice to create two new layers, then group them.

Step 2: Link these new layers to the original background layer.

Step 3: Name your group “Retouch”, and your layers “Low Frequency” and “High Frequency” respectively.

Step 4: Convert the Low Frequency layer into a smart object.

Step 5: Hide the High Frequency layer for now, so you can focus on the Low Frequency layer.

Step 6: Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to the Low Frequency layer, adjusting the radius to soften the skin.

Step 7: Unhide the High Frequency layer.

Step 8: With the High Frequency layer selected, head to Image > Apply Image.

Step 9: Adjust your Apply Image settings, ensuring the source file is selected, the layer is set to Low Frequency, the channel is inverted, the blending mode is set to Add, and scale is set to 2.

Step 10: Change the blend mode of the High Frequency layer to Linear Light.

For the finishing touches:

Step 11: Hide the High Frequency layer again, then select the Low Frequency layer and choose the patch tool from the toolbar.

Step 12: Trace around the area you want to retouch with the patch tool, then drag your selection to an area with a smoother texture.

Step 13: If the effect is too strong, simply reduce the opacity of the Low Frequency layer.

Step 14: Finally, reveal the High Frequency layer again. For a stronger effect, you can increase the opacity of the Low Frequency layer.


And there you have it – a beautifully retouched photo using frequency separation. Remember, subtlety is key with this technique. Too much editing can create a jarring look. If you’d like to learn more, check out this Tuts+ Tutorial about Frequency Separation. As always, feel free to drop any questions or comments my way. Happy retouching!