Retouching Skin with Frequency Separation

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of frequency separation retouching. Unless you are aiming for an artistic effect or trying to scrub a mistake that occurred during shooting, I prefer things to be what they truly are. No “Alternative Facts” here, please.

However, I am always interested in new photo manipulation techniques and I have been hearing about Frequency Separation everywhere for the past few days. I think it is time to try my hand at the technique, why don’t you follow along with me?

Finding the Separate Frequencies

Old Lady Portrait Used as Before Image
Old Lady Portrait Used as Before Image

We are going to use the above photo for our frequency retouching.  I think she is beautiful just the way she is, but I’m still going to try to turn her into a typical American; semi-plastic and airbrushed to conceal her true identity.

Setting up the Layers

First things first, lets set up our layers in Photoshop.  The frequency separation technique requires the creation of two layers, one high frequency and one low frequency, to perform the bulk of the manipulations.

For those of us with a little more money and a little less time, you can find Photoshop Frequency Separation Actions online to do the whole thing for you!

Step 1: We need to copy our background image twice, then group the two new layers.

Step 2: We then need to link the two new layers and the original background layer, as shown:

Frequency Separation Step 1
Frequency Separation Step 1

Step 3: Rename the group to “Retouch”, the Layer 1 to “Low Frequency” and the Layer 1 Copy to “High Frequency”

We are going to the the High Frequency layer to contain only textures and the Low Frequency layer will contain only color information.  By separating them, we get much more control over the retouching of the photo.

Step 4: Convert Low Frequency layer to smart object.

Step 5: Turn off visibility for the High Frequency layer so you can focus on the low frequency layer.

Step 6: Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to the Low Frequency layer and increase the blur radius until you soften the appearance of the skin

Step 7: Turn visibility back on for the High Frequency layer

Step 8: With High Frequency layer selected, go to Image > Apply Image to bring up the Apply Image dialog box

Step 9: Update the settings for the Apply Image adjustment.  Make sure the source is the source file, the layer is the Low Frequency layer, the channel is inverted, the blending mode is set to Add, and the scale is set to 2.

Frequency Separation Step 9
Frequency Separation Step 9

Step 10:  Now, change blend mode of the High Frequency layer to Linear Light.

Now for the Finishing ReTouch

Step 11: Hide the High Frequency layer again and select the Low Frequency layer.  With this selected, choose the patch tool from the left-hand toolbar.  In some instances, you will need to rasterize the Low Frequency layer before the tool is applied to it.

Step 12:  To use the patch tool, trace around an area you would like to retouch (a wrinkle, for instance) then drag your selection to an area with a better texture.  In my example, I traced around the wrinkles in her eyes, then used the skin from her cheeks as the replacement pixels.

Frequency Separation Step 12
Frequency Separation Step 12

Step 13:  The patch tool is very powerful and the result can be pretty noticeable.  If you would like to bring back more of the original image, simply reduce the opacity for the Low Frequency layer and more of the original image will shine through.

Step 14: Now simply turn the High Frequency layer back on and you have a subtly retouched photo.  If the effect isn’t enough, raise the opacity on the Low Frequency layer and, in extreme instances, apply the patch tool to the high frequency layer.  However, be careful with this as you are copying the texture of the skin, so the result can be jarring.


Frequency Separation Final
Frequency Separation Final

Thank you for exploring the photo manipulation with me.  If you prefer to follow along with video, use this Tuts+ Tutorial about Frequency Separation .  As always, send any questions and comments my way!  See you guys later )