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Jun 18, 2014

The Amazing Power of Frequency Separation Retouching in Photoshop

Free Frequency Separation Action

Few have discovered the amazing power of frequency separation retouching in photoshop! If you want to skip making your own frequency separation layers be sure to download our Frequency Separation Retouching Photoshop Action. It is designed for use in Photoshop CC.

Download the Phlearn Frequency Separation Retouching Photoshop Action

Enter your email below to and we will email a download link for the frequency separation actions we used in this episode.

What is Frequency Separation?

Frequency separation helps make retouching a portrait easier in Photoshop. Frequency separation works because it allows you to separate the texture of an image from the tone and color. When retouching you can focus on just the texture or the skin beneath it.

It sounds quite complex but in practice it is quite simple. If you want to work with texture, choose the high frequency layer, if you want to work with skin choose the low frequency layer.

Getting Started with Frequency Separation

To get your image set up for frequency separation you will have to make 2 copies of your background layer. If you are not starting from the beginning, add a Stamp Visible layer over all layers by typing CTRL+ALT+OPTN+E. One of these copies will be for your low frequency (skin) and one will be for your high frequency (texture).

First apply a Gaussian Blur to the lower (low frequency) layer. Choose a radius that blurs out the skin texture, but don’t go too far as to make the face unrecognizable.

Next choose your high frequency layer and go to Image > Apply Image. Here you will want to se the Layer: to the low frequency layer. For blending choose Subtract and for Scale:2, Offset:128. These will be your settings every time, no need to change them.

Now you should have one layer with a blur (low frequency) and a layer above it that looks mostly gray (high frequency). Select the high frequency layer and change the blending mode to “Linear Light”.

Your image should now look identical to the image before you started the process.

Correcting Underlying Color

To correct the underlying color (skin) choose an area with the lasso tool. I suggest feathering the selection to make it look more realistic. Use Q for Quick Mask as a quick way to see what your selection looks like. After you have made your selection choose the low frequency (blurred) layer and apply a Gaussian Blur in the selection. Choose a radius high enough to blend the tones together.

Repeat this process over different areas of the portrait to smooth the skin tones. Because the texture is on a different layer, it should stay in tact during this entire process.

Correcting Texture

If you need to correct texture, we recommend waiting until after you do the tone. Select the high frequency layer and choose the Clone Stamp Tool. In the Clone Stamp Tool settings be sure to hit Sample: Current Layer. This will make sure you are just using the texture and not sampling anything else. Then on your high frequency layer sample good skin texture using ALT and then paint over “bad” skin texture. This will work very well for stray hairs, acne, wrinkles and other small blemishes.

257 Comments


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    Dustin

    Some may find it easier to do a Surface Blur on the “color smoothing” layer, from there you can mask and brush in your areas, it allows for another form of control. However if you want to vary the color smoothing in various areas, choosing specific blur areas will work to your advantage.

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    Fred

    REALLY enjoyed the quick tutorial on Frequency Separation… Looks like a great technique… I’ll have to practice… and I’ll be back to learn some more from you…

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    John

    When I use the clone stamp tool or healing brush on the High frequency layer it does not always do anything to remove the blemishes, lines, etc. Later doing the same process on another image it works. Is there a logical reason for this? It’s driving me nuts.

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      John

      When I read down further I saw the comment about checking invert if working on 16 bit file and that seems to correct the issue. Have I done the right thing?

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        joshsflickr

        I think you might have an active selection at times. Make sure you always have the right layer selected and that you don’t have a different area selected. The way I test to see is I click the brush tool and paint a visible color to see if a change is actually being made. If it is not, I check that I have the right layer selected, and if I do, I simply press ctrl+d to deselect.

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    Twenell

    Wow…. each time I watch your tutorials I become a better retoucher. This is more effect than just cloning or dodging and burn. Thanks from all of us that you help each and everyday.

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    Scott Wright

    Just discovered your videos on youtube the other day. You are providing a high quality, fun and educational service to those trying to learn photoshop. There are so many people out there trying to help teach others but they just haven’t quite found the right balance in the areas I mentioned. Thanks for the service you are doing for fellow photographers.

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    Hendrik

    You guys have just the best down to the point no nonsense no music, very well paced tutorials for photoshop on the entire web, did you know that ? of course you did.

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    Crystal-lynn

    THANK YOU for this!! I’ve heard so much about frequency separation, but had no idea where to even start… But this made it fairly simple! What an amazing tool to add to my arsenal! 🙂

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    James Rowan (aka Jimmy Knuckles)

    I wasn’t sure if your Frequency Separation Photoshop Action would work with CS6, but it did wonderfully – esp. with the HELP tips programmed right into the action itself. What a great tutorial (as always). Here is my first attempt at using this retouching technique with a few of your other tutorial techniques thrown in quick’n’dirty like. (also really love the eye coloring tutorial too!). I made this photo of Jessica Biel that I copied from the web into a frame animation (thanks to PHLEARN again!) to show the before and after versions highlighting the use of your Frequency Separation retouching techniques. Kudos to you Aaron and your staff!!! Thanks!!!

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    Piet

    Many thanks for posting your tutorials on YouTube!! I am certain that by watching your tutorials I have learned much.

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    JC

    On the last layer I wanted to clean some of the texture and hit ALT(option) to get a sample and click to clean the area… it did not do a single thing… what did I miss?

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    Devon

    When in ‘Apply Image’ no matter what numbers I put in, the image is flat grey with no detail. I thought maybe this was just preview not working, but then when I hit okay and switched the layer to linear light it remained exactly the same. Please tell me what I am doing wrong. Thank you

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      joshsflickr

      You need to select Layer 1. What you did was subtract the layer 1 copy from Layer 1 copy which does nothing!

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    Alaina

    I’m able to get to the step of having the gray layer, but when I select linear light, it stays gray. What am I doing wrong? Thanks!

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    Bryony

    Question…

    After applying frequency separation, where / what layer do I apply sharpening on….?

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      joshsflickr

      You can simply copy the high pass layer and also use linear light. To simulate how sharp it can be, while you have your background layer, layer one and layer one copy all visible, make your layer one (blurred layer) invisible and you’ll see the background + the sharpening from layer one copy.

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    Merrit

    What is missing here is the setting in case you were using 16-bit rather than 8 bit. With 16 bit you select add, scale 2, offset 0, check invert.
    If you were using 8-bit settings on a 16-bit file, you’re going to get a mess.

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    Becky

    This is absolutely awesome! I learned something new today that I know I will use daily on my newborn sessions. Thank you!!!

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    Juan

    I have a question for you guys… what is the BEST way to save your work(Pictures) so they can be seen in the BEST quality possible. I noticed some of my pictures don’t look the same. Of course, I saved them “save for web” using photoshop… but I really don’t know the best settings to “save for web”. Can you help me?

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    Carissa

    I’m a little late to the party, but i’m having the same issue when it comes to the texture layer just being a solid color.

    I went to Image –> Apply Image and got nothing but black. I changed the scale and off set, which turned the area grey? I guess it’s a step in the right direction. I tried restarting and everything. Nothing is helping. What am I doing wrong?

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      Joe

      You need to set the “Layer:” selection to your “Blur” layer. In your screenshot, you’re subtracting the “Texture” layer from itself.

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    T

    I cannot edit the High/Texture layer. The clone stamp/healing brush do not do anything. I’m reading that several others have experienced this. Is this a glitch in FS or is there something I need to do? thanks for any support that can be offered.

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    Giovanna

    I love all your stuff and i just found out about you. Super exciting to be able to learn new things so easly and delightfully.

    I was doing fine with my first tutorials however i tried again this week and the Apply image does not give me the selected Subtract and other value number is has disappeared.
    Can you please advise what I’m doing wrong or not clicking?

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      Joe

      It’s related to the size of your feather setting and the size of the area that you’re selecting. When PS draws the “marching ants”, it only draws them around pixels that are at greater than 50% opacity. That’s why when you use the lasso tool, the marked out area will be smaller than what you drew when you have a feather setting. The dialog tells you that you still have a selection but PS just won’t draw the marching ants around the selection. You can still run the blur filter but the effect will be reduced because the selected pixels are all at lower than 50% opacity.

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    Marnie

    My Apply Image is not available to click on, I did my layers, got the Gaussian blur but apply image is not highlighted to click on. 🙁 What am I doing wrong???

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    Cara

    Ok, I need your help lol. I’ve been following Aarons tutorial from PHLEARN on frequent separation (Just my first time practicing, I’m not actually editing this photo to be perfect today lol) So I managed to catch on to the skin smoothing but when i go to his texture step, cloning is not working for me? My screen and settings look just like his but i cant seem to clone the texture layer like hes doing. Can anyone help and tell me what im doing wrong here? Thanks… Cara.

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    Dave

    Had a senior shoot from earlier this summer. The underarm wetness was real. Using your action and healing brush on the color layer FIXED it! Dude! I spent 4 hours trying to clone and heal that stain and finally gave up. Now it was fixed in seconds. You have a new customer!

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    Anaiz Avalos

    So i recently saw your video on this and followed correctly and once I turned my third (texture) layer to linear light, it would turn black. The one reason I think it is, is I noticed on your source it said frequency separation while mine did not. How can I fix this?