For many images, Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques are as far as you need to go to achieve beautiful skin. There is more than one-way to reach a result, and I will show you the main techniques of our  Retouch PRO  and  High-End Retouch  beauty retouching processes.


!!! This tutorial is a part of our step-by-step  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 Typically, using these techniques, you break down the information data in your images into high and low frequencies layers, so that you can edit skin details in the different frequencies independently.  Low frequencies are the picture data that has information about colors and tones, shadows and light areas, but it will not show any textured details.  High frequencies contain information about fine details, such as hair, skin pores, fine lines, skin imperfections, etc.Photoshop Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques


 What do you do to create your frequency separation?

1. Flatten the image  (Layer > Flatten Image), make two duplicates of the Background layer  (MAC: Command+j  •  Win: Ctrl+j)  and label the top copy High Frequency and the middle copy Low Frequency.

2. Then, turn off the visibility of the High Frequency layer and select the Low Frequency layer.  Blur that layer by using  Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur…  Blur the layer, adjusting the Radius, until all the fine details are blurred.

LOW Frequency | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques


3. After you have applied the Gaussian Blur filter, turn the High Frequency layer’s visibility back on and select it.  Go to  Image > Apply Image  to apply the settings shown in the following image, and change the High Frequency  layer blending mode to Linear Light.HIGH Frequency | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques


Smoothening Skin Texture

 You are set up now and ready for retouching.  First, remove skin blotchiness with the Surface Blur filter. This method is super quick and can be used as the preparation step before you get down to further retouching. It very well may be the only Frequency Separation technique that you need if your model has a great makeup and skin to start with.

1. Duplicate the Low Frequency layer, select the copy and apply the Surface Blur filter  (Filter > Blur -> Surface Blur…)  with settings shown in the following image.

Surface Blur | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques


2. Then, mask that layer out  (MAC: Option+Add layer mask •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask) and paint in the areas on the mask where you would like smoothing applied with soft white brush (Shift+B).

Surface Blur | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 10-30% Hardness; 50% Opacity.

Technique  Paint in the mask with a white soft brush over the areas where you need to kill skin blotchiness.  Don’t paint in lips, eyes, hair and jewellery.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. Then, lower the opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


 To finish with this step, create a new merged Low Frequency  layer:  select both the original Low Frequency  layer and its surface blurred copy, while holding down the Shift key, and choose  Layer > Merge Layers.


 On the Low Frequency  layer soften and even out color and tone transitions without affecting skin texture, which is preserved on the High Frequency  layer. Use the Healing Brush (Shift+J), the Clone Stamp (Shift+S), and the simple Brush (Shift+B).Low Frequency | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 20-40% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity.     •The Healing Brush tool:   Normal Mode; Sampled Source; 20-40% Hardness; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Patch tool:   Normal Source Mode; 5-7 Diffusion; unchecked Transparent checkbox.      •The Clone Stamp tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 20-40% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox. 

Technique  Work in small stages to blend and correct the areas that need attention.  As you work, pay attention to natural contours and changes in shading on the face. It’s easy to inadvertently clone slightly darker skin into lighter areas or to spread a highlight too far that will change the shape of the face and destroy the shadows and highlights.  We usually like working with a simple Brush and the Patch tools on the Low Frequency layer.  Still, we do sometimes use the other tools as well.


 On the High Frequency layer correct large pores, fine chin hairs and anything else that needs attention.High Frequency | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Healing Brush tool:   Normal Mode; Sampled Source; 75-100% Hardness; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Patch tool:   Normal Source Mode; 5-7 Diffusion; unchecked Transparent checkbox.      •The Clone Stamp tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 75-100% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Sharpen tool:   Normal Mode; 15-25% Hardness; 15-30% Strength; unchecked Sample All Layers checkbox; ticked Protect Details checkbox. 

Technique  Move around the skin, correcting its texture.  Select areas with even texture as the samples. Go carefully with these touch ups: you want to reduce wrinkles and pores, not eliminate them completely.  We usually use both the Clone Stamp and the Healing Brush tools when working on the High Frequency layer. The Patch tool is very effective for dealing with deep wrinkles, just select a wrinkle and move it to an area of evenly textured skin.  For sharpening, you can use the Sharpen tool or the Smart Sharpen filter.


Sharpening Skin Texture

 Duplicate the High Frequency  layer and mask the copy layer out  (MAC: Option+Add layer mask •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask) before painting in with soft white brush (Shift+B).Texture Recovery | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 10-30% Hardness; 15-30% Opacity.

Technique  Paint in the mask with soft white simple Brush over the areas where you want the texture to be a little more pronounced.  We usually paint in lips, eyes, hair and jewellery.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. You can also adjust the Opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


 To finish with this step, create a new merged High Frequency  layer:  select both the original High Frequency  layer and its texture recover copy, while holding down the Shift key, choose Layer > Merge Layers and change the new High Frequency layer blending mode back to Linear Light.


Dodging & Burning

 Before you finish with the frequency separation, create a new layer between the two separated layers (MAC: Command+Shift+N  •  Win: Ctrl+Shift+N).  Set this new layer blending mode to Overlay or Soft Light and fill it with Overlay-neutral color 50% grey. Choosing Overlay or Soft Light as the blend mode really is personal preference as some like the more punchy effect you get from Overlay mode and others like the more subtle Soft Light mode.   We usually use Overlay for the dodging and Soft Light for the burning. Dodging and burning in frequency separated portrait is very effective and you don’t affect the texture, just the tone.

Dodge and Burn | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques


 Use the Dodge and the Burn tools (Shift+O) to lighten or darken areas of the image without affecting skin texture.Dodge and Burn | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Dodge tool:   Highlights Range; 0-20% Hardness; 0-10% Exposure; ticked Protect Tones checkbox.     •The Burn tool:   Shadows Range; 0-20% Hardness; 0-10% Exposure; ticked Protect Tones checkbox.  

Technique  The basic idea behind dodging and burning is brightening highlights and higher end midtones and darkening shadows and darker midtones. Work in small stages to correct the areas that need attention. If some of the areas are more mid tone than highlight or shadow , you can change the tool to mostly affect the midtones, setting the Range to Midtones.  As you paint, pay attention to face contours. If you mess up something, just take a soft simple brush with the same grey color (50% grey color is #808080), and it will act as an eraser. Brush out anything you don’t want and you are set. You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to achieve a natural look.


 To finish with the frequency separation retouching, flatten the image, using  Layer > Flatten Image.


This Photoshop Frequency Separation techniques tutorial outlines a few techniques to help you achieve beautiful, natural-looking skin. To see the full version of our Photoshop Skin Retouching workflow click  here.

If you think, that some of your images look like a lost cause or you struggle to process large amounts of photos within a quick turnaround and still guarantee high-end quality, PixaFOTO  is ready to help.  –  Professional  retouchers  can do all that  photo editing  work instead of you and we are not used to give up!   We at PixaFOTO  help photographers providing them with  Affordable Retouching Services.


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