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Portrait Retouching Using Frequency Separation


I wrote this post for Fotolia a little while ago and thought I’d share it with TipSquirrel readers too; (See the video for this technique here)

With the trend for retouching heading to the more natural Frequency Separation fits the retouching bill perfectly, it maintains the texture of the skin as well as the tones and is incredibly fast and easy to do once you know how.

1. Make Layers in Photoshop

For this example I’ve downloaded #80570582 – Scowling girl in shock of her acne with a towel on her head by Romario Ien.

With the image loaded into Photoshop you’ll need two more copies.

With the background layer selected;

Cmd+Alt+J on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+J on a PC

Cmd or Ctrl and J duplicates the layer, by adding in the Alt key we can force open the New Layer dialogue box


In this dialogue box name the layer Tone and if you wish, change the colour of the layer. In my case I’ve chosen Green. Click OK

Press Cmd+Alt+J on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+J on a PC again and this time call the layer Detail and change the colour;


2. Set Up The Tone Layer

For now, turn the visibility of the Detail layer off by clicking on the eye next to it and select the Tone layer;


In the menu go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur


In the dialogue box use the slider to blur the image so that the tones blur and you almost loose detail, but not quite. For my image this is about 10 px.


3. Set Up The Detail Layer

Turn back on the visibility of the Detail layer and make it active by clicking on it;


For this next part you’ll need to know if your image is an 8 bit image or a 16 bit image. To find out take a look at the top of your image, where it has the title of the image;


The 8 at the end of my image signifies it’s an 8 bit image, you may have a 16 there.

Alternatively you can go to the menu and choose Image > Mode. You’re image bit depth will be check marked.


Go to the menu Image > Apply Image;


For 8 bit images use the following;


For 16 bit images use;


Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Linear Light


4. Editing The Image

Although the image now looks like it did to start with the tone and detail are separate and so can be edited as such.

What editing tool you use next will depend on your image. In my experience using all the editing tools together works great, don’t rely on just one.

4.1 Editing Detail

In my example I’m going to use, ironically, the Spot Healing Brush tool first. I’m using quite a hard edge brush and unusually I’ve opted for ‘Proximity Match’ as my healing Type.


Important : Make sure that Sample All Layers is OFF for any tool you use

With the Detail layer selected click on the image where the blemish is;


You can see in the example here that it’s done a great job in removing the uneven surface of the skin but preserves the natural texture because it’s sampled from close by.

4.2 Editing Tone

Again, the editing tool of choice is us to you, you may need to experiment a little to find out the best way to work on an image, and how you like to work. For me and this image I’ll stick with the Spot Healing Brush;

Make sure the Tone layer is selected then click on the areas of uneven tone;


5. Repeat

Once you have the layers set up, and happy with your tool choice, then editing skin like this is a quick process. This ‘After’ image took just 5 minutes start to finish!


About Eric Renno (434 Articles)
Eric’s background in video editing with Adobe Premier led to his interest, and then obsession, with Photoshop. Starting TipSquirrel.com as a hobby he is proud to have gathered together and be a part of The Photoshop Nuts. Known as only “TipSquirrel” for two years, Eric ‘went public’ when he was a finalist in The Next Adobe Photoshop Evangelist competition. He’s also been a finalist in Deke’s Techniques Photoshop Challenge. While still taking on some freelance work, Eric has recently become a Lecturer at Peterborough’s Media and Journalism Centre where he enjoys sharing his knowledge as well as learning new skills. This realisation that he loves to teach has made Eric look at altering his career path.

7 Comments on Portrait Retouching Using Frequency Separation

  1. Thanks for this article. It will help me!

  2. All tutorials are written in simple language and its very descriptive i want to give you many thanks for your post

  3. All tutorials are written in simple language and its very descriptive thanks for sharing and step by step detaisl

  4. This tutorial is very helpful for me but i think it will be very helpful for every Photoshop learners.

  5. The following tutorial on Portrait Retouching Using Frequency Separation actually in a easy frequency and for this reason it becomes easy for me to understand it. Really a helpful tutorial for us who also depend on such activities. Thanks for your working.

  6. You have shown step by step how to portrait retouching using frequency separation. Nice explanation. Thanks for sharing your idea and experience.

  7. really an awesome tutorials with informative and helpfull issue !!

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