Lesson: High-End Skin Retouching with Frequency Separation Technique

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Lesson: High-End Skin Retouching with Frequency Separation Technique

In this lesson, we are going to learn an advanced technique of skin retouching: frequency separation. This method allows you to work with the color and skin texture separately and achieve the best result!


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In this lesson I want to show you one of the best techniques for skin retouching. If you know how to apply it, you’ll be able to create high end beauty portraits just like a pro. This method is called the Frequency Separation Technique.

The main idea of this method is that we divide color and texture of our image and work with it separately. So here is the image we are going to work with.

You can see here we have some pimples and spots. It would be very easy to remove them with the Healing Brush tool. Instead of the ordinary Healing Brush, you can use the Spot Healing brush. It is a very easy instrument. You just click on the blemish and it’s done. But it should have some very good surroundings to match. It’s a very quick instrument, but of course the ordinary Healing Brush is much more flexible and professional. You can use it directly where to take your sample. Just press on the area and hold in Alt/Option key. While you go, you’ll see a little cross where it takes the sample. And another great advantage with the Ordinary Healing brush is you can work on a separate layer. Just select “Current and Below” mode.

So, let’s stay with this result. It already looks better. But we still have some imperfections on this picture which aren’t so easy to remove. Like for example, this heavy shadow and texture under her nose. So let’s start with the preparation of our picture.

For this technique, you should have two copies of the same image. One is for the color and another one for the texture. Switch off the top layer and select the bottom one for the color. We want to have the color of our skin here … not texture. For this purpose, select menu Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur. Make the radius 0, and select some area with hairy texture. Just click with small square on this area and you will see it in the window. And now slowly increase the radius. We need to stop when our texture disappears. But don’t go too far … if you blur it too much, it will be very difficult to work with, and also you will have some extra color on the texture layer. Let’s check other parts of the face to make sure we don’t have any texture, and press okay.

Now select the top layer for the texture. To extract it, go to the menu Image → Apply Image. You need to subtract layer 1, the layer with the color. So select this layer, and select Blending Mode → Subtract. Also be sure that you have settings Opacity 100%, Offset 128, and Scale 2. In this way, we’ll get a perfect result. And you can see what we have there, is the texture only … no color. To combine these two layers, we need to change the blend mode of the texture layer to Linear Light. And this is it. We have our original image again.

Let’s group them. Select both images and press Ctrl+G/Cmd+G and you can see here that we have the same image, same color, and same sharpness as before, but now we have texture separated from the color.

Let’s start with the texture. The main idea is to replace bad texture with areas with good texture. We are going to use the Clone Stamp tool here. Make sure that you work on the current layer, so we don’t sample any color. Also, your Opacity should be 100%, and also make sure you work with a hard brush. And now start to sample good, smooth texture and replace bad, hairy texture. Just be sure that you sample different spots. We don’t want to see any strange patterns or repetitions here. In the same way, we can remove the small hairs on her nose and the hairs under her lips. It looks much better now.

With this technique we can also remove some small hairs since we have them only on the texture layer. But, if this hair is very visible, you’ll also have some trace on the color layer. We are going to remove it while we work with the color layer. Let’s also remove this wrinkles under her eyes, and some spots on her forehead. It shouldn’t be too perfect. If you smooth all texture completely, it will just look very unnatural. As for me, I don’t like plastic, over-retouched images. I think there should be some natural imperfections. By the way, if you have some other parts of the skin in your picture, you can also work with it. You can investigate hands, for example, or also remove some hairs and blemishes. Now, let’s move on to the color layer.

There are a lot of techniques on how you can improve it. Be creative and experiment. For example, if we have a spot we don’t like, we can select it with the Lasso tool. Be sure the Feather of your selection is something like 7 or 10. And now just Blur the spot using the Gaussian Blur filter. We don’t care about texture, so now it just looks natural. Let’s do the same for the next spot. And since we use the same filter again and again (Gaussian Blur with the same radius), you can just use the shortcut Ctr+F/Cmd+F instead of selecting the filter every time.

When you work with color, you can suddenly see some problems with the texture, so go back on the texture layer and fix it. There is no golden rule on how to work with it, so you can work at the same time with both layers. Let’s continue fixing these spots on the color layer. I don’t like the shadow on the nose or near the eye. Let’s also remove the hair trace and soften the shadow under her lips. You can see that it already looks better, but I still have some problems with the color. For example, the shadow under the lips is too heavy and the shadow under the nose. I can’t just blur it because we have the border between different color layers. But because I just work with the color, I can just take a brush and draw here anything I want.

Let’s create a new layer over the color and take a brush. I want to use some small color changes, so I set opacity to 20%. You may use some other numbers, just make sure that your drawing looks natural. And now I will sample a light color and draw over the shadows. You can easily draw to much and get a strange result. What we have I’ll draw on the separate layer. We can always make the opacity smaller, draw with another color, or simply delete it and draw again.

And now with this brush, I will just lighten areas that are dark. I can also add some color to this area. I can even completely draw everything from scratch, creating new colors, new lights, and new shadows. Let’s make the second cheek lighter. I also don’t like that our makeup doesn’t have a smooth gradient. I can also fix it here. Just sample the dark color and blend it to the light color. And take the light color and do the same. If you like the Mixer Brush tool, you can also experiment with it in this technique, and just do the same with the other eye.

Let’s look at the result before and after. What is great about the Frequency Separation Technique is you can combine it with the Dodge and Burn technique if you want to sculpt the face more. Draw cheekbones, correct the nose, forehead, and so on. Once again, just don’t be too crazy about it. We want everything to look natural.

I also want to make some corrections to the eyebrow. I can add color on the color layer, and copy and paste more hair on the texture layer. And I think I’ll stay with this result. I removed all blemishes and spots, and corrected the shadows and lights I don’t like. What is also great about this technique is that it’s not only for skin, but basically you can use it for any surface. You can see how easily I remove these wrinkles on the fabric, just smoothing the color layer.

Let’s see before and after. Now it looks much more accurate. This is it. Thank you for your attention. I hope you like this video and found it helpful.

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Lesson: High-End Skin Retouching with Frequency Separation Technique