HOW TO RETOUCH: Pt. 3 Skin Retouching (Healing & Frequency Separation)

This is part 3 of my “HOW TO RETOUCH” Photoshop series. This tutorial will focus on how to retouch skin and the right way to smooth skin and remove blemishes like acne or scars from the skin of your subject. We will use a method called frequency separation to split the colors and details apart in our image and lend additional power to our healing/cloning brushes as we heal away blemishes in the skin. Our frequency separation will allow us to copy the texture from different parts of the skin, but not the colors. This will allow us to get very smooth skin that still has texture and also has beautiful color as well.

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DOWNLOAD: If you want an action so you can quickly get started with frequency separation for your images, grab my free Photoshop action right here and apply it to any image and start healing and patching to your heart’s delight.

1. Getting Started

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-01 You will want to begin by merging all visible layers to a new layer to create the first layer in the frequency separation sequence. Use the secret hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E to pop everything up onto a new layer. Double click the name and rename this layer “lo”.

2. Creating the Layers

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-02 Duplicate that “lo” layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J and name this second layer “hi”. Click the little eyeball icon to shut this layer off and hide it.

3. Blurring the Skin

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-03 Select the “lo” layer and go, Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and blur the skin until you can’t really see skin detail anymore. TIP: You don’t really want to blur it so much that you can’t make out things like the general shape of facial features, just enough to hide details in the skin.

4. Applying the Image

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-04a how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-04b Next, select the “hi” layer and turn it back on by clicking the eyeball icon. Go Image>Apply Image and choose “lo” from the Layer drop-down menu. Because we’re working with a 16-bit image we want to tick on Invert and set the Blend to “Add” and set Scale to “2” and Offset to “0”. If we were working with an 8-bit image the settings would be tick off Invert, set Blend to “Subtract”, set Scale to “2”, and Offset to “128”.

5. Healing on the “hi” Layer

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-05 We want to next grab the Healing Brush tool and set the Sample drop-down menu up in the toolbar to “Current Layer” so we sample from only our “hi” layer. Begin sampling and healing blemishes on your subject’s face.

6. Cloning/Healing the Colors

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-06 When you are healing the details (“hi” layer contains the details of the image) you may find a need to also smooth or clone colors to help smooth things out in your image. You can select the “lo” layer and use the Clone Stamp tool (make sure you have the Sample drop-down set to “Current Layer” here too!) and paint with a large, soft-edged clone brush to fade and blend skin tones and color together.

7. More info and a bonus Sharpening/Contrast Trick in the video!

how-to-retouch-frequency-separation-07 There is SO much more to be covered when it comes to frequency separation, be sure to watch the video above to see actually how I did it and learn lots of little tips and tricks along the way! You’re going to love it!