High Frequency Separation in 10 Minutes


This is not your typical scientific approach to High Frequency Separation. I’m going to show you how I create the layers needed, but also how I use these layers to retouch blemishes, sharpen, dodge and burn, smooth skin and add texture, and even flatten out colors so we can control where the light will fall on the subject of our photo. This tutorial will take the mystery out of high frequency separation and show you some of the things I use this technique to help me accomplish some of what I do when I am retouching photos.

1. What is Frequency Separation?


Wrong question. At least for this tutorial it is. I’m not going to get scientific. Sure, it’s cool to look at the numbers and stuff, but let’s talk about how to just make this work and how you use it for projects. Right question is, what do we do first to create our frequency separation?

2. High Frequency Separation: Creating the Layers


Open an image in Photoshop that you’re looking to heal and retouch. Begin by duplicating the background layer two times by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J. Name the bottom duplicated layer “lows-1” and the high layer “highs-1”.

3. High Frequency Separation: Blur the Details Away


Select the “lows-1” layer and go Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and blur it by 25px. This will get rid of all the details and just store all of the colors in our image here on this “lows-1” layer.

4. High Frequency Separation: Applying the Image


Select the “highs-1” layer and go Image>Apply Image. Apply the image to the “lows-1” layer and use the blend mode of Subtract with a Scale of 2 and an Offset of 128 as I have in my screenshot. This will give us what looks like a high pass style effect. We have dumped all the color from this layer and preserved the details which can now be applied to the colors on the lower layer. We have separated the color from the detail and can retouch either/or on their own layers.

5. High Frequency Separation: Blending the Applied Image


Set the “highs-1” layer to the blend mode Linear Light. This will blend both layers together and make what looks exactly like our original image.

6. High Frequency Separation: Healing the Blemishes


Select the “highs-1” layer and grab the Healing Brush Tool (J) and set the tool to sample only the current layer by choosing that setting up in the control bar. Set the brush to be a relatively hard-edged, medium sized brush by right clicking and setting the brush tip to what you want. We can now Alt/Opt click to sample on our “highs-1” detail layer and paint over blemishes to zap them away. Run over your image and clean up all the small blemishes and marks that you want to clean up.

7. High Frequency Separation: Soften and Flatten the Light


Softening the color of your image is also possible by creating a new layer and dragging it between our “lows-1” and highs-1” layer and grab a very large, soft-edged brush, set the Brush tool (B) to the opacity of 10% and then hold down your Alt/Opt key to sample in the highlights of the model’s face (I’m sampling the highlight on her forehead) and paint just around her forehead with one pass and then sample the darker area the you just painted over to load the paint brush with that color and paint one pass over the highlight. Go over the whole face and do this. What this will do is essentially flatten all the highlights and shadows on the face and allow you to later dodge and burn and build all the exact contouring and shadows/highlights that you really need.

8. High Frequency Separation: Creating a Dodge/Burn Layer


Add another layer between our frequency separation layers and name it “D&B” and go Edit>Fill and choose to fill the layer with 50% gray. Set the layer to the blend mode Soft Light and grab the Dodge or Burn tool (O) and begin dodging and burning around the edges of her face, the sides of her nose, darken her eyebrows, run along the highlights with the Dodge tool and just generally add emphasis to the highlights and shadows where you think it is needed.

9. High Frequency Separation: Sharpening


We can apply a pretty effective pass of sharpening to this image by sharpening this “highs-1” layer because the sharpening will really crisp up the edges of our details and give us a nice tack sharp look (just don’t overdo it!)

10. High Frequency Separation: So Much More!


This is only an overview of just how much we cover in the full video at the top of this article. Check out the video and see just how much more there is to high frequency separation and some of what you can do with is. You’re going to love it.

Be sure to watch the video at the top of this article tutorial for even more detail and info on how I used this technique and really finished this effect and got great results!

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