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How to Use Frequency Separation for Retouching

Lesson 3 of 6



How to Use Frequency Separation for Retouching

Lesson 3 of 6



Lesson Info


Nothing's been done here. I have something here called the Basic Frequency Separation. I'm gonna click it, and well that was nice. There's my Basic Frequency Separation set up. Now, I wanna show you something very distinctive about this next section here. Do you remember I talked to you about Dust and Scratch and I talked to you about Gaussian blur? I do not like to blur the whole item because, as I said, the darks blur into the lights and the lights blur up, and you get mottling. Here's my new method. Pay attention, gang. This is new. I will take the blur. I will take the Lasso tool. I will select out parts. I'll hit command J to make a copy. Command J. Control J on a PC. I'll then blur that. Or I'll hit "Go to Safari". You know it's one of those two things. I can't decide. Gaussian blur. 10, yeah, let's do 10 for this, alright? And then I'll select another area. You need to be very careful here. You need to go back to your original blur. Command J, Gaussian blur, repeat filter, basic...

ally. Here we are over here. Command J. Do you see what it's doing? And then I can say, "Oh, you know what that needed a little more. "Maybe a little more." Do you see it now? Do you see there's no darks to blend in to the lights? It makes it so much easier. And what I generally do when I'm done is I shift click the three or four or 10 or 12 layers, and I merge them. I keep 'em simple. Keep it simple for yourself. And then I'll call that paint. So this is a pretty way, really great easy way to start. What I then often do is I love that gradient. Gradient paint. I misspelled paint but I don't think anyone's gonna be mad at me. Select, you know for the bags - not that I have any, I'm not pointing to myself - but this kinda thing here, I want you to kinda decipher, well what's going on? Well what's going on is it's the wrong color. That's all. So we're just gonna go in, click a color, and with the gradient tool, click and drag, click and drag, click and drag, click and drag, and get it as light as you need to. But, Lisa, it went into his eyes. Yes, darling, it did go into his eyes, but we're not afraid of a good 'ole layer mask now and then. Add a layer mask, go to your paintbrush, make sure black is your foreground color, and paint it out. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now I'm gonna show you the next thing that I want. I'm introducing filters now in a different way. We're gonna make a copy of that gray layer. Gray copy filter. My god he looks worse than ever. No problem, we're gonna option, click on the line in between so it's grouped, turn that back to Linear Light, pardon me, to Normal from Linear Light, and I'm gonna do something different. I'm gonna run a filter on this. I'm gonna run Dust and Scratch. Man, you can definitely do this with men. Noise, Dust and Scratch, and I'm gonna run a filter of, let's see, 10 and six. You're gonna play with this to decide what you want. Look what just happened to his skin. Look at his skin. That's after, that's before. Look how clean that is. Now, look what happened to his eyes. No bueno, right? But we're not afraid. We're gonna label that. Please, please, please, please label your blurs, your Dust and Scratch because when you come back two weeks later or when the client gives you 10 of these and you don't remember what you set it at, you have to figure out the setting 'cause you want them all consistent. Dust and Scratch, 10 and six. Totally horrendous and horrible here. Perfect for down here. We're gonna put a black mask on it. Sorry, black mask on it. If you hold the option key when you push the mask icon, you can get a black mask. And then you paint the skin in where you need it. You can also paint it in as lightly as you need it. So you don't even have to do it at 100%, you could paint in at 50%. You'd probably wanna keep some of his wrinkles on his forehead, so you can paint around. This is such a great technique for taking out big skin textures. So I'm not gonna paint this whole thing 'cause I think you get the idea, and I really have a whole bunch more I wanna show you. Again, I am not a step-by-step instructor. I really want you to start thinking. I want you to be able to look at your own files and go, "What can I do?" And right now, I wanna show you another technique within this. I'm gonna command J and merge all my blurs. I do this, by the way. I don't like to have a bunch of layers, so I will often, once I'm done painting and I'm happy, I merge it all to keep the file kinda compact. And I'm gonna go in here. See if I can get my (mumbles) happy. All right, this is one of the few times I'd use the smudge tool. Do you see how his nose is not exactly straight? I can use the smudge tool on a fairly big brush, and I can straighten his nose by using the smudge tool, and just. That took, what, not even a second. It's crazy, right? (audience laughs) Smudge tool, gradient paint. Sorry about that, smudge tool. So why can I do that? I can do this 'cause, you guys, it's just tone. That's all it is. You can add highlights. So let's say you wanted to give him a little more cheek highlights, you could add cheek, little gradient, maybe a light color selecting from his nose, use that gradient. All right, this is a little too appley. (audience laughs) But you get the idea. It's just paint. And why would you do this here? Why wouldn't you just do it on a layer? Right, it's good stuff, right? (audience laughs) Because you keep the skin texture. That's why you like it. It's seconds. I swear to Buddha, it's gonna change a lot of people's thinking. I'm gonna move on 'cause I have a lot to show you. I'm hoping you're getting the idea. I'm repeating. Look, his face is no different than that cup which is no different than a car which is no different than a dog which is no different. And I mean that with love, absolute love. It's the same process, but I find folks aren't using it for all this. I really hope people are finding this helpful. All right. Sweet Jesus, right? (audience laughs) All right, and I'm gonna tell you something. For this kinda job, we don't get a lot of time. We definitely don't get a lot of money. And how are you gonna clean this up fast? How are you gonna clean it up fast? So let me show you. Again, we're dissecting. It's not a one, two, three step thing. This is me showing you how did I build this. Blur, that's the regular blur, regular gray. Filters are your friends. Dust and Scratch, 40 and zero. I will show you that a little extra paint, a little extra paint for tone to do her calves, and then nothing on the retouch layer oddly enough. So shall we do this together? I'm gonna have to look that number up again. Oh oh oh, I cheated, I totally just cheated. Don't look at the girl behind the counter. All right, let's do this again. All right, I'm gonna go back to my basic frequency recipe. There I am. And I'm gonna go hit command J, and I believe it was 40, zero I did. So Dust and Scratch under the Noise, 40 tab zero. That's pretty darn good. That is pretty darn good. Only, I don't want it everywhere. So I'm gonna paint it in. It's fun, huh? It's not quite there, but I'm getting close. I want my opacity to be 100%. Few sets, not bad. All right. Let's add a little paint. I hope you'll forgive my spelling errors. There's a reason I went to art school. I'm gonna lower that opacity. Now, do you remember the guys nose, and I wanted to do a little form? You can do that on this too. It's gonna have to get masked in. Do you remember I said earlier? Paint broadly? So you don't have to be precise. Not bad. Okay, there's a few little goobers. I am totally willing, totally willing to spend four minutes and clone out that, but I'm done. (mumbles) But frequency got. Look how far frequency got. What's that a minute, two minutes? Maybe? Right? I can feel it someone saying, "Oh my god!" out there! So, let's unpack this for a minute, and I'm gonna move on to some other stuff here. What have I done? One, I have used a filter to do the heavy lifting. Why that's good on this kinda job. Let's zoom in here for just a second. That's the filter. That's the Dust and Scratch. What did I tell you about the Dust and Scratch? It wants to try to keep the highlight and shadow separated, so it left some shape to her leg. If you had just done the Gaussian blur, she would've looked like she had kankles, just (expanding sound). So, is it perfect, no, but it's getting there. Inevitably, with, especially such a heavy blur, you're gonna lose some of the form, which is why you're gonna go in and paint contouring, spelled really well, and you can paint the shin bone in and make it really precise. The key to this technique that we love so much. And let me just go back to my history for just a second. The key to this is that I didn't have to touch the clone layer. I mean look at that. Could you image having to go in and clean that? I didn't have to. Why? Because, look it, it's all that detail. That's detail, so that lives on the detail layer, the gray, so I didn't have to do anything. Now you'll see it's there. It's there because I'm a creature of habit, and I do my formula, and I always make my copies so I'm ready to go when I need to. But look at that. For the final, it's thrown away. For the final, it's thrown away. This is my moment to say, please do not give people expanded frequency separation files. If you are dealing with people who, like, if coworkers who don't know frequency separation, if you deal with clients who don't know frequency separation, please don't give them a frequency separated expanded file. They're gonna jack it up. They're gonna do something. They're gonna open it up and be like. (disgusted sound) What do I do with this? So please, whenever you're done, little command D. That's all you do. There you go. I'll take my money now. Thank you very much. You know what I mean. It's a courtesy 'cause that is a rude thing to give to somebody who doesn't know this process 'cause it's a little scary. I'm gonna move on, yeah? Cool. Look at all this stuff we're doing in just minutes. All right. Yes, leather is the best contexture ever. I've got a quick sample I did of myself, and hopefully, this will resonate. Oh my god, there I am. I think it's one of those things you should do if you're gonna do retouching, you should always work on yourself, always, because you have a different understanding. Oh my god. You have a different understanding of what other people go through when you're retouching yourself. Do you understand? It's a good gauge. All right, so here I am. I'm a little tired. I'm always a little tired. Here's my frequency separation. I did do a color move 'cause it looked a little sad to me, but we can leave that here for a second. Let's unpack this. I would like for you guys to not be afraid of. (gasps) Cardinal sin. A non-labeled layer. Please label your layers. I want you to be so comfortable with frequency separation that you're not afraid to see something like this, that all these layers don't scare you. And I'm trying to unpack what I did here, so here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna turn off all the extra stuff I put on here, and I'm gonna walk through this very quickly. Little face paint, little face paint, little nose paint, a little nose contouring. Not unlike I did with that guy, only I darkened my nose. This side of my nose, I'm gonna add a highlight in just a second. Why would I do some of my blurs on different layers? Because some areas you wanna blur more. I will tell you, like for me, this area in here needed a lot of blurring. This area didn't need as much. This area, I can't even tell you, how much blurring. I can't tell you, actually, how much blurring it needed. It needed quite a bit. And there's also color. So that's one of the reasons you might wanna keep these things separate. All right. Little light under the eye. Look in, you guys, it's all just. Let me show it you this way. Little softening. Oh you guys, look at this, this is a new edition. This is a color layer. Cooler 'cause I can't spell. So embarrassing. Oh my god. C-O-L-L-R, 50%. So what I'd done here is I've literally painted a unified skin color on color mode at 50% opacity because I got some Irish in me. And when you have some Irish in you, you get this. Do you see it? All that red? So that needed to go away. Ugh, the neck. This is painful. Let's just lighten the neck up a little bit. And let's add some highlights on the front. I didn't take as much for my neck as I could've. I coulda taken some more. I'm gonna put this in a folder now because I just like this to be cleaner. You can do that you guys. You can pack everything up inside your frequency separation into a folder so it's not crazy kittens, you know? All right, so let's look at the retouching. There's me in my glory, tiny bit of retouching, tiny bit, because I went, you know what, these need some heavy guns, and I've decided to do a filter. So I did, do you remember how I told you to label your layers, I did a Dust and Scratch, six six. I'm gonna throw something new at you. You ready for this? That layer is called this is gray. Please pay attention to this - one of my favorite techniques in this process. This layer is, oh excuse me. The color, 50% gray, it is, quite literally, the color 50% gray on a 100%. You guys know, what's that set at? Linear Light. When you put some 50% gray color on Linear Light, just like Overlay, it disappears. So I'm effectively putting a layer of 50% gray, and where I paint it, things will start disappearing. What would I like to disappear, hmm? Who needs a neck lift when you have 50% gray? So I'm very gently painting in the color of 50% gray, and what that effectively is doing is getting rid of detail. So rather than trying to clone out all that, I'm just painting it out. Okay? Before, after. I can make it stronger if I want, but the more I do, oops, excuse me. Be on the mask. That's the other thing you gotta kinda keep remembering. The more I do, the more it disappears. Do you understand? And that might be perfect for you? I will tell you an area you absolutely are gonna wanna do that for women and sometimes men, right here. A little color 50% gray, paint it with a light, like 20% opacity brush, all that will disappear.

Class Description


  • Retouch images using Photoshop’s frequency separation technique
  • Swap and combine elements within a photograph


You will learn how to use frequency separation technique in Adobe Photoshop® to adjust, and swap out elements to enhance images. You can combine elements from different images to enhance a single image. For example, taking skin from one image to use on a blown out skin image. By separating the colors and details you can work on one element without affecting the other.


  • Intermediate to Advanced Adobe Photoshop Users
  • Portrait photographers


Adobe Photoshop CC 2019


Lisa Carney is a high end retoucher who has spent over two decades working with the most dynamic players in the print, motion picture, and television industries.

Besides being a regular presenter at the Adobe MAX conference, her teaching roster runs the gamut from beginners to professional retouchers, and includes universities, design studios, movie studios, corporations, and private students.

Lisa has worked with all major movie studios and many television networks including Disney, Buena Vista, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, Sony, Universal, Newline, Columbia, MGM, ABC Television, ESPN, TNT, CNN, CBS, CW,Warner Brothers and Sony.

Advertising credits include Burger King, Baskin-Robbins, Lowes, Jordana Cosmetics, Strategic Perceptions, Mattel, Chrysler, Mercedes, Mazda and Best Buy.


a Creativelive Student

Fast paced and great education! Not for the beginner, but definitely worth your time to learn these techniques and speed up your editing. I love Lisa's handouts, very visual and detailed. And I love being able to rewatch Lisa's videos when I get stuck.


I loved the class..... this tools will save me so much time while retouching!!!! Thank you Lisa, for sharing your skills and knowledge with us!!!


This was such an amazzzzing course! Now that I have a much better understanding of the actions I use, I can start tweaking them to make them better for what I do. I can't wait to start experimenting with them!