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Skin Retouching

Lesson 4 of 7

Frequency Separation


Skin Retouching

Lesson 4 of 7

Frequency Separation


Lesson Info

Frequency Separation

So we're gonna talk about frequency separation. I'm gonna talk a little bit about the original way people did frequency separation, and then I'm going to talk a little bit about the way I like to do frequency separation, because they're definitely different. So, frequency separation is the act of dividing certain areas of detail from the tone and the color of that same area. So frequency separation can literally be used on anything that you could possibly imagine. People think that it's just for skin. It's not just for skin. There are a lot of applications for it. I sometimes do mermaid photography and the mermaid photography, when I'm trying to blend the scales into the mid section of the mermaid, I'm using frequency separation for that, because what you're doing is you're basically cutting an area of your image and you're saying, "okay, this I'm gonna divide into the high frequency, "and this I'm gonna divide into the low frequency," and then you can change them independently of one ...

another. So you can see why this would be really good for skin, because if you don't use frequency separation on skin, what you end up doing is blurring everything. And when you blur everything, it has a telltale sign of being overly retouched. Because you're losing the skin texture. That is my one rule. If I'm teaching you anything dealing with skin, you are not allowed to lose that skin texture. So what I do is try and take that skin texture. I just take it over here, I set it over here for a minute, and I protect it, and then I blur the color and the tonality underneath the skin, and then I slap that skin texture back on top so it gives me the illusion of much smoother skin, but I'm still keeping that skin texture at the same time. Are you guys excited to see how we're gonna do that? Okay. So, the first step we are going to do is Shift + Option + Command + E, which is going to merge visible of all of our layers. And then we're going to hit Command or Control + J to duplicate that layer. So, basically, what we have is two duplication, basically two layers of exactly whatever is underneath is. Okay. We are going to name the top layer texture, and the bottom layer is going to be tone. And then I'm going to click and drag and move these two layers into my frequency separation folder that I have here. Frequency separation light. So, let me quickly explain the difference between my method and the original frequency separation. So when I was first starting out in Photoshop, I was like, okay, frequency separation, that's what everybody says is the way to go. I followed all the steps and then I was like, I don't see any difference in my file. I really don't understand why this is the method. It's because you as the user are responsible for getting rid of every single problem on the underlying color and tone layer by cloning those specific areas out. So if you have that time and you have all the time in the world, go ahead and use the original frequency separation. I don't have that much time, so what I do is I have Photoshop do the blurring for me, and I'm gonna show you how we do that. So the first thing we're going to do is turn the visibility of our texture layer off. We're gonna go to our tone layer, and we're going to use Filter, Blur, Surface Blur. The reason why I like surface blur is because it's only going to blur like colors together. Instead of using Gaussian blur, which is going to incorporate in all of the darker colors around the skin, and when it does that, when you're taking your skin smoothing close to the edge, what it's going to do is it's going to bleed all those colors together. So anywhere around the edge of your skin smoothing, you're gonna end up with muddied skin tone color, and so we don't like that. So you can see that at this radius of around 34... This looks pretty good. I'm gonna go ahead press okay. This does take a minute to process, the surface blur. It's a lot of math going on in the backend, so I'm just gonna let it run. Actually, that wasn't that bad. And then what we are going to do is we are going to turn our texture layer back on. So now this is our opportunity to really try and isolate out all of that fine detail in the skin, and basically try and get it to what we want it to look like. So with our texture layer, were going to go to Filter, Other, High Pass. And what we're looking for, when we go to Filter, Other, High Pass, we're gonna zoom in on the skin here. Let me zoom in. We're looking for a radius that is going to accentuate the pore structure the most. And so, what I mean by that is what I like to do is I like to start really small, and then I'll keep going up until I find a radius that looks like it's accentuating out this skin detail. Okay. Now it is very easy to go too far using the high pass. For maybe a year or so, I was like, more skin texture, higher radius. So I would just pump the radius really high for my skin texture, and then it ended up looking like crap because I wasn't paying attention to where the radius really isolates out that skin texture the best. And again, for every image, it's gonna be different, so I don't want you guys to think that, oh, the sweet spot for the radius for finding our high pass detail for pulling out skin detail is always gonna be 4.6, because it's not. It definitely varies between the images that you're working on. So this looks about right. Do you guys agree? Okay. Let's go ahead and press okay. Now there's a couple of things that we need to do to this texture layer first. The first Instagram gonna be to desaturate it completely. Command or Control + U, and we're gonna pull our saturation all the way down. And then the next thing is we're going to change the blend mode to overlay. All right. So if we take our frequency separation folder and turn it on and off, you can see that while, while the underlying small issues with the skin coloration are gone, you still have that overlying skin texture on top of it. Do you guys see that? Alright, so, of course, this is a little bit high for my liking, so we're gonna decrease the opacity of the skin tone layer underneath it. And you find that balancing point. You find the balancing point between the skin texture and the skin tone smoothing. All right, and that looks good. So let's go ahead. We have this in a folder, and our folder currently has a white mask, which means it's visible on all areas. So I'm going to hit Command or Control + I to invert that mask. And now let's come in here and let's start painting in that effect. I'm gonna hit B for my brush tool, and then I'm gonna hit X. I'm gonna make my tool a little bit smaller. Let's make sure our opacity and flow is all the way up, smoothing all the way down. And I'm going to paint in the effect over the areas of skin. So again, as I mentioned earlier, if you have time to do the original frequency separation method, that's great. I definitely think everybody should at least know how to use it and how to work with it, because it's an extremely important issue when it comes to skin smoothing, but the other thing to think about is time and keeping productive within what you do. At the end of the day, you guys are photographers, you're not retouchers, so you have to think about being productive and not ending up spending six or seven hours retouching an image. If for some reason you feel like this is still too smooth, what I like to do is duplicate the texture layer, Command or Control + J to duplicate the texture layer, and then you can really, really see that texture come out. So again, before and after. There are a couple areas where the duplicated texture layer should maybe come down in visibility. But all of what I just did is actionable. So let's talk about working smarter, not harder. Let's create an action for it and let's have you save time. Let's have you do everything that I just did with one click of your mouse. Right? Okay, so, that's the exciting thing about the automated frequency separation technique that I have shown you guys. All right.

Class Description


  • Confidently use professional techniques to retouch skin.
  • Understand why and when to retouch skin.


Skin, It’s one of the hardest things to retouch, but incredibly important to know how to do correctly, especially if you photograph people! The dreaded, plastic-like, over smoothed look, doesn’t work for any photographer and your clients definitely won’t be happy! Join professional retoucher, Kristina Sherk, as she devotes this class entirely to skin retouching done right. Not only will you learn the tried and tested​ professional techniques, but Kristina will also dive into "why" we retouch skin, which is just as important as the ‘how.” This class will teach you all the techniques you need to know, in order to take your portraits to the next level!


  • All level photographers and retouchers


Photoshop CC 2019


For the past 10 years, Kristina Sherk has been a high-end photo retoucher based out of Washington, D.C. She specializes in beauty retouching and has done work for many clients such as Time Inc., Hasselblad, Merz Aesthetic, and Cotton Incorporated. She loves “translating Photoshop” for people and subsequently, she’s a contributing author for educational publications like Shutter Magazine, Photoshop User Magazine and Lightroom Magazine. She is well-known for her online teaching, and you can find out more at


Shana J

Quick and to the point! I did learn a few things from the course. Thank you. My only issue is that the model's face was already for the most part blemish free and nearly perfect. It would be good to see these techniques done on " not so perfect" skin. Kristina even said that the model's skin was nearly perfect. So why not use an image where we can truly see the skin retouching process at work?

Wayra Sumaq

Amazing class. It would make my work so much easier. Kristina is a great teacher.

Wendy Garfinkel-Gold

Straight on information well-explained in an easy to follow manner. Great class - it was too short! Would like to check out her other classes!