Retouching Skin Using Frequency Separation: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


In this episode we’re going to use some spectacular lighting, spectacular post-production, to create some spectacular pictures of a spectacular model! Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace in Tactic Studios in Madrid Spain, and today I’m going to take this studio and transform it from a very bland, seamless white paper, to beyond reality beauty shoot with a fantastic model, her name is Fanny Beladona. Here she is right here, and you probably recognize her from some previous shoots we’ve done on AdoramaTV. So today what we’re going to be doing is, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in the lighting portion, and the shooting portion of this video, because it’s very, very simple. You see that in just a second, we’re going to shoot some very basic beauty shots. But then I want to take those into post-production, and take them from beautiful to beyond reality. So we’re going to make her skin, we’re gonna make your skin sort of flawless, beyond what is normal in real life, and we might add some textures and some glow, and some other things, and so without further ado let’s get our lighting set up, and then we’ll start shooting. So let’s set up our lights right now. Well now that we have everything set up, let me give you a better understanding of how all the lights are configured. This is an incredibly simple lighting setup. It’s just butterfly lights so we have a three-foot octabox on the top with a small softbox below, giving some really, really, soft light, and I’ve added two kicker lights. These are some Godox strip lights, just to give her some highlights on the hair, everything is shot on axis, right between these two small soft boxes on the front. And we’re gonna make sure that we crop really tight on Fanny, and it will look fantastic. Well now that we understand the lighting setup, it’s pretty simple, let’s talk about how this strategy of shooting. I’m shooting it at f/8, the reason for that is I want enough depth of field to get all of Fannie’s face, all of her hair, everything in focus. And with my 50 mm lens that is perfect, now ideally I’d use a little bit longer lens, maybe a 70 – 200. Ao I might need to dial that into f/11 or so, depending on what you’re using, and how far away you are from your subject. But I don’t have a 70-200mm. All I have is my 50, so that’s what I’m using. So without further ado we’re gonna shoot some, and then we’ll get to the post-production. I love these shots, but to make them exceptional we need to do our post-production, because we want exceptionally flawless, artificially flawless skin. We want to make sure that we add some highlights, and textures and all kinds of things. We want to take these from reality, to beyond reality, that’s the kind of beauty shots that I’m looking to create, and so to do that we need to add some post-production, gonna get to that right now! For this retouching session I’m going to be using a Photoshop technique called “Frequency Separation”.. to keep things short I’m going to stick to the basics, the steps are simple. In Photoshop we’ll create two copies of our background layer, the lower copy will be blurred to create a low-frequency layer, and we’ll use apply image to the top layer, to create a high-frequency layer. On the low frequency layer, we’ll adjust our luminosity tones and colors, and on the high frequency layer, we’ll adjust our textures. Now it sounds complicated, but it’s not. Let’s walk through it together we’re gonna start on a familiar place for an Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and I’ve already looked at the images from the photo shoot, and these are the ones I’ve selected to edit. We’re just going to start with this last image here, and zip over to the develop module. Now at this point all you need to do is, set your tonality and color, so your white balance, and your basic highlights shadows, whites, blacks, etc Now you can do that here in … in Lightroom or in Adobe Camera Raw. It doesn’t really matter, the important thing is once you’re finished. You need to zip over into Photoshop. So I will do that by right-clicking, saying ..Edit in… Adobe Photoshop CC 2019 now once we’re in Photoshop, we need to make two copies of this background layer. We can do that using the command or control J shortcut key. So I’ll do that once, twice, to create two layers. Two copies of this background layer. Now to keep things easy to understand I’m going to rename these layers really quickly, and I’ve renamed them to low frequency and high frequency, and I’m going to put those in a group just so that I can turn them on and off, for before-and-after comparisons later. So FSL, frequency separation layers. I’ll hit okay. You don’t have to put these into a group. I just do that so I can turn them on and off, very quickly to show you the differences later on. Okay the next thing we need to do is, we need to set up these low and high frequency layers. Now the thing is you don’t have to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, you just have to understand the steps, because they are the same, every time you do this. So the first thing we need to do, is turn off the visibility of the high frequency layer. You do that just by clicking the little eyeball, then select the low frequency layer, and we need to blur that. We’re going to blur that using the, the Gaussian blur. Now to do this before I do that, I need to zoom in to 100%. That’s important, you want to make sure that you can see this at a hundred percent. So we can see all the little fine lines and details, and our subjects face. So once I’ve done that, now I’ll go to filter, blur.. Gaussian.. blur. Now what I want to do is, I want to set this radius. Not too high, and not too low. But just high enough that the details. All the small details, the eyelashes, the lines on her lips, the lines around her eyes etc.. Those start to go out of focus, or those are blurry… so we’re just going to go up to around five pixels. You can see that those are now soft. Down about one, and a half, or two pixels. There’s just not quite enough.. so somewhere around four or five pixels is going to be the sweet spot. So I’ll do 4.6. Don’t go way up here to a really, really high, blur. Because that just isn’t going to work, so some of them, one of the big mistakes is people blur too much on this low-frequency layer. Keep that down just enough, where the small details are being blurred out. Then hit okay. That’s all you have to do for the low-frequency layer. For the high-frequency layer, now we’ll select this layer, and then turn back on the visibility, and then we’re going to do something called apply image. Again you don’t have to understand why, you just have to understand what. So to do this go to image and then we’re going to go to apply image. Now this is going to ask us for a few things, and the good thing is, this is the same every single time. So it’s going to ask for the layer that you’re applying. So what we want to do is, make sure we choose the low frequency layer. So that is this low frequency layer here the first layer that we just blurred. So if you name that something else, whatever you’ve named it. It’s going to show up in this drop-down. So low frequency is what I’ve selected. The blending mode we want to make sure that we choose subtract, subtract is the blending mode, and then the opacity should be 100%, and these other two values here are always going to be the same the scale. Should be two, and the offset should be 128, make sure the scale is to offset 128 and then click OK. Now this looks like a high-pass filter, so we have to fix that. So we go over here to our layers panel, we choose our blending mode, and then make sure you choose linear light. Now this is sort of crazy here. If I just have my low frequency layer, I have a blurry image. If I just have my high frequency layer, I have this high-pass filtering look. If I put those together, using linear light we have a complete image. So I have my textures on this layer, and I can choose to fix those totally independent of my colors and tones here on this low frequency layer. So let’s dive in and start working with this. We’re going to start by working on the low frequency layer. What we want to do here is, notice on Fanny’s face that she has some areas on her face that are similar tones. So some reds on her cheeks, we have some nice light. Forehead here, but notice that it’s sort of blotchy. We’ve got different darks and light likenesses here, some reds and some oranges. We want to start blending those together. So it becomes smooth, and we’re going to overdo it in this demo, just to make sure it shows up on YouTube. So to do this what I… first thing to do is get my lasso tool. So I’m going to click over here, you can use the shortcut key L, to make this much faster. I need to make sure I have a nice feather, so I’m going to use about 15 pixels. So I will just select this area here that I want to blend now. If I want to see what that feather looks like, I can hit the quick mask shortcut key, which is Q, and then I can see if this is a nice feather if it’s not I can hit Q again to get rid of that, deselect. I can change my feather, make it maybe 20 select again, and then hit Q to see if that’s a nice feather. It looks pretty good to me, okay so, I’ve got our selection. it’s a nice feather, and now what we need to do is, we need to blur this, just on the low frequency layer. So to do that, I’m going to go to filter, and then I’m going to select blur, Gaussian blur. Now notice, I’ve set up a shortcut key. I’ve got some keystrokes here to do this really quickly, and I’ve got a Wacom tablet that emulates those keystrokes. So you’ll see me start to do this really quickly, but that’s how I did it. I set up a custom keyboard shortcut, and then assigned that to a key on my tablet. So I’m going to select Gaussian blur, and then for this what I want to do is. I want to move this to a radius where all of these different tones start blending together, now make sure preview is checked, so you can see that, and notice that all this blotchiness is starting to go away. What.. for about oh.. 40, 45. That’s probably way too much than you’d normally do, but I really want to make sure that you can see this on YouTube. So I’m going to go with about 59 here, and say okay. Now what I’ll do is, I’ll start selecting different areas. So I’m going to select this area, they have similar tones and then I’m using my shortcut key to go ahead and blend that. They go down here. These are similar tones, I will select that, he’s my shortcut key, blend that… I’m just going to do this really, really quickly here on some of the larger portions of Fanny’s face, and watch what happens if I turn off the group. Whoops, if I turn off the group with the background later on. So this is before, this is after, you can already see this to really start taking effect. Now I’m overdoing it for the sake of YouTube, but you can see how this works. it’s very very simple, low frequency, you select areas that are similar, you blur them move to the next area, blur them. So we’re fixing the tonality of our low-frequency layer. The high-frequency layer is what we use to fix things like these little lines around our subjects eyes. So to do that, what I’m going to do first, I’m gonna blend these really fast using the same technique. So I’m going to blend all these areas right here. So that’s blended using the same method now. I’m going to go to the high frequency layer. I’m able to choose a different tool. The tool I’m choosing is the clone stamp tool. I know you’re thinking, well why not use the blend…ah The healing brush tool. Well the clone stamp tool is what we want to do, because we want to take areas of texture from one area that’s similar, and apply them to another area. So we’re just doing a transplant, so we’re cloning that stuff. The thing that’s important to understand is, we need to make sure that this sample is on the current layer. So not current and below, or all layers, make sure it’s set to current layer, that’s very, very important. Then what we can do is, we can use our option key to select where we want to pull from. So I’m going to pull from about right here. I’m going to place that in here, and we’re just going to keep doing that very quickly, and notice that all of that detail just goes away. So I’m quickly and easily able to change the textures, without changing the tones and the colors underneath. It is a really fabulous technique, so we can spend some time on this. Normally this would take you 20-30 minutes.. maybe an hour or two to do this correctly. So I’m gonna work on this image and then I will show you the before and after results. So I’ve worked on this image for a few minutes now, and now we can show you the differences between ‘the before’ and ‘after’. So this is the ‘before’ image, looked pretty good until we did all the retouching. This is the ‘after’, this frequency separation technique allows you to create some stunning differences between your ‘before’ and ‘after’ image with a very simple technique. I loved these images, we went beyond reality to create something that’s really beautiful. Thank you so much Fanny for being in yet another wonderful video. Make sure you check out Fanny on Instagram it’s @fanny_beladona … here is her link right here.. Also checking me out check me out..on integral as well. @jmarkwallace, here’s my Instagram. Check it out, make sure you subscribe to AdoramaTV. It’s free, and you get new videos almost every single day, and click on the bell so you get notifications. Thanks again, we’ll see you again next time.

61 Replies to “Retouching Skin Using Frequency Separation: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Nice technique! It would be awesome to see a comparisation with the skin glow tool and that other skin tool in ACDcee Ultimate compared to Photoshop. I think this is pretty similar. Great howto video though!! 🙂

  2. Well now what's missing is the hair smoothing technique. A few years ago I saw a tutorial where they were able to smooth out stray hairs so it looked as perfect as the skin, and made a very dramatic difference.

  3. Mark, good video, clear explanation, like we used to get from you.
    Only …
    You forgot to mention this is for an 8 bit image.
    For a 16 bit image the Apply Image setup is different (as you know 🙂
    For Blending: Add
    For Scale: 2
    For Offset: 0
    Merry Christmas ho ho ho

  4. Mark thanks again for a wonderful informative tutorial. This is the best frequency separation instructional video I watched thus far!

  5. lol, very bad
    dodge burn is the way to go n BUT
    d&b is for luminosity problems
    heal / clone brush is for texture issues
    then you have the color problems which can be corrected w hue/ saturation sliders
    but FS, hell no, that's garbage

  6. Really not great. The skin should still look like skin. Worked in the industry for 13years and no one I know in any studio would use this technique.

  7. One minute into the video and I already can tell the results will be wax-like skin structure. Do you do that on purpose? I mean teaching a way of retouching for the lazy without a sense for quality results?

  8. This is probably one of the more worst ways to smooth skin. If you're going for that look, you're better off using Portraiture.

  9. Thank you so much for this, been so afraid to get in to photoshop but the Clarity brush in LR just doesn't cut it any more…the editing on this video makes it so simple to follow along with the steps and can't wait to try this out!

  10. Merry Christmas! Thanks for this tutorial, I think the result is not as natural as I expected, but I suppose we have to test and try with several combinations to get what we want. Thanks again, regards!

  11. Hi Mark, great tutorial. Is there any resource you would recommend for anyone who wants to know more about the technical details of this method? Like why those certain values were chosen in the apply image step?

    I hope you have a happy New Year and look forward to more of your content in 2019. 🙂

  12. Mark Wallace is the man always has been always will be! great video once again. there are a lot of things you can do with frequency separation. very powerful tool. its been around a long time I been using it for many years.

  13. Mark, when I try to do the Gaussian Blur you do at 5:47, I see no change happening. I have the layer on. The high frequency layer off. What am I doing wrong?

  14. Unreal videos on this channel. I am constantly coming back here to see what's new. Thanks for everything @Adorama

  15. hi mark,might be worth mentioning that these settings at the apply image stage on the high frequency layer are for 16-bit depth images,8-bit depth images have a different setting at the apply layer stage.

  16. Good intro into frequency separation. Personally I’d actually would love to hear why we use the settings and methods as described. If I know that then it’s easier for me to anticipate what the effect will be and how I can change that effect.

  17. Awesome video, as always, Mark. I just tried this technique and it really worked great. So easy, man. Thank you very much.

  18. Hi Mark. Thanks for another great video. I have a question that I hope you or someone on here can help with. When I open my raw image in Lightroom and adjust my highlights, wb, exposure… and then select open in Photoshop, it doesn't let me go further. When the image opens in photoshop from lightroom, I can't make the layer copies or apply the gaussian blur. If I open the raw image straight into photoshop and bypass lightroom, all the functions are available. Does anyone have any ideas as to why the functionality is different? I am using the latest versions of both programs as I have the subscription. Thanks

  19. Mark, thanks for the many years of valuable knowledge. I consider you to be one the tops in your field. May 2019 be a great year for you.

  20. I would like to see someone use the skin retouching on a face that isn't 20 years old. Maybe a 50 year old executive. There a lot of one click plugins that can retouch a young smooth face.

  21. The way Mark explained was so easy to follow and understand. Thanks Mark and please show us more of your technique 😀 Happy New Year.

  22. The biggest secret of the frequency separation technique is … Do not use it! The professionals do not use it, they only use dodge & burn (local & global)

  23. When you make your selection, how do you paste it to the new area of skin? That's where I got lost. Help me, please!

  24. Why when I do this is my image going completely black rather than grey with the visible high frequencies? :
    I have a lifelong feud going on with Photoshop. I DO NOT get on with it at all.

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