Frequency separation in Photoshop allows you to separate the tones and colors in a photograph from the texture. This will allow you to keep realistic skin texture when editing portraits and get a professional result.
I created this free Photoshop action so you won’t have to set up frequency separation for every photograph. This action was designed for 8 Bits/Channel photos and won’t work correctly on 16/32 Bits/Channel.
I will describe how to create frequency separation for both 8-bit and 16-bit photos in the following tutorial. I will also show you how to edit a portrait after applying the action. The action is only a starting point in the process.
Step 1: Install and Run the Photoshop Action
First, install the action (.atn file). With Photoshop open, click on the upper right corner of the actions panel and choose “Load Actions”. Select your .atn file.
Once the action is installed click on it and then click the triangle at the bottom of the actions panel to run it.
Now your photo is frequency separated and ready to be edited.
Step 2: Edit Your Portrait
Click on the “texture” layer and use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to remove any obvious skin blemishes such as large pores, scars and stray facial hairs. If your model has extensive or very red acne you might want to use the Spot Healing Brush before running the action. Experiment to see what works best for your photo.
Next, click on the “base” layer. Select the Lasso tool and set the Feather amount to 15.
Select an area of your photo that you would like to smooth with the Lasso tool and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Move the radius until the skin looks more even without looking obviously blurry or unnatural. You can move about the face and body selecting areas and then applying Gaussian blur. It’s best to choose a custom radius setting for each section.
Here is the photo before and after applying the frequency separation action and editing. You can see that I left texture on her skin and that she doesn’t have an overly smooth and fake look.
Here is another portrait I edited using the above technique. In this case I turned the opacity of the texture layer down to 80% as a final step to reduce the bumpiness in her skin.
How to Create Frequency Separation in Photoshop
First, duplicate the background layer twice. Name the middle layer “base” and top layer “texture”.
Click on the middle “base” layer and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. The blur should be just to the point where fine details like pores are invisible but the image is still recognizable. A radius of 5 is a good choice for portraits.
Next, click on the “texture” layer and go to Image>Apply Image.
If your image is 8-bit choose the following settings. For Layer choose “base”. For blending choose “Subtract”. Scale 2 and Offset 128.
If your image is 16-bit choose these settings. For layer choose “base”. For Blending choose Add. Scale 2 and Offset 0. Check the “Invert” box.
Your photo will look gray with the main details from the image showing.
Finally, change the blessing mode of the texture layer to “Linear Light”. Your photo will look exactly like the original at this point, but you will be able to edit the color/tone layer and texture layer separately.