#CreativeFriday – Skin Retouching with Frequency Separation in Photoshop

Would you like another great way to re-touch skin? A good photographer/freelancer and Photoshop trainer friend of mine (Dave Wall) explained a great skin retouching technique in Photoshop. This particular process isolates the skin texture from the colour so that they can worked on separately, it is relatively simple to apply, but will touch on some more complex uses of blending modes.  It’s an amazing process and will certainly help the process of re-touching skin and keeping the delicate texture in tact. Dave’s technique focuses on beauty, however, i am going to show this technique based on a travel photography scenario.

Open the image inside Photoshop.


As you can see in the image, there are a few blemishes in the skin which i might want to fix. I can use the spot heal tool as well as other tools in Photoshop, however this is focused on skin as opposed to generic retouching. I posted the transparent layer technique last week, so please refer to this for non destructive editing.

We may have made other adjustments to the image before we do the retouch, so to make sure that we are working non destructively with a way to get back to the prior enhancements, press the keyboard shortcut CMD(Mac) or CTRL(Win) + Shift+ alt+E (probably the longest photoshop keystroke i know, this keystroke will not work on a single layer). This action will create a merged visible layer at the top of the layer stack. Then duplicate this layer twice.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 21.53.09

Rename the layers ‘Texture’ and ‘Colour’ as in the example above (it’s good practice to rename the layers so that you can retrace your steps), to edit a layer name, double click on the name itself and type in the new name. Then turn off the Texture layer, by clicking in the eye icon next to the layer.

Place a surface blur on the ‘Colour layer’, by using Filter / Blur / Surface Blur. When working with this filter i am looking for a smoothness of the skin that will remove any texture and detail. I have used a value of 25 pixels for radius and 25 levels for threshold, you may need to work with different values to achieve a similar look on your image. Then press OK.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 21.58.00


Next, turn on the ‘Texture’ layer by clicking the eye next to the layer and select it.

We are now going to use an old school technique to combine two layers, once you have chosen the ‘Texture’ layer, choose Image / Apply Image, the dialog below should be displayed.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 22.04.08


Choose the ‘Colour’ layer from the Layer drop down box, also choose a blending more of ‘Subtract’, a scale of ‘2’ and and offset of ‘128’. Then press OK.

(The subtract blending mode will subtracts pixel values of one layer from the other. In case of negative values, black is displayed). To find more about blending modes review the Adobe documentation here)

To enable the texture to be worked on and use this magical technique, change the blending mode of the ‘Texture’ layer to be ‘Linear Light’ (I also tried Vivid light here an achieved an interesting smoothing effect).

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 22.12.56

You are now able to fix the texture and the colour separately by cloning and healing on the independent layers.

Cloning and Healing….

The first option for cloning and healing is by making changes to the ‘Texture’ or  ‘Colour’ layer(s), but it is important to note that the clone/heal brush settings must be set to ‘current layer’ only when using this approach.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 22.15.57

As in all clone and heal retouching, make sure you select a source texture area near the target to keep a similar texture. Press the ALT key and chose the source, then paint in texture with a nice soft brush, with a size relative to the area you are fixing (i find a Wacom tablet good to paint with, as i can control the pressure with the pen (see demonstration here)). Make sure you try different opacity and flow strength to achieve the texture required, but as always be careful and don’t over do the retouch. Alternatively  you can create a transparent non destructive layer above this layer (see this post) and have it selected, change the sample layer in the tool to be ‘current and below’, then paint the replacement texture on the transparent layer.  Remember that you are able to change the opacity on the transparent layer to control the effect.

If you want to work on the ‘colour’ as opposed to the ‘texture’, then switch layers and perform the above in the same way (on the actual layer or on a transparent layer).


2 Responses to #CreativeFriday – Skin Retouching with Frequency Separation in Photoshop

  1. Dave Wall says:

    Glad you liked it Richard 🙂

    Pretty cool isn’t it !?!?! …..one of my favourites

  2. alexander korfiatis says:

    You can just use gaussian blur for the color layer for this.