This week, on-hand Photoshop Guru Eric Renno, aka Tip Squirrel guides us through how to retouch portraits using frequency separation in Photoshop. 

With the trend for retouching heading to the more natural, Frequency Separation fits the bill perfectly, maintaining the texture of the skin as well as the tones and is incredibly fast and easy to do once you know how.

Make Layers in Photoshop

For this example I’ve downloaded #80570582 – Scowling girl in shock of her acne with a towel on her head by Romario Ien.

Scowling girl in shock of her acne with a towel on her head.With the image loaded into Photoshop you’ll need two more copies.

With the background layer selected:

Cmd+Alt+J on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+J on a PC

Cmd or Ctrl and J duplicates the layer, by adding in the Alt key we can force open the New Layer dialogue box


In this dialogue box name the layer Tone and if you wish, change the colour of the layer. In my case I’ve chosen Green. Click OK.

Press Cmd+Alt+J on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+J on a PC again and this time call the layer Detail and change the colour:


Set Up The Tone Layer

For now, turn the visibility of the Detail layer off by clicking on the eye next to it and select the Tone layer:


In the menu go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur


In the dialogue box use the slider to blur the image so that the tones blur and you almost lose detail, but not quite. For my image this is about 10 px.


Set Up The Detail Layer

Turn back on the visibility of the Detail layer and make it active by clicking on it:


For this next part you’ll need to know if your image is an 8 bit image or a 16 bit image. To find out take a look at the top of your image, where it has the title of the image:


The 8 at the end of my image signifies it’s an 8 bit image, you may have a 16 there.

Alternatively you can go to the menu and choose Image > Mode. You’re image bit depth will be check marked.


Go to the menu Image > Apply Image:


For 8 bit images use the following:


For 16 bit images use:


Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Linear Light:


Editing The Image

Although the image now looks like it did to start with, the tone and detail are separate and so can be edited as such.

What editing tool you use next will depend on your image. In my experience using all the editing tools together works great, don’t rely on just one.

Editing Detail

In my example I’m going to use, ironically, the Spot Healing Brush tool first. I’m using quite a hard edge brush and unusually I’ve opted for ‘Proximity Match’ as my healing Type.


Important : Make sure that Sample All Layers is OFF for any tool you use

With the Detail layer selected, click on the image where the blemish is:


You can see in the example here that it’s done a great job in removing the uneven surface of the skin but preserves the natural texture because it’s sampled from close by.

Editing Tone

Again, the editing tool of choice is up to you, you may need to experiment a little to find out the best way to work on an image, and how you like to work. For me and this image I’ll stick with the Spot Healing Brush.

Make sure the Tone layer is selected then click on the areas of uneven tone:



Once you have the layers set up, and are happy with your tool choice, then editing skin like this is a quick process. This ‘After’ image took just 5 minutes start to finish!


As always, a big thanks to Eric for supplying this super detailed tutorial. Check out more of his tutorials on his websiteYouTube and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter should you wish to get in touch with him!