Should You Use Dodging and Burning or Frequency Separation for Retouching Images?

Dodging and burning and frequency separation are two of the most commonly used techniques for retouching skin, but they both have their own sets of pros and cons that may make one or the other the better choice for your own work. This excellent video will show you the results you can achieve with both methods and will detail what it is like working with them.

Coming to you from Kayleigh June, this excellent video discusses frequency separation versus dodging and burning for retouching skin. Frequency separation has gained a somewhat controversial reputation in recent years, as it is very easy to go overboard with, and the results look highly artificial and plastic when you do. However, when used carefully, it can be a very powerful and efficient technique, which is one of the primary differences between it and dodging and burning, which tends to be a bit more tedious and involved. Nonetheless, a lot of top-end retouchers and photographers prefer dodging and burning for the best results, resorting to other methods only when a client's budget is not big enough for the time required for dodging and burning. Check out the video above for June's full thoughts. 

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11 Comments

Daniel Medley's picture

For the most part, as I understand it, FS has fallen out of favor among the top retouchers.

Matthias Dengler's picture

That is correct! All is done with Micro D&B or repair stamp.

Manny Pandya's picture

I'm partial to using micro-D&B for skin, but to me, it looks like you are not blurring your low-freq (color only) layer enough. You should not be able to see any skin detail, just color. Also, I believe that once you properly blur the low-freq layer, you'll be able to use a larger brush size to even out the color tones on that layer, resulting in more pleasing gradient and transition of color tones from area to area. Using a healing brush on a low-freq layer that has not been blurred enough will indeed result in some "smudging" of the skin details that are left by the inadequate blurring. This is why the layers are supposed to be fully separated with color only on one, and detail only on the other. In terms of preference, I agree with Daniel Medley in that FS seems to be falling out of trend, which I believe goes along with the trend to honor subjects for their unique looks and not using tools to hide, cover or manipulate bodies and features to match some nebulous and overly consolidated cultural version of what beauty is. FS is almost too good at what it does and really physically changes the look of the skin, where D&B with light healing or clone-stamping provides a much more "honest" result. Good lighting at the time of the photo will negate 90% of the post-production work though. Anyway... thanks for creating the vid and a good discussion topic.

Edit: William is also correct in my opinion... skin correction and general D&B should both be used when done correctly. But where micro-D&B is a skin correction technique, general D&B is a more overall image technique.

Always with the "or", like things can't coexist.

That being said, if you do frequency separation in a way that makes no sense whatsoever, like in this video, I can see why you would choose one over the other.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

Both.... i have spoken!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Dodge and Burn. This is the way.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

Retoucher is a very complicated profession.... don't you agree? ;)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I can't really speak for retouchers since I'm not one. But, just from what I do, yeah, I can definitely see that.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

I'll quote more from the Mandalorian trailer if you didn't notice it. :D

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Ah, I remember that character now from your quote.

Jeff Bennion's picture

Should you use a Philips or flathead screwdriver for your next project?