Photoshop How-To: New Tri-Range Frequency Separation Action

Whether you believe the approaches are passé, amazing, or just reasonably useful, frequency separation persists in the photography industry still, and has for years. Here's how to use a new method I created that expands control over all three main ranges: highs, mids, and lows.

The tried and true methods that retouchers have used for years when it comes to frequency separation are, to put it mildly, controversial. If you've spent any real time using frequency separation in your retouching, you probably have determined what you like and don't like about the method, and you probably have developed simple work around techniques to circumvent the limitations you continually encounter. For me, losing contrast was a common issue, so I brainstormed ideas on how I could make it easier on myself to preserve contrast (especially when working in a hurry under deadline stress). So while it would be presumptuous to think I've created a super useful and fresh method for using frequency separation, I'll let you be the judge.

Wait, What's Frequency Separation Again?

But before that, let's refresh ourselves on frequency separation in general. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct methodologies for using frequency separation:

  1. Modify the High and Low frequency layers directly, cleaning up blemishes on the High and smoothing out color transitions on the Low.
  2. Use blank layers in between the High and Low frequency layers to paint in skin color to smooth out transitions (this method assumes you've done your due diligence with healing and dodge and burn prior to running frequency separation.)

I utilize the latter method almost exclusively. I find it gives me more control in general, and since I use dodge and burn as my principle technique for perfecting skin, frequency separation is a final polish for me that's only to be used when needed.

If you've read up to this point but still haven't the most remote idea of what frequency separation is, sneak a peek on Fstoppers for numerous explanations and approaches about it.  

I'm a Control Freak, So What's Next?

But what about even more control? An afternoon of retouching a few weeks ago had me wondering if I could quickly and easily control my frequency separation "painting" in a more precise way. After some experimentation, I determined that a decent aspect to control would be the big three ranges: lows, mids, and highs. A few minutes later I had created the Tri-Range Masking Action for Photoshop (free download link below) which allows you total mask control of your frequency separation painting work divided over the three main ranges in photo editing. Check out the video above for a six-minute explanation on how I sometimes use it.  Please keep in mind, this action is hardly a master solution to all things, so please experiment with it to see if you can get results you like with it and eventually determine when it's best to use it in your workflow (if at all).

This action is a perfect complement to my Freqsep Control plug-in for Photoshop, but can be reprogrammed to work with any frequency separation setup you already use. 

Download the Action here.

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13 Comments

Diko Jelev's picture

Thanks for this article!

Renato Peixoto's picture

Thanks Nino!

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

It sounds bit complicated and time consuming, but looks like it does the job :) Thank for your time recording useful tips <3

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

If I'm correct the second action creates basic luminosity masks for highlights, midtones and shadows. Just takes a Frequency Separation to the next level of control. :)

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

Well my current workflow is that I use FS only where I want to do something fast, where skin is only small part of frame. When I doing Beauty or similar high precise things I prefer not to use FS at all. Instead I go directly to micro D&B which for me gets awesome results. I tried FS in beauty workflow but I wasn't that much happy of a results in terms of details :/ So I can't exactly put that complex FS technique in my workflow, but for sure I will give it a try, as I love checking new things :)

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

I understand :) Beauty & Retouching are not my types of photography, so I can't say which way could be possibly better to do that job. Just tried to explain it from technical point of view. I mainly do landscape, so luminosity masks / selections are my most used go-to tool. I know them well and recognized them in video, that's all. :)

Nino Batista's picture

I agree with using FS only when and if needed, no question! But in getting something done quick, as you said, and at least decently, FS + this Action I've made has helped me get it done efficiently. Hero shots that I know I want to focus on appropriately, well, I put the work into them with d&b and take the time to do it more accurately.

Thanks again guys!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Love it, you are such a great teacher! I have a hard time listening to some people's voices haha but love the way you do it

Daniel Shortt's picture

Nino,

Why not just go to channels and ctrl+double click on RGB and you have a luminosity mask, make a new layer, no need to make a high and low if you don't use them?

Sam Hood's picture

Because then you would just be selecting the Red, Green or Blue colour within an image, not the highlights, mids or shadows.

Nino Batista's picture

Without the high and low layer and then you are no longer doing actual frequency separation. You could create any number of luminosity masks between the high and low layers and do all sorts of things – this action simply sets up the three main ranges quickly and conveniently.

Sam Hood's picture

Headline is a bit misleading, should be "Photoshop How-To: New Tri-Range Frequency Separation Action - IF YOU BUY MY $25 PLUGIN". Your action doesn't really work unless it has layers made by the plugin to select.

Nino Batista's picture

As mentioned in the last line of the article: “This action is a perfect complement to my Freqsep Control plug-in for Photoshop, but can be reprogrammed to work with any frequency separation setup you already use.“

That said, I am updating the Action to automatically work with whatever layer you happen to be on, without needing to reprogram it, for convenience.

Will upload it to replace the current one.