Full disclosure: I am about to tell you about my new Photohop plug-in, and yes it's a product of mine, via the new brand NBP Plug-ins. It's called Freqsep Control, and I intend to show you why I think it's so amazing, and a little bit about the history behind its development which began at the start of 2017.
Anyone who has followed my tutorials and articles for a time likely knows that I give away my Photoshop Actions rather than sell them. I make Actions on a periodic basis as I need to, depending on the specific aspects of my workflow and how it evolves, so I definitely don't create new ones on highly consistent basis; literally just when I need one made for efficiency reasons. And each time, I find a good excuse to give the Action away in a tutorial. I reasoned that if automated Photoshop functionality could be made by anyone as an Action, I had no business selling them. Heck, it takes just a couple minutes to make an Action for a process I do regularly.
But since the start of 2017, I have been surreptitiously working with my development team on full tilt, proprietary, custom coded plug-ins for Photoshop. The motivation to create the first one, NBP Freqsep Control, stemmed from the frustration I had with the retouching technique of frequency separation. For one thing, I always felt it was just cool enough to be useful, but just clunky enough to become frustrating at times. Eventually, like many other retouchers, frequency separation fell a bit out of favor in my world despite it speeding up skin retouching in my workflow. I wanted the results I wanted, not what I would have to compromise, and I wondered if there was a better way.
Plug-In Development Is Software Development
Software development is hard. Unsurprisingly, the idea of coding up amazing Photoshop plug-ins was beyond the scope of my abilities, and I knew I had to draft some seriously skilled programmers if I was to even get past the first step. Having a background in web design, I had worked with programmers on multiple projects for almost two decades, and I knew with the right talent I could make it happen.
Call it serendipity, call it dumb luck, but through the magic of the interwebs I met a genius coder who later would end up jumping on board and becoming the programming manager, as well as introducing me to other insanely skilled coders and designers who would eventually become the NBP Plug-ins team. A solid eight months later, and our first offering is ready for prime time.
But Why Frequency Separation?
In short, this new plug-in makes frequency separation better, easier to setup, and affords you much more control. Having seen countless photographers utilize the technique in well-intended but misguided ways, I started to feel like frequency separation was like, say, a can of gasoline. Sure, gasoline is incredibly useful, and used appropriately, it can do amazing things. Misused, however, gasoline can simply blow up your house and kill you. I had seen far too many portraits with bad enough frequency separation to actually be lethal, and I finally realized the process itself wasn't to blame for this.
What I did notice, after further study, was that most photographers were running literally whatever Action they had come across to set up frequency separation, and occasionally tooled around with the gaussian blur radius for the low frequency layer, to whatever end. Later, I found other photographers who swore by surface blur for the low frequency layer, slow as it was on a high-res file, and I thought that was sort of interesting. But in the end, every time I used the process — literally thousands of times over the years — I kept feeling like it could be somehow better. I'm a control freak in Photoshop, and every time I ran my frequency separation Action I had downloaded years ago, I felt like I was missing out on potential control in the process. Not to mention feeling like the magic of frequency separation was starting to feel a bit like old news, and frankly a moderate letdown. I was smoothing out transitions with my paintbrush, and then scaling back the opacity so much, even as low as 10%, and I started to wonder why I was even bothering.
I knew the process was a part of the my retouching look, and I liked the results I was getting, but that nagging feeling in my brain kept saying "there has to be more here."
And So Freqsep Control Was Born
It has been a glorious eight months of "development hell," but after hundreds of hours of meetings and development and testing, numerous beta versions and a few dozen helpful beta testers, we finally have the very first NBP Plug-in ready to rock. I apologize if this article comes off as just trying to sell you something, but honestly I wouldn't put my brand on this product and my reputation on the line if I didn't believe in it 100 percent.
Above is an ill-advised attempt to take an image from raw processing directly into frequency separation (skipping any real healing and dodging and burning). When I saw that a reasonable result could be achieved with the plug-in alone, I knew we had created something properly useful.
While I still strongly recommend you focus your skin work practice on dodging and burning more than anything else, I hope that NBP Freqsep Control might rekindle your love affair with frequency separation. After all, it's an enormous timesaver when done right.
More information on Freqsep Control is on my website, including technical specifications, frequently asked questions, release notes, installation help, instructional videos, and purchasing info (price is $25, but with the promo code NINO5 you can buy it for a limited time for $5 off). The team worked very hard on our custom coded, proprietary algorithms, and I for one couldn't be more proud.