Photoshop Plug-In for Better Frequency Separation Control

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.

Let's stop a minute. Are you stumped on what frequency separation is? Try a quick search on Fstoppers or YouTube, and spend an hour learning about it. I'll see you back here in a bit.

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.

We tried to keep the interface clean and simple.

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.

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33 Comments

Ho will pay $25.00 for this? :P

Who pays $25 for it is not truly your concern. (with apologies to The Princess Bride)

Buyers.

Mark Niebauer's picture

Not an article. BS Advertising!

Unlike some others, he told you upfront what it is. You could have stopped right there. :-/

Nino Batista's picture

I welcome you to check out 1 of any of the 100 or so articles I have written since 2014, just on this site alone, offering advice, tips, and suggestions on shooting, lighting, retouching, business, and more. And if not, that's ok, too, Mark. I appreciate your feedback.

-------> https://fstoppers.com/profile/20294/articles

Evan Guttman's picture

Honestly, I would try this plugin. But all the videos use the same picture.. Which doesn't need a lot of retouching.. In fact, I would say that the end result of the face looks plastic. I use frequency separation for removing wrinkles, bags under eyes, and blemishes. There was no use of this here.

Nino Batista's picture

Fair suggestion, no doubt. Duly noted!

Evan Guttman's picture

Thanks Nino. I'm a fan and had actually seen this plugin when you first announced it. I currently use the Phlearn FS action daily in my editing, so I'm definitely interested if this will exceed the quality I already have. $25 s a great price, but I just want to see it in action more before I buy. I think you will increase your sales if you show a headshot that needs the full editing of wrinkles, bags under eyes, and blemish removal.

One thing came up to my mind looking at the video - plugin takes up pretty sizeable part of a scree. I understand vanity point but it can take at least 25% less without this nice title on the top :)

William Howell's picture

Nino, I’m sick of plugins, can we get FreqSep as a stand-alone software app? I paid fricken $200 bucks for Portraiture plugin for Aperture years ago and I use PS5, (no way am I paying a subscription fee), is it compatible with CS 5? When Aperture dies I’m screwed oout of two hundred smackers and that blows chunks!

Looks like a great app, very subtle and like you said not plasticky.

I went back and looked at the article text and the before and after portrait is mesmerizing and captivating, granted her skin is beautiful already, but that light you used will show the flaws on one’s skin no matter how beautiful the skin.

I don't think this plugin can make anything look plasticky as it just separates frequencies making the same image just split into two layers.

I use Portraiture in combination with FS technique, where FS makes FS and Portraiture with plastic settings makes quick and dirty correction level(s). In many cases this is "good enough".

dont worry, photoshop never died :D

I would never use a plugin for portraiture. A simple action to automate separation would be okay but I doubt I'd do that either. I probably spend way too much time on my portraits but the look on the audiences face, afterward, is worth it.

William Howell's picture

True dat!
Yeah plugins are for speed.

Can we see some?

No. :-(

Nino Batista's picture

Think of the plugin as a more refined, more flexible, and therefore more useful tool. In and of itself, it does not do skin retouching, obviously. The intent was never to make a "turn key", automatic "skin smoothing" function – that is something I am vehemently against in my retouching work (and always have been).

William Howell's picture

No, I agree with you Portraiture is to much and that is why I really like your plugin. Your photograph above is what I’m looking for, a quick yet subtle and high quality look. This plugin coupled with Dodge and Burn would be far quicker than the way I do it now.

Is it compatible with CS5?

Nino Batista's picture

Trying to retain fully supported compatibility that far back isn't practical in this case, William. Adobe allows for all sort of fun ways to produce plugins, panels, etc, but you have to fall in to their architecture "rules", as it were. Trying to make a modern plugin that works seamlessly on CC14 and up is simple. Trying to achieve CC compatibility is somewhat easy, but not worth the effort due to potential user-base being so small. CS6, CS5, et al, compatibility is essentially remaking the plugin from the ground up for those deprecated versions – as such, it's not practical for us, once again, due to the user-base being small.

Does it work with Affinity Photo?

Photoshop plugin compatability is still in development for Affinity Photo as far as I know. It might work, it might not. Apart from that, Affinity already has a decent separation tool, which is a lot faster and more interactive than PS.

Nino Batista's picture

We have not developed specifically for, nor tested, on Affinity. If it works on there, then great! But again, Photoshop use was our intent.

Aivis Veide's picture

Look, just use normal FS method and add some sharpening to the skin later. It is much easier then extra plugin for small changes which can be achieved in different ways with build-in photoshop options anyways...

Nino Batista's picture

Sharpening after (and at times before) doing FS is a good thing, for sure. The intent of the plugin is to give you more previewing control, and more finite control of the type of low frequency separation you get from blurring – only smarter. Not to mention, better quality and quite a lot faster than Ps Surface Blur. That said, in and of itself, the plugin does not make your skin work better – it simply is a better tool with more flexibility and quality.

Paul Elliott's picture

This is great dude! Frequency Separation was fun while it lasted in my world, but it just wasn't worth all the setup PT. I would buy this if I did any portraiture work. Well done.

Daniel Hollister's picture

I am curious, do you use Gaussian blur as a blur, in this tool??

Nino Batista's picture

Actually, no, Daniel, tho the end results are 99.99% similar. We use a similar algorithm, but our own code. Runs faster. The Detail Threshold algorithm is a type of Surface Blur, except it runs several times faster than Photoshop's and also "fuses" it's result with the Radius setting so you can tweak the exact output you want. Running Surface Blur after Gaussian Blur, in Photoshop, would of course be nearly useless for edge preservation. Hence, why we made it like that.

Daniel Hollister's picture

Awesome, just what i wanted to know, since i dont use Gaussian blur either, but i tend to use Median instead, to preserve the edges.
Thanks for replying though :-)

Bill Larkin's picture

I like it Nino. Very nice with the previewing.