Retouching Skin Utilizing Frequency Separation

When retouching photos of people there are a lot of things to take into consideration, especially when it comes to working on their skin. Retouching skin can be a very tricky thing! It's very easy for it to look too blotchy or too plastic, and normally that is not what you want. My favorite method is frequency separation, and I reference this tutorial by Sara Kiesling often. How do you retouch skin? Let us know in the comments!

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Rebecca Britt's picture

Oh, I love Sara's work. Thanks for sharing this. :)


Kyle Ford's picture

I could listen to that girls voice all day... Hey man, do you think she shoots barefoot?

She definitely shoots everything on film!

and with here eyes close while she plays the harp....

OMG saraH made the front page!!!!

she sounds like a good person right?

Noam Galai's picture

this is great. im doing a lot of similar editing, but never did it this way. great to learn a new way. 

And she does sound nice ;)

The angelic voice of minnesooota.

Tam Nguyen's picture

She sounds almost as good as Lara Jade. Almost.

OMG I love Sara Kiesling so much!!

Kyle Ford's picture

Stop Trolling plz. 

Anthony Tripoli's picture would.

I hear she makes the best sandwiches too!

Rebecca Britt's picture

She doesn't make sandwiches, she makes sammiches, better recognize. 

I use frequency separation pretty religiously. What a great way to do skin retouching, especially for fashion and commercial work (

Joe Gunawan
SLR Lounge Editor

Mike Kelley's picture

This comment thread is just adorable.

the post is just awesome, fantastic and simply taught retouching. and amazing how a female voice can make everyone just soft as a lamb :) sweet ;)

you guys need to get laid..... i pity you

Elliott Montello's picture

Aside from her voice, she's a pretty messy retoucher...has no one spotted that? She didn't follow the direction of the light of take any care on skin texture being in the correct places ect. The work is good and frequency separation is a great technique but it needs to have more time spent on it, and she needs to correct finer details in the image. I mean did her brush go below a 25px radius in the video?

No one wants to see a 4 hour video of someone retouching with a 2px brush.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Agreed. This was just a quick overview. It gets people started, and it's free. Why don't you just take it for what it is. In fact, you should make a tutorial video for us all and we'll be the judge.

Jason Vinson's picture

 i agree!!! make us a tutorial!!!! yay!!!

i agreee ...horrible work but interesting technique

Graham Marley's picture

Someone get the poor girl a Wacom tablet. I use a combo of HSL, Channel Mixer (in CMYK, as far as killing purples in skin, it works better there) and an inverted high-pass layer (with some other stuff going on) painted in at a really low opacity. I think this video did a great job at leaving skin looking like skin, which is super important. I'd prefer a slightly more dramatic effect, but nice job. 

well yeah but this is about seperating low and high frequency.

not just having a high frequency layer with inverted high pass.
that´s all pretty old stuff and imho the low/high frequency split method works better.

For GIMP users, there's long been a plugin called "Wavelet Decompose" that nicely automatically produces as many different frequency scales as you want to use that is excellent for this exact purpose.  I had written up an article a while back that demonstrates its use:

Super handy to have, even for simple, light retouching of skin features.

NOTE --- When she does the Apply Image step in the texture layer the example she uses is for 8 bit photos.  When working with 16 bit images use the Apply Image settings as shown in this tutorial:

The woman that did the Creative Live course last week went over this in great detail.  Definitely need to ensure you use the correct method for best results.  :)

That woman was Lindsay Adler and it was a great Creative Live tutorial on Freq. Sep. among other things.

The main thing for best results is that once you set your blend mode on your texture layer the image should look EXACTLY the same as it originally did.  If you turn and and off the blur and texture layers it should look exactly the same as the original layer.  If you dont set your Apply Image correct it wont.  fun fun fun...