Frequency separation is a photographer’s editing secret. It allows us to edit minor blemishes and imperfections for a subtle effect or to edit further for a high-end look. How so? It works by separating the skin’s texture from its color, effectively letting us have total control over the skin.
*It’s important to note here that this technique is not necessarily used to remove or add makeup detailing. It, in a nutshell, works best with bare skin as poorly applied makeup can diminish the quality of skin texture cameras are able to capture.
How is this process achieved? Today, I’m going to show you the steps you need to take to prepare a photo for skin editing. For the time’s sake, I’ve created a Photoshop action that is free to download and comes with a guide on how to use it. Additionally, I know that not everyone has or can afford a Photoshop subscription which is why I will also include steps to do frequency separation in GIMP.
Gimp is a free open-source editing software that is a great Photoshop substitute. Initially released in 1996, it’s a solid editing program that I used for years and still use occasionally. I highly recommend it over any online editors or phone apps!
Installing actions in Photoshop
Make sure the Actions window is showing within your Photoshop work space and navigate to it. Then select “load actions” from the menu circled in yellow and navigate to and select the Frequency Separation.atn file.
Click the button below to download the action pack now. You’ll need to extract the zip file to a new folder.
Playing Photoshop actions
Actions are basically recorded files that apply a series of recorded steps. Make sure that the Frequency Separation action and layer you want to separate is selected, then click on the “play” button like the one circled in yellow.
Once the action is completed you should have a new group folder with a texture and skin (color) layer.
Most blemishes will be on the color layer, however pimples, scars, and tattoos can sometimes also have a textured imprint. To correct the skin, you can use a variation of the spot healing brush tool, healing brush tool, and patch tool. The idea is to use the natural color that’s already there to repair the skin.
Personally, I go with as natural of editing as possible. This means I leave scars and temporary values such as blackheads, pimples, large pores, scratches, bruises, etc.
unless requested otherwise. For example, dark eye circles count as temporary as they’re caused by various health and environmental factors and may change on any given day.
Additionally, for a more high-end look, you can create a layer between the texture and skin layers and “paint” on a new skin by sampling the skin layer and painting with a soft brush. This is the method often used in high-end editing and requires additional practice that may not be practical in a quick-fix or novice situation. If you want to learn more about this advanced technique, PiXimperfect has a great YouTube video to get you started.
Frequency Separation using GIMP
GIMP has the ability to use filters and scripts to perform actions similar to Photoshop, however to my knowledge, there’s no solid script for frequency separation in GIMP. Pixovert has a great YouTube tutorial to get you started in GIMP but I’ve included the steps below.
I hoped that you liked this little intro to frequency separation and don’t be discouraged if the first couple of editing attempts don’t come out as planned. A lot of editing is instinctual and comes with practice. Let me know if the action has helped you on your editing journey!