Skin Retouching for Beginners

A walk through guide on how to retouch skin using frequency separation.

As most beginners know, skin retouching is an incredibly difficult task.
In this video, I cover how to go about retouching skin using frequency separation to get the best results for your photographs.

First steps

I had already run the image through Capture One Pro and adjusted the white balance, shadows, and contrast.
I then exported the image to Photoshop and made a few minor adjustments in the light using a curves adjustment layer.

I always begin my retouching by creating a new layer, the reason is we want to do now-destructive editing to our images.
On that new layer, I go around the skin looking for minor blemishes that I can fix with the healing brush tool.
My settings for the tool are normally Hardness 70% and spacing 33%, you do not have to use these exact settings, but I have found that they work best for me.

Second Step

Once you have finished healing the blemishes, create a new clone stamp layer by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E, this will create a new layer with everything that you have done below.

We now begin to do our frequency separation by creating two copy layers, you do this by pressing Ctrl+J, I then name the two layers high and low.
The high layer being your texture and the low layer will be your colour.
Hide the high layer by clicking on the little eye next to the layer named High, select the low layer then click Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur

Select a section of skin with a lot of texture (generally under the eye) and move the slider until you no longer see any texture.
press ok and select your high layer, un-hind that layer and click Image > Apply image
Your settings will be as follows.

Layer set to low because you want to subtract the colour from this layer.
Blending set to Subtract
Scale = 2
Offset = 128

I will cover more behind these settings in a later post.

Change your high layer the blending mode Linear Light

Group your high and low layers and name them Frequency separation for organisational purposes.

Last step

I begin by hiding my high layer so that I can see the colour layer and tonal differences more clearly, you can leave it on if it suits your self more.
We then begin to work in sections of the face, using my healing brush with the same settings as before.
Slowly you start to smoothen out the transitions of the tones to blend seamlessly on the face, this process is slow but worth the effort, resample often to get the best results and work with small short strokes.

Do this until you are completely happy with the tonal changes ( There is a pro tip on replacing colour in the video).
Un-hide your high layer. When you do this, more often than not, you will find that the texture is over-accentuated.
We fix this by selecting our healing brush, making it very small, about the same size as the pores as then slowly remove the pores that look out of place.

By now your skin should be looking incredible! The more you practice, the better you will get with this technique.
Often you might find that the image will need some Dodge and Burn afterward, click on the link for that tutorial.

Let me know how this turned out for you.

A special thank you for the image to Sven Slabbert
His work can be viewed here.