Learn to Use Advanced Frequency Separation for Photoshop

July 22, 2019

Learn to Use Advanced Frequency Separation for Photoshop


The Intimidation of Photoshop 

As photographers, many of us began our journeys in Photoshop out of necessity. I stayed in Lightroom for as long as I could, because Photoshop was intimidating and had a steep learning curve. But, as my photography skills grew I finally realized I needed the powerful tools found inside Photoshop. 

This was especially true when I settled on food and beverage as my photography specialty. I needed the ability to use the pen tool and build multilayer composites to complete my ideas after capture. So, I put my apprehension aside and started digging through YouTube for quick lessons on the basics of Photoshop. 

While my retouching skills grew I found myself looking for more places to gather info from. Retouching groups on Facebook seemed to be easier to navigate than YouTube and it was certainly easier to ask questions if I wasn’t sure how something was supposed to work. 

Discovering Frequency Separation

This is how I first discovered frequency separation. For those of you who might not know, frequency separation allows you to individually manipulate the color and texture of an image on separate layers.  

 Chocolate Bunny
Chocolate Easter Candy Before and After Editing with Advanced Frequency Separation 

In the past, this method has been used primarily within the portrait retouching world and has built a pretty bad name for itself because of how easy it is to overdo, making faces look over-processed and plastic. 

This really appealed to me though, even as a food and beverage photographer because I often found myself cleaning dirty glass on bottles or removing unwanted crumbs from a plate. I spent countless hours, especially in areas with color gradients, trying to clean things up while keeping the transitions and colors accurate. Frequency separation immediately made those tasks easier for me. 

The only problem is that it’s a pretty destructive process in its original form. If you aren’t careful you can take it too far and end up with a less than desirable outcome, resulting in the need to start over. Enter Frequency Separation 2.0 (FS 2.0). It’s about to change your life like it changed mine. 


Girl before afterPhoto by Kevin Kleitches (Kevin Titus Photo). Retouching using FS 2.0 by Kyle Brown.  

The Advanced Frequency Separation 2.0

Fundamentally, FS 2.0 sets out to achieve the same thing as its predecessor; putting the texture information on one layer and the color information on another so you can adjust them separately. This is where the similarities stop. 

Sef McCullough and Earth Oliver (go ahead and thank them now because they deserve it 👏) teamed up to rid frequency separation of its bad reputation and completely rebuild it from the ground up. Unlike the previous version of frequency separation (which is built using a gaussian blur filter on the low layer and an apply image filter on the high layer), FS 2.0 is built using the median filter.


Rabbit hole before after

Advantages of Frequency Separation 2.0

Building the FS 2.0 stack in this way comes with many advantages over the previous version. First of all, basing this new process around the Median filter means that edge detail is retained much better compared to before. 

FS 2.0 also has two low layers and two high layers which makes this process nondestructive since one of each is reserved for the work. If you mess something up you can simply make a selection from the layer below it and duplicate it to the above working layer. 

The part of this that really blows my mind is the use of the mixer brush to blend color, highlight and shadow on the low frequency layer. Now, within FS 2.0, you can grab the mixer brush and make perfectly blended transitions even in tough spaces (like near edges) instead of having to bother with the lasso tool and run a gaussian blur for each selection. 


Airmax before and after

The best part of all, is that you can use this for literally any situation. 

  • General cleanup of dust and scratches on a product? Done. 
  • Need to remove some glare off of a car window that was out of your control? No problem. 
  • How about cleaning up pimples, redness or fly away hairs in a portrait? Absolutely… faster and more accurately than before.

Using Frequency Separation 2.0 

I use FS 2.0 on a daily basis and even though I primarily shoot food and beverage, I will occasionally take on retouching jobs and I have yet to run into an issue that I couldn’t solve with FS 2.0 when it comes to texture clean up. It really is THAT good. I also prefer it for basic cleaning over the healing brush because it is just as fast and I never have to worry about the healing brush sampling the wrong thing. 

While there is a learning curve to advanced Photoshop techniques, I will say that this one isn’t steep and it is more than worth the time it takes to learn and master. What makes FS 2.0 is so valuable is the immense amount of time it will save you. FS 2.0 cut my time clean up time in post by half while making it more fun and less frustrating, which means I can now get twice as much done as I could before.

If a faster, more efficient workflow is what you’re after then go check out the Advanced Texture Clean Up Tutorial

In this tutorial, Earth goes into exactly how to create the frequency separation action and uses it on several different textures. He is the one that invented this action and worked with Adobe to develop it. 

He takes a much deeper dive into what exactly is being done with the frequencies and how to best use it on different surfaces such as skin, reflective surfaces, fabrics and more. He focuses more on the why behind his new methods so you get a better understanding of how it works specifically for practical applications.

There are 18 videos included in this 4 hour retouching course broken into the following 6 sections:

  1. Understanding Frequency Separation 
  2. Skin Imperfections Retouching
  3. Fabric Retouching 
  4. Product Retouching 
  5. Car Retouching
  6. Architectural Retouching 


Kyle Brown

This article was guest authored by our good friend Kyle Brown.

Kyle is a commercial food and beverage photographer and former Army EOD Tech, based in Murfreesboro, TN.

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