Love it or hate it, frequency separation has become a staple for many portrait photographers. There are many editing programs and plugins that can be purchased, however, it isn’t a necessity. When used with a light handed approach, frequency separation doesn’t have to be the bane of our existence.
At its base, Frequency Separation is the action of separating the color information from the texture into two separate layers, and each is approached differently, and worked on separately. There are mounds of frequency separation tutorials online which will break down the precise how-to and set-up and you can find some of those here:
As you can find the breakdown of FS in the articles above, we’ll not focus on that here, but instead on several different blending modes that can be used to make the editing process a lot easier when working in the color layer.
Note* – When utilizing these techniques, it is important to remember that less is more.
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The lighten blend mode is great to use when needing to lighten an area of like tones, such as under the eyes and in the creases of smile lines. With a very light opacity brush or clone stamp, frequently sample the surrounding areas of the skin tone that we would like to use to lighten the area. It is best to start with a lower opacity brush under 10% to start, as the opacity can be increased for a more aggressive lightening should problem areas call for it.
The color blend mode is of best service to even out differing skin tones. This is especially common in women around the apples of the cheeks and cheekbones. Another common area for men and women alike is the nose as it can often be more red or magenta in color than the surrounding areas. It is important to sample the two differing areas rather frequently and go back and forth between the two to blend it evenly.
As with the different modes above, it is important to use a very light opacity. Normal is good to use when blending out hot spots and uneven skin. Whether you prefer to use the paint brush, clone stamp or a combination of the two, make sure to once again sample the surrounding skin frequently. This is a great tool to finish blending the tones of the skin prior to putting the finishing touches on such as dodging and burning.
An important thing to remember when editing skin is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be believable. Utilize the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl + Z (PC: Ctrl + Alt + Z) to undo the last brush stroke whenever it isn’t right, which can be often when first learning. Less is often more.