The Saga that is Retouching

I'm obsessed with what I like to call "magazine quality finishing" for my photos. I want all of my images to look like they could be on the pages of a magazine sold in Barnes & Noble. That isn't always required depending on the client and the shoot but it's hard to explain that when people see your retouched images and they fall in love.

It's Like Buying a Car

There is a difference between "editing" and "retouching" photos. Some people think that my retouches are mere edits. If I could explain the difference in non-photog terms, then I'd ask you to look at a car. When most people shop for a new car, we all tend to want all the bells and whistles. Let's say that you're on your way to the GMC dealership to pick up that brand new Yukon. You don't know a whole lot about the SUV, but you do know you want an SUV and it has to be a Yukon. If you haven't done any research, you may not know why the Yukon is very basic in the SLE model when compared to the SLT and the SLT pales in comparison to the Denali.

This is a Yukon Denali. It's the top of the line. The Yukon SLE won't have half the features of this beauty.  Photo Credit: Motor Trend

This is a Yukon Denali. It's the top of the line. The Yukon SLE won't have half the features of this beauty. Photo Credit: Motor Trend


This is the average photography customer. They know they want pictures that look great. They don't know why retouched pictures look better than edited pictures, and why edited pictures look better than OOC (out of the camera) images. The various trims of the Yukon are priced from basic to luxury; the same goes for OOC, edited, and retouched images. There are better materials in the Denali than there are in the SLT and SLE models. Retouched images take more time to complete. It should be noted that most photographers will not give a client untouched images. 

The difference between editing and retouching

Editing - this is where you use a program like Lightroom, CaptureOne, Photoshop, or etc to correct the white balance, add some contrast, correct the color saturation, remove noticeable blemishes, and give an overall presentable final image that is suitable for your client or social media.

Retouching - this is when you go next level with the editing. You do all of the things that you normally would in the editing phase, but then you go further. Retouching is basically perfecting a person or thing. Changing the shape of mouths, eyes, breasts, butts, thighs, and getting rid of blemishes in a way that a 40 year old woman with light wrinkles can look like her 20 year old self again. Fine tune removals of hair and pores and many other issues are worked on. Retouching takes hours sometimes if you do it right. If special effects are being applied to an image, that could cause a photog to hire a graphic designer. Photographers who do their own retouching do so for the sake of editorial submissions to magazines, portfolio work, commercial projects, and other reasons.

Keep in mind that we have absolutely no problem with a client wanting their images to be completely retouched. Just be ready to pay for the hours that go into getting just one image right. I will end this post by showing you the difference between out-of-the-camera, edited, and retouched images. 

An Example of my Retouch Work

The unedited image is out of the camera. As you can see, it's a pretty good image and wowed the model when she saw it on the small LCD screen. As a photographer with experience, I know better. This image is fairly blue because the white balance is not as correct as I want it to be. The image was taken as a RAW file. These are usually flat images without contrast, which is the case in the OOC photo.

The edited photo has been toned and there was some light blemish removal. There was also some brightening of the image so that the skin looks more vibrant. You can see some skin tone issues throughout the photo. The model is stunningly beautiful. We often see people differently than what the camera shows us in post.

What needs to be fixed?

  1. In the breast area there are unsightly stretch marks that take away from the plunging neckline and the overall cleavage area. In person, the marks weren't even noticeable.
  2. The left arm is also a different hue than the torso. The best color tone is around the chest and I wanted the finished image to match that skin tone.
  3. I want to soften some of the skin around the left hand as well.
  4. There are also about three different tones in the face that need to be corrected.
  5. The wrinkles in the crotch area take attention away from the image.
  6. There is a lot of hair that needs to be painted out of the image around the head area.
  7. I also want to even up a slight difference in the bridge of the nose.
  8. The arms also need to be touched slightly.
  9. I love her natural makeup, but added just a kick up more color.
  10. I added natural highlights and shadows where needed.

Total retouch time: 1H 45M

In the retouched image, you can see that I changed all of the things that I thought would make this image better. If I were to show the model this image, this is probably how she would like to see herself presented. I like to present realistic images to clients because I've seen people get depressed when they know they don't look remotely close to the retouched image. It's no fun trying to convince the client they look like that over-done image.

Retouching should be subtle and believable. A lot of the time, artists tend to take a lot of creative license in the retouching process and it will show. Everyone has their own style too. Some people like a natural skin texture when retouching, some like a more plastic looking finish. It's all subjective because it's all art. In the end, it should never be done for free. But that's another post for another time.

Thanks for reading. In the meantime, please check out more of my work on Instagram



Rance RobComment