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What is Retouching? Part 1

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Ronin-Retouch-Cover-1We like to talk about a photographer’s “style”.  Well typically when we think of a photographer’s style we concentrate on how they take a picture.  Outdoor vs. indoor.  Natural light vs. artificial light.  Photojournalistic vs. formal portrait.  Sometimes what gets overlooked in that discussion is how the photographer retouches.

To me, retouching has as much to do with a digital photographer’s style as does any of the things listed above. Retouching determines how the final product looks.  I guarantee that every portrait that a photographer shows you, with a few exceptions, has some form of retouching work applied.

Retouching is another element that separates professional photographers from amateurs!

Because of that, I think it’s necessary to discuss what is retouching. But in order to ask the right questions, we had better have a brief discussion on what retouching actually is.

“Retouch” as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  1. To rework in order to improve
  2. To alter (as in a photographic negative) to produce a more desirable appearance
  3. To color (new growth of hair) to blend with previously dyed, tinted or bleached hair

Based on those definitions, anything we do as photographers to change the appearance of the photograph we captured = retouching.  Examples can be as extreme as completely smoothing out the skin (some call it airbrushing)  to very subtle such as cropping or rotating of the photograph.

Now you understand why I say that almost every photograph you see has some form a retouching applied to it.  I can tell you with complete confidence that any picture of mine I show you has been retouched.

Retouching portraits brings a couple things to mind.  First, getting rid of unwanted skin blemishes and lines, second is enhancing characteristics such as eye color.

Before and After

Before and After

I’m going to show an example of doing just that.  This side by side is a before and after crop so you can see the changes.  My “style” for this type of photograph is to maintain the integrity of the skin texture but removing unwanted blemishes and minimizing lines.


For this type of beauty shot I don’t want to make her skin so smooth that it looks unrealistic.  I need to maintain texture for that realism.  In another post I’ll go into when I smooth the skin to extremes for certain effects.



This is an example of the final product.

You can see that the crop is also part of the retouch.  Remember the definition:  “To rework in order to improve” which in this specific case involved cropping, eliminating blemishes, minimizing lines, brightening the irises, and some subtle hair removal.

Hopefully this has helped in laying a basic foundation for understanding retouching.

Retouching is such a vast subject it’s going to take a few posts to demonstrate some differing techniques and philosophies.

Keep checking back for more and remember, retouching is another area that separates professional photographers from amateurs!

Thanks for reading!

Did you enjoy this article?  Read “What is Retouching? – Part 2”.  Enjoy!

The cover model is the stunningly beautiful and talented Jennifer Fulfer.  You can find more of Jennifer on Model Mayhem.


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