On retouching

My friends often ask me a lot of questions regarding retouching. The one that I love the most:

"Is that photoshopped?"


"Show me the before!"

So this post is about how far I normally go with regards to retouching.

First off, I don't believe in making people look thinner or changing their natural features. It's not worth it. When you make someone look thinner or modify certain imperfections, it can offend the client so that's something that I don't do.

I don't ever want to lose those imperfections because those little imperfections matter. Besides, the purpose of retouching isn't to perfect every imperfection. It's to enhance detail, even out skin tones and correct lighting issues.

When I shoot using strobes/flash, the blood flow beneath my subjects skin is constantly changing. This alters the colours of the skin tones and creates inconsistencies that are important to rectify when retouching.

To give you a clear idea, I wanted to use an image of local hip hop artist, Oshaun. I love his look because of the details in his face.

Here is an untouched image we shot a few weeks back:

Untouched Image - Canon 5D MARK III - Canon 85mm 1.2 L-Series

Now, I do believe in removing blemishes and evening out skin tones. If you want an image to stand out, you can not avoid retouching an image but once again, how far is too far?

Have a look at this image here:

Retouched Image using a non-destructive workflow

If you compare the previous untouched image with the retouched image, you will notice minor changes in his skin tone and lighting. If you look closely, I've retained some of the blemishes as well. It's all about retaining those imperfections!

I don't ever want to modify the texture of my subjects skin. If I start doing that, the image is ruined. It's tempting to blur out certain patches and create a flat look because I'd save 2 hours of my time but I'd never do that.

I wanted to go overboard and show you an example of what I can't stand so here it is:

This is what happens when you go too far

In this last image, I've lost all of the masculine characteristics of my subject and in some ways, he almost looks unreal. 

Basically, retouching is like driving on a highway. You need to know when to slow down when you're going to fast because you can easily lose control. 

Retouching is very important because it gives an image that edge. That 1% difference is what makes an image pop and stay with you.

I typically spend anywhere from 1 - 2 hours depending on the image when I retouch. It sounds like a lot of time but that time really flies when you're listening to a podcast in the background. 

Is it worth it? Absolutely.