5 Retouching Tips That Have Nothing To Do With Photoshop

5 Retouching Tips That Have Nothing To Do With Photoshop

There are dozens of "How To" articles when it comes retouching. Very few, if any, focus on vital tips that are often overlooked, that will take your retouching to the next level. Here's a list that the Professionals in the industry never share with you.

1. There are no shortcuts.

Retouching is all about making thousands of small adjustments that result in a big difference. Presets and actions will never substitute a proper retouch. Don't be fooled. Treat a retouch like a fine wine…it becomes better with time! We all started somewhere, and in my experience patience and hard work leads to success.

2. Taking Breaks

If you sit in front of your monitors for too long you will get carried away with an edit. Chances are in two days you will look back at the job and ask yourself “what was I thinking?”Aside from photography, I have another hobby: Carpentry. A few times daily I take breaks and get lost in my wood working. It's better to under edit an image than over do it. You will never be forgiven for over doing it.

3. Music

Music's the medicine of the mind.” ~John A. Logan

For me, great music is the key to a successful edit. Sometimes my editing breaks consist of dancing when my jam comes on... There have been countless articles on how music affects the brain. Anything from Mozart and Beetoven to Dubstep and Eminem can help improve your work and concentration. Give it a try and see how much more you enjoy your work. All that music is fuel for stress relief, focus and energy. As your eyes and hands work to mold your editing, your body will drift away into to the realms of music.

(Check out our group Epic Remixes For Retouching for some awesome remixes)

4. Let Others Chose The Photo You Will Edit

I remember hanging out with John Keatley in the Bahamas this past year and he told me something I will never forget: "A successful photographer is the one who makes all the right decisions." Believe it or not, choosing the right photos from a shoot that you will edit is probably one of the most important steps -- often overlooked. There are so many times that I thought a photo I took was great. I spent time editing it and showed it off and no one looked at it twice. My culling workflow now consists of narrowing down the photos to 25% and then sending it out to 6 photographers I respect. I ask them to narrow it down to 10. Then I narrow it down even more going with what I know, and my gut, and it has not steered me wrong yet. 70% of the time the photos they chose are not the ones I would have chosen. An outside opinion is vital.

5. Scale Back The Opacity

A few months ago my good friend Pratik Naik was giving a workshop I was lucky to attend. If this would have been the only thing I gained from that session, it would have been worth going to. Always scale back the opacity on any adjustments you make in Photoshop by a few percent. Many of the techniques in Photoshop, such as frequency separation, dodge/burn and eye sharpening build up very fast. The effects creep up on you rather quickly and it’s very easy to overdo it. After each step I pull back the opacity on that layer 5%-15%. Keep your edits as natural as possible. 

More before/after post processing combos can be found on my page - Dani Diamond Photography

These are the things that have helped me excel. If you have any tips you think are vital post a comment below. 

Dani Diamond's picture

Dani Diamond is a fashion and commercial photographer based out of NYC. He is known for his naturally lit portraits and unique retouching techniques.

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Huge respect for your work and I agree with every point in this article.

One point in particular is a learned discipline to me and that is turning down the opacity. We have this tendency to keep the opacity high on a layer or change because we LOVE to see the contrast of before/after but many times that doesn't result in the most realistic end product.

I have to force myself to keep dialing things back...if it looks good to me at 50% then I knock another 5-10% off just because when I come back with fresh eyes that ends up looking correct. And that goes to your second point of taking breaks....you wouldn't be so quick to realize this if you didn't take a break!!

A huge upvote for this. My work drastically improved when I began to scale back after having done it. I can always turn it up more if I feel it needs it later.

I have also found that if I want to add some of the effect back in, if I focus on that effect and do it separately, the image will be much more subtle. ie. I liked what happened to the specular highlights in dodge an burn, but dialed it down. If I then add some pop just to those highlights, I get what I liked, but don't over do it.

I feel like a tip should be to learn how to draw the human body. I think retouchers fall into a dangerous place when they start adjusting shadows and body shapes on a person. If you know how to draw the human figure, or are learning how to draw the human figure, you have a MUCH better chance at not having one of those "WTF" moments. If you can sketch a human body relatively well, your body work will probably be a million times better.

There's an awesome book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain that I would recommend for all of you thinking "I can't even draw a stick figure"


i love your paragraph on let other choose the photo you will edit, did this with my alst shoot and very happy about it and plus i save a bit of time :)

i follow a few of these rules already. never thought of asking other photographers to choose photo's. i do let my clients choose which ones they want edited. because as you said, their selections will be different then our own.

as well, stepping away does make a huge difference. especially when you are stacking effects or doing a composite.

i do think that actions can help a bit, but shouldn't be relied upon to complete a photo. while you want to maintain continuity in a photo set, i think its important to note that each photo should be looked at individually and be unique in its edit.

Thank you dani for writing this article.

"There are no shortcuts."

I just had a conversation with one of my students about this. He wanted to know how to get a retouched effect without actually doing the retouching.

This is what I call the "make beautiful button" mentality. It means that people go into their editing programs with the idea that there will be something there they can click to make everything right. They are looking for a button with "Make Beautiful" written on it. There isn't one. Period. To make a great photo, or even a good or beautiful one, takes work, patience, and practice.

"4. Let Others Chose The Photo You Will Edit"

That's the one I need to work on… Learning to trust their judgement and not being so attached to every image from a shoot.

Excellent article. I'm a recovering over-editor and I often would come back to photos a day later and think "yeesh!" Never have listened to music while editing...I'll have to try that one.

I like your editing style. Do you intentionally under-expose the RAW shots (in-camera) and edit exposure in post with burn/dodge and overall lighting adjustments in lightroom/PS?

I noticed this as well...drying to know. The out-of-camera shots definitely seem darker than I would have exposed for but when you look at the end product and how much it "pops" it actually makes sense to me. I notice that when I D&B, the dodging always works out fine; it is the burning and the saturation changes in the shadows that I struggle with...ends up looking strange.

Perhaps with this method you're exposing for the "burn" a bit more then working the dodging a bit more where I feel it is a bit easier to deal with saturation changes.

Then again, I'm just guessing really but yes, would love to know.

@dani I couldnt find that post.

I couldn't see it until I was actually logged into Facebook. Using a direct link won't work otherwise - at least for me.

haha thats awesome had to do the dance your on top of your game bud

Great artcle i will try to sent some photo for critics and public opinion before choosing the one to retouch

ROTFL when started to dance ^_^

Well...i stop and play Forza Motorsport. Those ferrari make me forget the shot, and when i come back, the aproach is much better! hahahaha
Thing is, before focusing on the retouch part, people must focus first on the camera, and the way they want the shot to look like. Retouching is somewhat cool, takes quite a lot of time, you can lose like, 1, 2, 3 or more hours in a single picture, but like it's said in the article, don't let it go to far. You might end up ruining it all.
As for the others to choose my photos, i usualy believe that i am doing this all the time, teamwork helps a lot on that.

My personal tip would be, capture the image as best you can in camera then PS is for enhancement not triage. Be a tough editor. I learned this while shooting at publications. I rather spend time editing 2-5 strong images vs 100 so so images.

Last some times you are better to let the patient die. A bad photo will still be a bad photo if you turn it B&W or use any number of number of PS filters on it.

As far as music, personally I like Joan Jett, BOA, Rolling Stones, Rip Slyme, Yoko Kanno and Mell to edit by. ;)

Great tips! But after watching the video above, I want to see more about your work station and setup. Super jealous!

Very Nice...

Great article, thank you. I find it amazing how often 50% opacity ends up being just right.

I really hope the image under the second point is an example of what not to do.

cool as always dani !!!

A nontraditional retouching instruction. It's good to find out this article

Every one of these tips is spot on. Especially taking a break. I've worked for 60-90 minutes on a retouch thinking it was perfect, went to bed, then looked back on it in the morning and though oh..man...was I blind? Your eyes get fatigued and you overcompensate on vibrance, split-toning, etc. etc. It's much like mixing music with tired ears. Just don't do it.