Should You Consider Outsourcing Your Retouching?

Photographers generally like full control over an image from the moment they press the shutter to when they export it and send it off to the client, and as such, the idea of handing over retouching responsibilities to someone else can seem ludicrous. Some photographers do it and actually prefer it, however, and this interesting video essay features one successful photographer discussing why. 

Coming to you from Daniel Norton Photographer, this great video essay discusses the topic of outsourcing your retouching. This can seem like an outrageous idea depending on the genre you shoot; for example, I can't imagine landscape photographers doing so. However, if you work in a genre in which the focus is often less on producing a single memorable image and more on delivering large batches of images, it can be a real way to get back a bit of work-life balance. For example, I know some wedding photographers who outsource a large amount of their retouching and who love the time they get back for other things. It certainly is not for everyone, but it is something to at least be aware of if you work with large groups of photos on a regular basis. Check out the video above for Norton's full thoughts.

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15 Comments

paul aparycki's picture

"the idea of handing over retouching responsibilities to someone else can seem ludicrous" . . . to wankers, yes.

Most busy working professionals don't have time to sit in front of a screen for hours on end, so . . . like any good pro would do, they have a tech available, or on call.

Another fine out of touch click-bait useless article.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Or some of us "wankers" prefer the control we have and our clients value the work we do - which is charged out at a decent rate. Why pay a good retoucher £70 p/h when I can charge £70 p/h ?

You have a polarised idea of what a busy pro wants to do and what is profitable.

Many quality pros aren't or don't want to actually shoot 5 days a week. There is more to the process than that. I haven't yet found an outsourced service that fine tunes Raw files like I do, and I take professional pride in being the architect of my work from beginning to end. And my retouching often has a certain style that comes naturally to me but which would be forced by an outsourced supplier.

I can make money whilst shooting and I can make money when I'm not shooting. And I can be creatively satisfied whilst I do both.

Next: "Ansel Adams was a wanker because he worked his own darkroom..." Sheesh...

paul aparycki's picture

Ansel Adams had mostly other people do his printing . . . like most successful (businesswise) photogs, who are photographers, not darkroom technicians.

Yes, there is reason (and rhyme?) to do some yourself sometimes . . .

Lee Christiansen's picture

Some of the most successful photographers hardly pick up a camera at all these days. Maybe we should take less pictures to follow your "successful" business plan.

Many photographers don't do post because they don't have the skills or don't want to. Outsourcing isn't necessarily a cost saving exercise - but you assume it always is.

Adams may have had others do his printing, but this was under his direction and with specific dodging / burning post techniques that he would have specified - unless you're thinking he just posted out his negatives and waited for stuff to come back.

I don't see the darkroom (digital or not) as separate from the photographic process. Pressing the shutter is just the start of the journey. If you're into volume then that's fine but that's not me.

I'll typically charge about £14,000 ($19,000) to shoot, post produce / design an album for a Bar Mitzvah. My clients pay this because I don't outsource - they appreciate the personal touch. My business model would take a big hit the second I farm stuff out.

"Successful" business-wise or not, does not have to follow your narrow business model.

paul aparycki's picture

Oh, and your business "acumen"???? shows through. I don't pay my retoucher . . . my client does. It is called business

Lee Christiansen's picture

My business acumen is solid. If your client is paying the retoucher then they're not paying you. If they're paying you and you're paying the retoucher, then they're still not paying you.

I get my clients to pay me for as much of the work as possible, at the rate that I like them to pay me.

My... you are making a lot of assumptions about us pros today aren't you...

paul aparycki's picture

They aren't paying me, or other photographers for retouching because usually they are paying us to shoot . . . which bills considerably higher.

I have no problem with you, or anyone for that matter sitting in front of a computer. That's your choice. But I have yet to be in a major billing studio where there isn't either a full-time staffer doing tech, or a freelance brought in. If you are inured to being a one-man game, so be it . . . but it does intrude on time, in a big way.

Having a tech-ee on-site during a shoot elevates the process considerably

Lee Christiansen's picture

This is soooooo true.... :)

Lee Christiansen's picture

I have never needed an on-site tech for any of my commercial shoots. I'll have an assistant, but that's it. It doesn't impede my on site speed at all. Again you are making assumptions of workflow that don't always come true.

If you are not shooting at full capacity (5 days a week, every week), then there is extra earning potential. I'll happily take £700 ($950) per day for retouching.

But if you are bringing in that $4750 every week, and the almighty dollar is more important than creative control and a change of pace, then outsource all you want.

Charles Mercier's picture

You definitely want James Fridman to retouch your photos! lol

David Pavlich's picture

My son does all his stills processing (wedding/event/photojournalist), but farms out his video processing. But, one of his good friends happens to be that video guy and my son's second shooter on occasion, so he charges minimally and does a terrific job.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Farming out is a smart move and it saves your time greatly. I worked with a wedding photographer as her assistant and she had me doing culling and creating Smartshow 3d videos that were part of the contract. Not sure if we could call it a real outsource as we kinda teamed up but still she didn't have to do everything on her own. But those who do not want to lose control over their works have a point as well. If the client books you basing on what they've seen in your portfolio it's probably not the right time to start outsourcing things.

Robert Nurse's picture

Since I'm not a pro and I shoot primarily personal projects, I retouch my images because I have the time. If I were a really busy pro shooting practically every week, there's no way I'd want to handle all that retouching myself. I much prefer the shooting end of things and if I can find one or two fantastic retouchers, I'd pass that work on to them.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

If I did high volume work, I would outsource.

Salty Cremepuff's picture

No matter how good you think you are, it's unlikely that you're going to be better at editing or retouching than someone who spends all day everyday doing nothing but that. Outsourcing gets a bad reputation because tons of people use it primarily as a cost cutting measure, but I think it's important to remember that there are also plenty of professionals out there for whom retouching and editing is their art just as photography is yours.