Three Things You're Doing Wrong When Retouching

Retouching, much like photography itself, is a really subjective topic in the community. What one photographer considers great, another considers mediocre. While there are many debatable topics regarding retouching, I think it’s important to note these three things most photographers get wrong when they’re retouching.

It's Overdone

Let me be clear: retouching is subjective. Every photographer has their own opinion as to what they would consider “over-retouched.” Regardless of your perspective, it’s always important to remember the fact that we all see things differently. The retouching necessary for a portrait may not bode well in the commercial world and vice versa. Whoever your client is, be very mindful of their feelings toward retouching.

It’s also important to note that retouching will vary on place of origin. I find that when I travel around the world, every country has their own level of acceptable retouching. This example is probably a bit exaggerative, but you’ll get the point.

So, be very mindful when hiring retouchers, as their quality and level of retouching will differ depending on their place of origin.

Retouching Needs to Be Expensive

Retouching, just like photography, will vary by individual and place of origin. You’ll find retouchers online charging $5 an image and others that charge $85 an image or much higher.

My position is this: hire the retoucher that fits your assignment. If it’s a wedding and you’re on a budget, you’ll probably want to hire someone on the lower end of the spectrum to do basic corrections and not invoice for $85 an image. If you find the perfect shot of the day, maybe you’ll want to spend $85. I also wouldn’t recommend trying to find a $5-retoucher to edit my commercial work, unless they are amazing. And don’t forget, just like anything else, you get what you pay for.

Simply put, I wouldn't hire Pratik Naik or Julia Kuzmenko to edit a throwaway photo, but I definitely hire them for work that I'll put in my portfolio or use for a commercial client. Why? Because they're worth the investment. While I'm sure they'd be happy to take your money regardless, I'm sure that they'd feel the same.

Finally, I think it's important to have a list of options for retouchers. I have a list of $10, $15, $30, $65, and $120 retouchers. Each tier has one or two retouchers each, and I will outsource accordingly.

You Need to Be the Retoucher and the Photographer

I’m not sure if this is simply an American thing, but you don’t need to do everything all of the time. I found that when I was in Japan, it was pretty common for photographers to outsource most of their work; it was essentially industry standard. For some reason, photographers in the States find it necessary to micromanage everything. Stop it. It’s really unnecessary.

Bill your clients the right amount, and outsource the work. I had an interesting conversation with Julia Kuzmenko a while back, and she made a very interesting point: “...there are so many talented retouchers from countries where their living expenses allow them to charge very little and spend hours on your images. You can't do that. Your time is way more expensive.” And I’d have to agree. I would rather spend my time where it counts: shooting, marketing, and sales. The more time I have to spend on those things, the longer I can stay in business. That's plain and simple.

Hey guys, it’s okay to let go.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Not to sound crass, but are these eastern european (or elsewhere, I just see a lot of those) retouchers adding me on Model Mayhem every so often legit? I just assumed it was some sort of scam but he mentions retouchers at the rates they're offering so maybe they're legit.

Anyone have stories (or results), good or bad?

I'm an amateur, but I do have a small story/experience. A few years back I was cold called via email with an Eastern European sounding name offering retouching services.

Long story short, he caught me right at a good time whereby my interest was peaked. Something about the way the email was written and checking his stuff online, I emailed him back. He agreed to my terms and was pretty chill about everything, so I sent him a RAW shot and a day or so later I got the shot back and it was good. In fact, it was too good... I thought I couldn't use it because I could never duplicate it; it would be like a big diamond surrounded by a bunch of bark. And out sourcing all my pictures wouldn't set well with my wife.

I paid him for the shot (even though that wasn't our deal) and he was still chill even after I declined his services, all he asked was to keep him in mind, recommend him, blah blah blah....

I think that if you take precautions, you should be alright. Again, as an amateur, this is above me, mostly, but that was my experience...

if the guy was as good as you say I would like to give him a go. Like you I an amateur, but I would be interested to see one of my pics look like a "big diamond surrounded by a bunch of bark". DM me his details if you have them, thanks.

Hi Elliot, I know you said to DM you if I could find his email, but I can't... didn't wanna leave you hanging. They're not hard to find, first poster mentioned MM and I think that's where dude found me (back when my MM had some content in it).

Thanks for the reply, you said it was a few years ago so they guy probably is charging big bucks these days. Also, looking at your work he probably enjoyed working on your pics ;-)

I completely agree with the first point in the video about photographers removing every single imperfection to the point where the person looks like a cartoon character. It seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment. A lot of portraits I'm seeing lately look more like digital art.

It depends where you look, same as like from what country or part of world you are and so on.

Digital noise looks different from film grain. A lot of photographers/retouchers will add grain to cover noise.

Everyone sees things differently and pick up on things others don't. It's all subjective and it's all good.

'You can fool all of the people some of the time and all...' Well, you know how it goes. The point being, an individual's ability to be "fooled" depends on many variables, the subject at hand being of less importance than some others.
While the world is not subjective, our view of it, and its parts, most definitely is. I really have no idea what to do with the second part of your introductory statement.

Since neither of us will concede the point, there's no need to continue the discussion.
You might, however, temper your certainty with a little humility. It's something I struggle with too.

If you've collected enough data to feel certain that you can fool most people, on any subject, I feel sorry for you.


I hire who I need to hire. I have friends all across the world - hell my Girlfriend is Canadian. Why should I limit my investments to one specific country? While, I'm a proud American, I'm also a realist.

I never realized retouching was a culture. Shoot, you caught me.... I'm a culture giver. 0_0

This is my last post... because this is a pointless political debate. I consider myself an entrepreneur first and an artist second. The first part pays the bills to the second doesn't starve. You may not agree to see my methods, I have no care in the world if you do. But to say that someone is ruining culture because they outsource RETOUCHING is extremely naive.

By getting more done and being able to make more money by booking more jobs, isn't that more money Jeff is putting back into the american economy by virtue of living in america, buying food and supplies and paying tax to american business and government respectively?

I read this entire post while watching BBC, wearing a t-shirt made in Taiwan, and downing burritos imported from Mexico. I also outsourced writing this post to the Philippines where a nice lady named "Sarah" said she would summarize my thoughts perfectly. #trollfeed

All while choking the chicken to hentai. :P

I'm not saying you are a troll directly, just that the comment itself is slightly "trollish". The article is about retouching, not about the politics of the US economy. You're welcome to comment on it as you wish, but I gotta be honest and call a troll comment as such when I see it.

"as far as I can recall you are the first person to accuse me of trolling."

Really now?

"tired of this trolling, I'm going out to walk some dogs and enjoy life." ~ Rob Durston, April 9, 2016

So? So you have a terrible memory as you were accused of trolling on this very site less than a month ago. Might want to get that checked out...or at least stop making claims based on your clearly faulty memory...

Everything else you just posted is you projecting...


It's all in fun, don't take what I'm saying personally. :) I think you brought up plenty of good points in your original statements. Far too often though I see comments that are so off topic by "faceless" commenters on various websites that the first thing that jumps to mind is that they are trying to troll and direct the conversation in an unnecessary direction. Again, just my light hearted opinion. Feel free to comment as you see fit, it is the interwebs afterall. :)

This is getting out of hand... He's right... I'm being un-American.

It's time for me to sell all of my camera gear and buy an American made camera instead. Oh wait...

(On as serious note... Where do we draw the line on being "Un-American?")

Couldn't agree more about outsourcing work. I worked as a retoucher for one particular photographer for nearly 10 years. The images were still all retouched with the style and vision that the photographer originally intended and as your relationship develops you instinctively learn to interpret the photographers intentions. This allowed the photographer to travel the world and shoot more often whilst I managed the production side of things. And just from a skills point of view, what are the chances you are the best photographer AND the best retoucher in the world? If you want to take it to the next level, let the people who specialise in each area do their thing :)

to that point I am a Photographer and not a retoucher as such for the past 12+ years with modest exception all my work is handled by my retouch team. I have 3 members and thou I have changed positions I have my team skilled to deliver what I need for my clients be it commercial or personal.
I travel extensively for my work and my time is spent shooting for my clients while relying on my Eastern Euro team members to deliver the final content.
While it may never work for all it works for me and I am extremely happy.


Can anyone recommend some good retouchers/retouching services that they have used successfully and been happy with/had good experiences with??

I've found some great retouchers going through Model Mayhem. Finding a good one is going to be a trial and error process based on your own style of imagery and tastes. I went through 5 or 6 before settling on a group of 4 retouchers whose style emulates my own and vice versa. Best of luck in your search!

Yeah, i figured finding a style match would take some time, I guess my immediate concern was avoiding scammers.

I'm being contacted weekly by retouching agencies from India, Bangladesh, etc... offering retouching for 5% price of Austrian based retouchers.
My problem with that is the same as moving production to China (for example) - the greed to have more for less. Believe me clients in EU and USA have enough $£€ to pay for you and your outsourced retoucher (from your country).

I retouch my own work because I really enjoy it. It's like meditation for me. Were I to ever grow to hate it, I'd have no issue outsourcing it.

However outsourcing it to the guys charging comparative pennies in other countries is a sore subject for me especially when there are so many talented people in my local network.

jesus....the smugness oozes out of the screen...can't watch 'these guys' and they're all over fstoppers

Smugness? Clearly you haven't seen our videos. We're about as down to earth as two light skin latinos can be :)

I'll ooze out of your screen. <3 :*


Maybe his screen is defective? I don't think I've ever had something ooze out of my screens. :)

In an Edward Weston's book, I read he couldn't bear retouching skin for his early was a hundred years ago...
Make me smile to see nothing changes, analog or digital is the same odds

I was raised on the principle that unless you first learned how to do the job, you weren't fit & ready to be in charge of other people who are employed to do it, under your supervision. I fully agree that we all should learn HOW to do it, but it's totally unnecessary for us always to do the retouching.

OK for some, but not suitable for everyone.

Oh - and I also fully agree that too much retouching is simply bizarre. But I do find myself walking a tightrope, when it's a photo of my wife that I need to retouch - LOL Putting that aside, I really don't think much of the over retouched pics we see from time to time in fashion magazines - some of them look more like waxworks than humans.

Wait, you can have a photo retouched for $5? Properly? That's crazy to me. I guess I'm a very lucky old retoucher. Never charged less than $150 per image for the past 20 years and my average nowadays is $1,500. I do a couple of those per day, life is good. Feel bad for artists who have to work on an image for $5. :( I think I need to import some of these cheap talented retouchers from overseas, pay them 10 times what they're used to making, then I can sit on the beach all day and still make a fortune - everyone wins. . .seriously considering that.

You charge $1,500 for retouching an image? May I ask what type of photos those are?

Fashion and beauty Advertising

Interesting...thanks for the response!

I'm new to photography, not a pro and didn't even know this was a option. I would think that if you have a style you would need to make sure your retouchers were picked carefully. I do my own and the more the client wants, the more I do, but I am not an expert by any stretch. I do consider PP part of my style and work.

#2...Say it louder for people in my area who are charging $8-$10 an hour for 6+ hours of retouch work being from wanna be cheap photographers. Preach it loudly. Stop taking these jobs. Value yourself.