Insights on Retouching: From a Retoucher's Perspective with Carrie Beene

Carrie Beene has long been one of the top retouchers known for her amazing work on ads for cosmetics and hair product companies. We recently sat down with Carrie to learn more about how she started and what advice she has for aspiring retouchers.

Her client list includes Elizabeth Arden, L’Oreal, John Paul Mitchell and many others. Carrie’s work has been featured in publications such as Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, and Vanity Fair and she works with many of the top photographers in the business.

Originally trained as a fine artist painter Carrie loves putting actual paint on real canvases, the training she had as a painter/artist gave her a firm foundation on subjects like life drawing, anatomy and color that help in her work today as a retoucher. 

After spending a twelve years in Haiti where she ran two restaurants she returned to the US and discovered Photoshop in the early 2000s when she saw a photographer friend using it. Something clicked and she made it her job to learn everything she could about the program, spending at least 8 hours a day for six months teaching herself and practicing. After 6 months of studying on her own she enrolled in a class at a local community college. The biggest benefit she found to the class was that it forced her to learn parts of Photoshop she never would have explored on her own, such as how to stroke a path. 

That eventually led to working in a retouching "factory", a local color lab, where she worked 6 days a week punching a clock, working under the gun on the local retouching needs customers brought to her employer.

When she saw an ad on for a Photoshop retoucher at a studio in New York she called them up and talked them into sending her a test image so she could demonstrate her skills. When the test image arrived she was surprised to see it was a photo of a starlet whose skin needed a lot of retouching. Working after hours on her home computer she completed the test and sent it back to the studio in New York, when they offered her a job she promptly gave notice at the local lab and moved from Kansas City to New York. From there she started her own retouching studio, in 2007 and has been working on top campaigns ever since.

One big thing that Carrie says helps her grow is her interest in always learning and exploring new ways of working in Photoshop while keeping a keen eye on the end result to make sure she’s getting the quality her clients demand. And often it seems some small part of Photoshop will provide a solution to a retouching challenge she’s dealing with; for instance the Stroke Path option she learned at the community college long ago came in handy when she had to fix a line where the collar met someone’s neck, or knowing you can use the Fade command when pasting parts of one Channel into another to bring back detail all come from this habit of constantly exploring and learning.

While Carrie is well known for her work on skin she says her favorite type of images to work on are the big, still life product shots. She finds a zen like approach to working on these images particularly enjoyable, from the beginning when she’s doing the basic clean up to removing and replacing labels to the final result.

In addition to working as a top retoucher Carrie also regularly teaches workshops on retouching at New York’s prestigious School of Visual Arts where she shares "Real Retouching” techniques with the students, helping to give them a sound foundation in retouching. One of her critiques of so many of the videos available on the web that show “Wow Techniques” is that so often these tricks won’t hold up to the close scrutiny high end clients will give your work. It’s far better to learn good, solid techniques first then work on building your repertoire than to seek short cuts that inevitably result in down and dirty work that won’t satisfy your clients.

When asked about what is the most important consideration in doing high end retouching Carrie stresses a high quality original image is critical. Starting off with a well exposed, sharp image with sufficient resolution and proper processing will make it much easier to achieve a high end result that will hold up to close inspection.

In assessing other retouchers’ work she first looks to see if the image has shape, if the skin has been retouched with artistry, are there tell tale signs of too harshly done dodging and burning, are there any odd shadows or chopped off stray hairs left unaddressed and has there been sufficient attention to detail applied to the work. One of her pet peeves is when the retoucher has worked on cleaning up the stray hairs around the model’s head, but has left a number of stumpy ends that go no where. Cleaning these up with artistry means making sure all the hairs in these areas make sense and don’t look like someone cut off half of a hair.

For those looking to build a career as a high end retoucher Carrie advises first make sure your work is really good, and you know what you have to offer to your clients. Knowing what the jobs require takes some research but will save you lots of frustration in the long run. Additionally she says it’s important to build a team so you can handle the projects that come your way. Few things will make it harder to find work than getting a large job in and being unable to meet the deadline because you don’t have the capability to handle the volume of work they bring you.

Most importantly Carrie urges anyone interested in building a career as a retoucher to continually work to learn as much about Photoshop as possible and never rest on your laurels thinking you’ve mastered all there is to know.

Carrie’s work can be seen on her website at and on her Instagram account.

All images courtesy of Carrie Beene.

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Mike Ditz's picture

Nice article and thanks for not making it into a 12 minute video. Also was good to see I am not the only one who had issues with paths :)

michaeljin's picture

While related to photography in that it is something done on photographs, I feel like re-touching is its own animal altogether... There's just so much to it that you're not likely to ever get very good unless you dedicate a huge chunk of your life to it.

Tyler Reid's picture

One of the more interesting articles I've read on Fstoppers. Thanks!

Emily Teague's picture

Great <3