Using a Retoucher to Take Your Photography Further

Using a Retoucher to Take Your Photography Further

Now I know there have been countless articles posted about why retouching is important, or why it’s downright frowned upon. But imagine, as a photographer, being able to free up so much more time by outsourcing the editing to a trusted retoucher. 

I say trusted because the pool of retouchers available in the industry is so saturated, you might not find the results you’re looking for straight away. Some of them are great and some of them are leaning to the slightly more questionable side. But the important thing to remember is that you find yourself a retoucher that you can identify with, who has a similar style of editing to what you have in mind for your final product... But before we get into that, let’s talk about the "why."


Retouching is important for a number of reasons. And when I refer to retouching, I’m not talking about the stereotypical form of retouching, i.e making the breasts and hips bigger, adding a fake six pack, applying a serious amount of digital makeup or softening the skin to look like porcelain. No, we reserve those to the beginners, the fly-by-nights, and the guys who believe retouching is a one-click solution.

Real retouching is something completely different. It’s a subtle art to further accentuate an already great image. It’s a means to create a finished product as the photographer saw it when he or she first thought of the idea. It’s not an excuse to save a badly shot image. A form of good retouching is where you question whether the image has been retouched, or not.

So let’s take a look at a few examples of great retouching. Firstly we have a globally recognized name, Pratik Naik. He’s worked on countless high-end images and hosted many tutorials and workshops on how to retouch. He’s perfected the art of subtlety and only works on well-shot images. 

Image courtesy of Pratik Naik.

This to me is the mark of a great retoucher. The retouching skill in this image just shows off an already great image. Nothing over the top. Nowhere in this image can you tell it’s been retouched. It looks completely natural and this is probably one of the reasons he is as successful as he is. Good retouchers work under the radar, perfecting small flaws in the image that the photographer wasn’t able to fix in-camera. Combine that with a good skill in color grading and you’ve got a masterpiece.

So why outsource your work? 

For a lot of photographers, it’s quite difficult to relinquish control over their images. You might be uncertain if the retouching would respect the vision you had in your head as well as not go overboard and over-retouch the image or images you’ve supplied. If you manage to find a retoucher that stays true to what you’re trying to accomplish and respects your vision you’ll be sitting with a lot of time on your hands, free to do other things. Other things, such as being able to shoot more, spend more time liaising with clients, more time for admin, researching for that next big shoot, and time with the family and friends. It surely has its benefits when you’re able to take that first step into relinquishing control. 

Unfortunately, it’s a step that’s not always so easy to take. It comes with a few risks. The time spent finding a reputable retoucher, discussing your ideas and visions, and the costs involved. I do a lot of retouching on my own personal work and a lot of retouching for clients, and I’ve come to find that it works best to be able to do both when outsourcing your work. Being able to convey an idea to a skilled retoucher is something that doesn’t come naturally, unless you know exactly what you have in mind and know how to accomplish it, leaving the retoucher to do what’s necessary. 

Do you use a retoucher to lighten your workload or do you prefer to do it yourself?

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7 Comments

Dave McDermott's picture

"Nowhere in this image can you tell it’s been retouched."

I'm sorry but it is fairly obvious it has been retouched. The model doesn't have a single imperfection anywhere. That's not to say its bad by any means. It's a great photo but I certainly wouldn't be fooled into thinking it hasn't been retouched.

>> I'm sorry but it is fairly obvious it has been retouched. The model doesn't have a single imperfection anywhere

Possibly sort of missing the point there...

But in this case I'd say that the image is too small to show whether the retouching is good or not. And that the whole image looks highly unnatural. But without a Before to go with the After, I wouldn't know whether to blame or credit the retoucher, the MUA or the photographer.

..Which I would have thought was obvious, just like the only substantive points made in this article - some retouchers are good and some bad, and you'll save time if you don't do your own retouching.

Boris Schipper's picture

I'm with Dave here, I think it looks really retouched, and don't understand the use of this picture.
I do fully agree with the essence of the story, good retouching is another great tool added to your possibilities, like great make-up or styling, locations, overal team or numerous other added values.

I agree with Dave. Her skin looks too perfect to be true. It looks so perfect it is almost unnatural. Her eyes are a spot to white and bright. But of course, even as an amateur, I know what I am looking for.

I am a school teacher by nature and lots of my girl students are a fan of this model or that singer. They always think that the way they look on pictures and when I have time I show them what can be done in Photoshop.

The ultimate question is an ethical one I suppose. What should be permitted? What is the limit? There are far too many people who think they should look like models in glossies, while all these pictures are far from naturel.

Leigh Miller's picture

Oh my goodness: Nowhere in this image can you tell it’s been retouched. It looks completely natural and this is probably one of the reasons he is as successful as he is.

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I'm a fan of Pratik Naik's work but there is absolutely no way to make this above statement true. I don't think even the retoucher would have said that. As discussed by others, we are clear that each image has been worked on quite a bit....and that's not a bad thing. It's generally accepted that high-end photography of this type goes hand-in-hand with retouching.

dale clark's picture

Image looks totally retouched and I am not a portrait/fashion photographer. However, the general public pretty much expect "Photoshopping" of images in the fashion world. Every magazine cover looks retouched (some more than others). The fine images above are just the norm these days. In fact, one headshot photographer I am aware of locally, does NO retouching. I've had a couple of his clients come to me asking for a retoucher referral because the "naturalness" stands out too much (In their eyes).

Antti Mutka's picture

I don't think any of my images need a high end retoucher. Sure it takes some time but a quick cleanup some dodge & burn and color grading is no what I would call complex.