Ask A Retoucher: Questions From The Industry, Answered By A Retoucher

Aside from techniques, I have noticed that there isn't much information out there on retouching and the industry. I have been asked great questions over time that I thought people would love to know the answer to. Accordingly, I wanted to make a series to showcase them for the purpose of education and knowledge. 

If you have any questions of your own that would be great to see answered that isn't tutorial related, feel free to post them in the comment section below and I will pick a few to answer as I continue this series. As a disclaimer, these answers do not reflect the entire retouching industry. They are strictly answered from my own experience as a retoucher.


Edward McGowan asks: Do you have skin textures that you add to photos?

There are a few reasons that I do not do this. Usually when you look at an image, you will notice that the type of skin texture will change from one image to another. Their pore structure is not the same as another person's structure. Adding to complexity, you will notice that it changes based on how sharp or not sharp an image is. It also changes based on the quality of the lighting. Even across the face, the texture detail changes considerably. This makes the result of adding in texture from another image look artificial.

Lastly, the act of adding in texture to an image doesn't seem to add up visually. If the retouching is done correctly and the skin texture is kept intact, there isn't a need to do so. It is always best to enhance what is naturally there, rather than replace it after improper techniques. So for these reasons, I do not keep skin textures to add in later. So far I haven't had a need to do so. I am sure this may differ from person to person.


Nick Keck asks: Do you often come back to your work after a few hours with fresh eyes? How often do you make drastic changes after doing so? I tend to find myself almost completely redoing a photo after looking at it after a period of time. It's sometimes frustrating!

In the beginning, I had this problem often. It would be a trial and error process. I take breaks frequently and look away from what I am working on. Looking at an image with constantly fresh eyes is imperative to making sure everything is kept in perspective. After incremental changes, your eyes acclimate and believe what you are looking at is the baseline and you will feel like going further. As a result, you will want to keep pushing yourself. Take breaks often! Fortunately, time will allow you take less breaks and you will start to know when you are going too far. It's a matter of practicing the discipline and you will continue to improve over time. Even now, I will still break away naturally out of habit and readjust myself for the benefit of my work.


Sean Armenta asks: How do you base your rate? What are the factors that influence the amount you charge? And is it per hour? Per image?

Each retoucher is definitely unique in how they price their work. Personally, I price my work based upon looking at each project. My rate is higher for commercial work than it is for editorial work. I will typically look at the brief provided and quote based on how long the project is anticipated to take. For instance, a brief will include the images, a set of notes on what they would like done, references if needed, and details on a deadline and other important information. It will allow me to budget how many hours on a project I expect to take. I will multiply that by an hourly rate to get my quote. A retoucher's hourly rate can vary greatly and reflects what their target amount is for the year (for instance). It's something that has taken practice in getting just right as well.


Haley Graham asks: How do you deal with some of the moral implications or body image issues that can arise from the subject of retouching? Does it ever affect you personally?

I am not a fan of seeing images where the models have been shrunk considerably. I've also been lucky in being able to work with photographers who believe the same. I typically do not use the liquify tool to shrink a model. If liquifying is necessary, it will be to push in subtle bulges that result from tight garments or angles that cause weird bulges to arise. It will also be used to compensate for distortion at times when wide angle lenses are used. I do believe the trend is going in favor of keeping people looking like people. I am glad to see that in regard to body size.


Mark Harris asks: How often have you had to shift/change/add/subtract limbs in a high end image, and at who's request. For example, your own, photographer, art director, model, etc.

This is a common practice when piecing together the perfect image for some of my clients. Most of the time, no one will ever know it was done. Typically, this request comes from the art director or editor, from my experience. The direction is given to me by way of the photographer on the job. He will have taken multiple frames in similar positions where it makes it easy to composite in. It can be a tricky process and some areas need to be improvised for a perfect fit. The point of this is to make the perfect pose for aesthetic purposes. Sometimes, an image can be perfect except for a hand that is awkward looking. So it's important that everything is perfect.


Andrew Zerick asks: When re-touching, are you often given a specific set of tasks or are you told to vaguely clean it up? Do you sometimes have creative control over how much is actually retouched?

I am mostly given specific tasks. For skin work, it's usually self explanatory. The list of items will include exactly what to remove, if any color changes and toning is needed, if any garments need to be adjusted, to what extent the hair needs to be fixed, and if we are going to composite anything. There can be other special notes as well. The notes will either come in written form or they will come marked up on a separate copy of an image.

I prefer this over full control as it allows for crystal clear communication. In times where I have been given full control, it is usually met with additional notes in the end to fine tune my own vision. It's rare that I am hired completely for my own vision as opposed to the ability to execute their own.


Reem Mohammed asks: What's your retouching play list? Music that keeps you focused?

My playlist contains tracks from Purity Ring, Daft Punk, Justice, Grimes, Chicane, Alt-J, Tycho, Depeche Mode, Thievery Corporation, The XX, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Muse, Washed Out, Air, Boards of Canada, and many more. Most of the times, I have one of these bands as a station on Pandora and work with them on. It lets me get into the zone and I stay focused.


I also wanted to quickly let anyone who is in London know that I will be teaching a retouching workshop, sponsored by Wacom and hosted by Train to Create. It will be on November 17th with more information here:

Thank you to those photographers who submitted their questions! As mentioned, If you have any questions of your own that would be great to see answered that isn't tutorial related, feel free to post them in the comment section below and I will pick a few to answer on the next part of this series!

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Nick's picture

How dare you not answer my question! ;)

Casper Smits's picture

The question is really good. The 'answer' is also really usefull...

I don't really care if these don't exactly line up :p

Rob Ert's picture

Excellent answers, very concise Pratik. Nice taste in music aswell! I have another a few more if you don't mind? In the industry is it common practice for a retouching studio to charge more than a freelance retoucher even though they're doing the same amount of work? Or are rates roughly the same?
Another... How do you work out a rate for advertising work which has many factors and higher value for the client?

gigi's picture

Do you have any tips for retouchers just starting out and wanting to make retouching a career ?

Sergio Galvan's picture

any books you recommend to read about Techniques of Retouching?
Hope I can afford your Workshop in London mate ;) You are my fav!

Stephen Vosloo's picture

great post, thank you Pratik!

Bertrand Kuentzler's picture

How much time (%-wise) do you spend outside of Photoshop? And what kind of non-PS tools do you use then (noise reduction, sharpening, B+W conversion, color management, etc)?
Many thx

Timothy Holt's picture

Interesting article. I was a little disappointed the questions were only directed at retouchers who work on beauty images. As a retoucher myself, I work almost exclusively on architectural images and would love to see Q/A in that field of work.

Pratik Naik's picture

Fair point Tim! As I don't work in the field, I unfortunately can't answer from that viewpoint. However, we may do one with an architectural retoucher for that purpose in a few parts of the series. Thank you for that idea!

Timothy Holt's picture

Patrick. If you ever do a series on architectural retouching I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I work under an commercial architectural photographer and although I don't have a personal website a lot of the work I do can be seen at
Take Care,

Jason Ruggiero's picture

Does anyone have any articles or resources as far as getting your foot into the door of retouching?