Are You (re)Touched?


I have been asked many times if I retouch my work. The answer is complicated in a sense because although I don’t like to retouch, I still want my clients to look their best when they get their portraits. So it comes down to more of a question of how much is too much.


We all know that in magazines like Glamour, Vogue and most of the celebrity magazines the images are retouched and often to the point of fantasy. It is easy to go overboard when retouching someone. When the natural texture of the skin is taken away and the skin looks like porcelain, it is overdone. If the photographer or retoucher makes someone look so ‘perfect’ that you wouldn’t know the person if you met them on the street then they have gone too far.


At the same time if the client wakes up the day of their portrait session with an acne breakout you don’t want them to look less than their best either. That is where retouching can be a benefit; it is not however the only time that some retouching needs to be done.  An example is my recent shoot with Sydni, a beautiful young lady who has a natural beauty that shouldn’t be altered or hidden by retouching.

The images above are the exact same shot of Sydni before and after retouching. In this image there is a small amount of retouching that is done but not much and mostly just to remove the slight, and temporary, imperfections. Sydni works at a local TV station and is trying to break into journalism so any head shots need to represent her as accurately as possible.  However she also works very long hours and this often can leave her looking a little tired. Add to that she did wake up with some acne the day of her shoot.


The only changes that I made to the image were to remove any pimples and the sleepy look under her eyes that normally isn’t there. By doing this I am able to keep her energy, the wonderful smile and keep her looking like her.  You be the judge.


Other times a photographer may be going for a certain creative look of feel to an image, whether that is to emphasize a message or look of an image. Maybe it is just for the sake of art, but the point is that in cases like this the image is likely to be taken a bit further to the extreme. When I shot James in 2008 there was no clear direction other than artistic ability. We wanted ‘cool’ images.

With James I had free license to create and to play with the images from that long day of shooting. In the image above you can see that the original shot was rather lackluster and boring. It isn’t a bad shot but it certainly isn’t a good one either; at best it is, as my wife says, “meh.” But with some retouching…

In the final image James is looking intense. His beard becomes much more detailed, his eyes more piercing and engaging. By converting the image to B&W and bringing up the background it brings up the punch of the shot. Also I used some sharpening techniques and a few other tricks I have up my sleeves to make the image really pop and come to life.


So how much is too much?  It depends on the image and the desired results. If you want to look natural then you only want to fix the things that are temporary and maybe enhance the natural beauty that is there everyday. If you want your portrait to be a bit more artistic the possibilities are endless. The idea is to work together with your photographer to get the look and feel that you want and desire. It is after all, your portrait.


You can see more of my work here in the galleries and on my fine art site, Can you tell what is straight out of the camera and what is retouched?

1 reply
  1. Murray
    Murray says:

    Immensely talented you produce some quite extraordinarily beautiful images. For me the example above of James takes it over the edge, I like the colour version on your other site much more. If you were to ask my opinion I would venture that the nudes are the weakest in what is in every other respect a cracking selection of images.

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