Friday, February 3, 2012

Retouching...yes, please!

This is the second post in this series; see "Beyond 'Meeting Code'' to read the 'introduction'....not obligatory, obviously :), but does set the stage for this, as intros do!

Sometimes it seems as though people consider ‘retouching’ a bad word, that it is somehow dishonest.  Other times, it seems as though people believe it is an expected, required, included, and easy aspect to portraiture.  The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle (except for the ‘easy’ part!), and will depend heavily on you, the client, and on the photographer you choose (that is IF you choose a professional photographer)!

So, is it ‘bad’?  I sure don’t think so and, in fact, I believe it is one of the aspects (read: values) that separates a professional portrait from one that isn’t.  I love that we, as professionals, can make YOU look more like YOU.  I know that when I remember my kids as wee ones, I don’t remember the drool on their chins or the porridge on their t’s; I remember my son’s big brown eyes and how my daughter’s smile reminds me of my pop’s.  So, when I am given the privilege of photographing someone – young, old, clothed or not, I want their final image to look just like them, on their very best day, as their loved ones see them.  I saw Scott Kelby (a Photoshop god) speak last spring and he said something akin to, “when you look at your betrothed on your wedding day you don’t see the pimple on their nose, so why should the photos remind you, and future generations, it was there?”…and I totally agree!

Sometimes people speak of retouching as though it is always robust in nature, but the truth is that only slight adjustments are typically necessary and it’s usually simple enhancements.  Sometimes, when I’m shooting on a dark backdrop, I will darken it further in Photoshop to render an even more compelling image of the subject.  Sometimes the light happens to hit my subject’s face in such a way as to cause some sheen…the photo is beautiful, they look terrific, but that darned shine in distracting – so, I just get rid of it.  In that moment I am not altering who they are or how they look, I’m providing an image that hopefully speaks to the ‘there and then’ for them, without distractions.  Other times I might have a little guy who is happy, newly sitting on his own, and loving the attention he’s getting in the studio…we capture amazing shots but he’s teething and the drool just won’t stop.  His parents don’t want snapshots – they can do that at home and they will be adorable and loved images – they come to me, or another, because they want images to hang on their walls.  In these instances there might be a little extra editing to make sure his personality is what attracts the viewer, not the shiny chin or wet shirt!  Then there are other times that I am photographing a maternity portrait or a fine art nude and for these I believe in spending extra time on the image as I know how it feels to be at your most vulnerable in front of the camera.  I know that when I posed for my session I absolutely wanted a little retouching!  My goal, as the photographer, is always to do the least amount possible while retouching those bothersome areas that we all have, and that are different for all of us.  I want for my clients to see their final image and only see how beautiful, handsome, young, vibrant, incredible they are!

Below you’ll see an image x2 of me taken by Bryan F. Peterson last year…thank you, Bryan, for allowing me to post this image unedited (probably harder for me, but still!).  I had worked really hard, through diet and exercise, prior to the shoot and I actually look at the unedited image and feel pretty darned good :)!  That said, this particular image was not a favourite of mine because of my expression…I chose it for this blog for three reasons: it shows my whole body (vs. the head shot in a later example); it is not too revealing; and because I don’t love that it looks as though I’m frowning.  So, what did I do…well, this isn’t a tutorial in Photoshop but, in short, I darkened the background, removed some pimples and some moles/freckles (many a constellation can be found on me!  While I waste not one second worrying about removing every last pimple, I chose to leave +/- half the beauty marks as they are a part of who I am and it would be funny to see me without any!), I lightened under my eyes, brightened my eyes and smile, did a little nip ‘n tuck on my love handles and thighs (shhhh!), minimized my belly button a little (moms, you understand!), lessened the veins in my hands and feet, got rid of my appendectomy scar, lessened the wrinkles/creases around my mouth, made it seem like less of a frown and more of a smile, and, finally, converted the image to B&W and toned it.  (Some of the listed touch ups will not be as obvious here, but on my screen and on a final print, they are.)  I think that the changes are very subtle and that, if I showed him, my husband would think it was untouched…and THAT is what we want!  This retouch took me a little over 1.5 hours.

Image by Bryan F. Peterson, shown here with permission; editing by me!
For comparison, below is, from L to R: unedited, edited in colour, edited in B&W with toning (I'm a big fan of both colour and B&W (and variations of B&W) and so I thought I'd show both here).

Image by Bryan F. Peterson, shown here with permission; edits by me!
PS Man, I wish my shoes were more obvious...they're AWESOME!
In the below example, we decided (well, I decided and the family just went along with it!), to do a Christmas card with a whole bunch of individual photos of the four of us, and our two furry kids.  The headshots were quite tight, therefore you can see every little imperfection – this is not what I want hanging on my friends’ fridges!  And so, on these, I spent a little extra time – so that I felt that I looked as good as I thought I had looked that day :)!  I brightened and widened my eyes (I have a big smile and my eyes have to shrink to make room for it!), I softened my complexion, I brightened the whites a little, and a few other little things that I feel bring the image to print-worthy.  This retouch took me just over an hour.

In both examples I hope I have demonstrated that with a little skill, the right tools, and the care and time to learn and practice, an image can go from being just fine to something beautiful.  My hope has always been, and continues to be, to learn and grow as a photographer (bettering my equipment, knowledge, skills, and ideas) so that I can exceed my client’s hopes.  My sincere hope is that, if you hire me or another, you feel you were rewarded with a portrait experience that went ‘beyond meeting code’!

Bryan F. Peterson is an acclaimed photographer, best selling author, and founder of The Perfect Picture School of Photography (, and I thank him for providing me a really wonderful experience during the shoot, for images that I love, and for being a mentor to me and countless others.

Stay tuned as there is at least one more post on this topic!

Life is great!


PS As stated in my last post…I chose to use images of myself so that no client of mine would be left feeling uncomfortable.  I always take a solid ‘gulp’ as I hit ‘post’, but I’d much rather me feel that discomfort than someone who has put their trust in me!


  1. oh my how i feel sooooo much better! I thought you looked far too gorgeous!he he Having said that, the 'pre-touched' photos of you are still astounding. Yay for some adjustments that show the 'You' that i always remember. I love this post from you. Honest and pure. Keep up the good work my love.

  2. Ahhh, Kylie, I love you! Thank you, thank you for the note and for the kind words (and I'm happy you now know definitively that my Christmas card photos get some extra love before they are sent out!). I'm just going to keep plugging away and will always try to be upbeat and honest here on the blog, in business and in life!
    Hugs to you,

  3. And I thought I was brave to show my fat gut on my blog. You rock, and look awesome in all images, sistah.

  4. Thanks, Sam, for the note and the're great!