Retouching is a Real Job

Tip 29 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“The Post-Production 101”

PART A.1: Retouching is a Real Job

It’s a wrap and we’ve finally reached the last chapter of this column – the post-production. But don’t crow too soon! There’s very much to learn about the different aspects of post-production… We’re in fact going to deal with three different sections composed of several articles on A. the photo editing, B. the buyout, and C. the data-handling. So relax your shoulders, take a deep breath in and press your worry stone, because there’s work ahead of us. As the client, your part in the editing process will mainly be to judge the results, select which pictures need to be retouched, and instruct the editor about the formats and style you wish to have as well as pointing out the flaws that need to be corrected. Doesn’t sound too hard of a task, right?

Decide who will do the final touch on your photos

When it comes to choosing the degree and style of retouching there are as many options like there are photo styles in the first place. You might want to consult with the photographer prior to the shoot whether they are going to edit the images themselves or an external retoucher needs to be hired to do the job. If you’re planning to get fancy Photoshop composings, animations, or other advanced editing done for your campaign later on it might be wise to entrust e.g. an advertising agency with the whole procedure of post-producing. Otherwise, you might notice different thumbprints in the final results or the basic editing doesn’t take into account the steps done by third parties and, therefore, go too far. 

As you can see, photo editing involves a bit of strategy (like cooking) and it can be time- and money-saving to choose somebody who knows about the bigger picture (or recipe) and who has the right skills and resources to spice the pictures up to your taste.

On the other hand, the photographer’s unique style can be based on their very way of how they edit pictures themselves or on their relationship with a certain retoucher who knows how to prepare their speciality. Anyway, you’re expected to place a clear order and, if necessary, communicate between the parties who are processing your pictures. And because there are different price ranges of photo editing, discussing the budget for this should be an integral part of the negotiation.

Photo editing equals time and money

It’s probably needless to say, but usually, you can’t expect to have the edited results the day after the shoot already. You’ll first get to be spoilt for choice and the quicker you are here, the earlier you get to see the finally edited versions of your favourites. However, again not the next day.

An important thing to keep in mind is that Photoshop and other editing programmes don’t work themselves. Retouching may look easy, or like magic, but is in fact a real job requiring skills that took the editors years of development and practice. Furthermore, the quality of work is a matter of balancing scheduled jobs and having enough time for each. Judging what needs to be done on the photos, consulting with the clients, and performing Photoshop accordingly aren’t quick tasks at all. Just imagine, that some productions result in dozens of photos, and editing them can take several days or weeks. 

When it comes to fancy composings, 3D renderings, animations, or other artworks that you plan to have in your imagery, these might take even more working hours and some extra items on the invoice you get to pay.

So if you like to use the phrase “we’ll fix that in Photoshop” on set, either forget about it immediately, or be patient and prepared to spend money on that correction because, after all, when a retoucher is working on a project for, let’s say, half a month they should be rewarded appropriately.

To put it in a nutshell, the budget and deadline for your photos can only be realistic if they incorporate a phase for proper editing. If you find it hard to estimate how long this phase should be you can always consult with the photographer or retoucher. With their experience, they can see how complex the work is going to be, even pre-production. 

To which degree should the photos be edited?

Considering that it’s getting more and more trendy to promote natural looks, from a fashion perspective, you’re well-advised to have the team pay close attention to the details while shooting instead of relying on the post-production to fix everything. Especially, when it comes to hair, even the most professional editing will always turn it to looking artificial or less modern whereas sophisticated hairstyling adds a certain something to pictures in the first place like I described in tip no. 11. But of course, the standards are still different when it comes to high luxury products from sectors like e.g. beauty, or fragrance. After all, a glossy and flawless edit certainly reflects the products’ prices. On the contrary, baby fashion photos will probably just need a little work. Whether you choose the more authentic or the polished version and depending on how well the details could get worked out during the photo shoot, the editing workload and its costs should naturally be equivalents. 

May I speak to the retoucher?

Whether the photographer is the one taking good care of the photos’ touch-up or an external retoucher is getting hired, in both cases your feedback on the intermediate results is required to determine if one or two things still need any revision. For most productions, it’s likely that several loops of retouching take place before the photos are completed. Here, the first round usually lasts the longest but is in fact the easiest part to do because the retouchers can pursue their strategies from start to end. With any further demand, things can turn more complex requiring less elegant ways of twisting and wriggling things in the history of previous actions. Especially, when instructions weren’t precise in the first place, or when you’re trying to modify the editing style completely, the results may turn out to lose their charm as by a mischance. As the client, it’s, therefore, important to take a close look at the raw photos (or the previews) and at the first stadium results. Take your time to find all the little deficits as early as possible and communicate what you want to change. Regarding the look and feel, e.g. when it comes to the colour management, or the skin structure you wish to have (for the model), you can either choose a matching style from the editor’s portfolio, or you help yourself with other photo samples that you show to them. By briefing them like this you rely on clear visual communication that bridges potential vocabulary gaps between you both. The editor will then know how to translate your calls into Photoshop.

Optimising the procedure like this, your photos might be ready earlier and without many correction loops. However, if such a stop and go is inevitable, never forget that money has the final word, and depending on the retoucher’s policy or your contract with them, every further correction might cost more. 

The next article is going to give you some “kitchen” insights. We’re going to have a look at the menu and see what can possibly be done with Photoshop or other editing programmes. So bring along some appetite!


If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or another, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!


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