My Approach to Retouching

Only too often, the retouching of pictures leads to unnecessary discussions and unrealistic expectations. Therefore, I have tried to put in words some of my guiding principles when retouching people pictures.

Things I do retouch…

  • Skin imperfections in the sense of: everything that would not be on the picture if they would have been taken a few days before or after. For example, little wounds, pimples, rashes.
  • Depending on the type of shot (e.g. portrait versus beauty), I do correct wrinkles, lines, skin structures and irregular pigmentation. But I usually “dampen”, I do not “remove” everything in order to retain a natural feel.
  • Dirt and dust particles on clothing, skin and background. Hair if it stands out (e.g. backlit in front of a neutral background).
  • Contrary to what most people believe, cameras do not “see” the world as it is perceived by the human eye. I do correct distortions of body proportions introduced by poses, perspective and similar. The result of these corrections will never be noticeable to a viewer without direct comparison to the original picture.

Things I do NOT retouch…

  • Tan lines
  • Roots and irregularities of dyed hair
  • Food between teeth
  • Hair on legs, arms and face
  • Asymmetrical eye brows

Under- oder overweight, natural asymmetries in body proportions

Other guidelines I usually apply (but not always)…

  • It is my goal of getting it 95% “right” when pressing the shutter. Photoshop editing will always be inferior to recorded image information and almost always has undesirable side effects on image quality.
  • I consider myself a photographer using photographic tricks and tools, not a graphical artist of Photoshop wizzard.
  • In portrait photography, my goal is a clean but natural appearance, not “plastic skin”. Plastic skin is unprofessional and unaesthethic in my eyes and can be achieved easily, free and almost automatically with a number of apps for computers and phones. Plastic skin is an integral part of modern “selfie culture”, but it occupies a small place in my photography.
  • In many cases, I do allow my clients to further edit and retouch my pictures. In my experience, most editing will not really generate further value added, but result in another version of the picture. It is exactly a feature of a good picture that it looks good in many variants. Bad pictures, on the other hand, usually do not turn into good pictures when tinkering with them in Photoshop.
  • I am not a friend of extreme image sharpness. Sharpness is a very complex topic in photography. The final sharpness appearance is the result of many factors, ranging from monitor to type of monitor, light, lens and camera settings. I usually prefer pictures rich in details and tonality to “sharp” pictures. This has the advantage that the pictures can always be sharpened to match the viewing media (e.g. paper print versus monitor).
Different retouching strategy, different result