Most of my high school senior clients ask if I’m able to clean up their skin in portrait retouching. And the answer is always, “Yes. Of course!”
I actually include basic retouching for every client, whether requested or not, as a complimentary service. I do more of a “polishing” of each image, so the results are subtle while still keeping the integrity of the client intact.
So if you’re planning a session with me or are just curious about what’s included in the retouching process, this post should answer some of those burning questions. And you’ll see side-by-side examples of my editing, so you’ll know what to expect.
What I Include In Portrait Retouching
I always clean up three key areas during the portrait retouching process. Those are skin, eyes, and distractions. Beyond that, I’ll edit as necessary to please the client.
I aim to keep retouching subtle and natural, so the client still looks like themselves but the version we all see on their best day!
It’s important to me to maintain integrity in skin tones and texture. I remove things that are temporary blemishes, like acne or bruises. But for permanent scars, moles, or birthmarks, I ask the client specifically what level of retouching they want.
Skin Retouching Includes:
Skin Tone Balancing
Oil and Shine Removal
Skin Softening (lightly, as needed)
Skin Brightening (as needed)
Since eyes are the focal point of a portrait, I always do some retouching to make them pop!
This includes a bit of sharpening and brightening of the eyes. Occasionally, I’ll also brighten up under the eyes and the T-zone. Like all of my editing, this is a very subtle process.
Eye Retouching Includes:
Brightening of eyes
Brightening under the eyes
Lightening around the eye socket and bridge of the nose (T–Zone)
3. Distraction Removal and Cleanup
Having the ability to remove distractions is one of the best features of digital editing! Here’s how I use it for portrait retouching.
Distraction Retouching Includes:
Remove unwanted people or objects from the background
Smooth out wrinkled clothing
Clean up lint on clothing
Extending backgrounds when needed
In the portrait below, I smoothed out her skin, brightened her eyes, and cleaned up parts of her hair. The necklace was a sentimental piece to her, so I left it for her portraits, but removed it when I entered it into a contest.
Sometimes clothes can bulge if they’re stiff like this shirt did. And sometimes there’s no fixing it before taking the photo. That’s where editing comes in handy!
At this point, after editing skin, eyes, and distractions, each portrait is pretty polished. But in some circumstances, I will do additional portrait retouching for hair and skin wrinkles.
I often clean up the hair of my female clients. I’ll edit the hair for cleanup if it's an outdoor portrait. I never edit hair so much that it looks like the person was cut and pasted into the background. Some stray hairs make it look more natural.
Sometimes I’ll change the shape of hair, fix curls, or fill in gaps to make the hair look full. But 90% of hair editing is to remove stray hair flyaways.
Hair Retouching Includes:
Remove stray hairs or flyaways
Fill in gaps or slightly change the shape to make the hair appear fuller
Wrinkles can be a touchy subject when it comes to portrait retouching. In a world where we see flawless skin in the media, it’s easy to think we should wipe away all evidence of wrinkles. But I have a different point of view.
Smile lines and forehead wrinkles add character and dimension to portraits. I usually soften their appearance in editing so the lines aren’t as deep or noticeable. But of course, I can edit this to the client’s personal preference though.
Before You Request Heavy Portrait Retouching
I know it's easy to fall into a comparison trap, and want to remove every blemish and wrinkle. But before you request heavy retouching, consider this first.
When you think about someone you love, you don’t think about their wrinkles or imperfections. You only see the person you love.
Please keep this in mind regarding your own portraits. They should look like the version you’ll be remembered by: polished but not void of all imperfection.
Since printed photographs last forever, and we stare at them when they’re on display, I do smooth out details someone might not love about themselves. That’s why every portrait session with me includes complimentary portrait retouching - without asking for it. I provide this service to help you look like the best version of yourself.
A Wise Man Once Told Me
My dad studied photography in the days of film and darkrooms. He didn’t have the luxury of quickly removing items after the photo was taken. He had to capture everything as close to perfect before clicking the shutter.
His take on digital portrait retouching is this, “Would you intentionally put something there? If you wouldn’t put it there, then it’s okay to take it out.”
I have adopted this into my portrait editing. If there is a blemish or wrinkle that I wouldn’t intentionally put into the image, then it’s fine to remove it.
Subtlety is Key in Great Portrait Retouching
The key to great portrait retouching is making the image look like it was never edited in the first place.
In all of the example photos I’ve shared here, you wouldn’t know it was retouched if you saw it on its own. But when you see the edited version, you can see that it’s a better photo simply because it’s been polished.
I never edit to alter someone’s appearance. I edit in a way that makes them look like their best self.
I hope this answered any questions you may have about what's included in my portrait retouching, and what to expect. The main thing to remember is that your finished portraits will always be delivered to you so that you're looking your absolute best!