Business & Clients

From Brief to Sign-Off, Speaking ‘Industry’

To anyone with years of working in commercial retouching, the terminology comes naturally, but each of us remembers a time when the language of the industry wasn’t quite so clear.

When speaking to an art director who might be interested in hiring you, it’s important to speak his or her language. Clear communication and understanding between you and your client instill trust, helps you deliver exactly what the client wants, and gives your client the confidence that he hired the right talent.

If you’re a skilled amateur looking to land your first commercial job, check out this quick guide to some common industry terminology, and conduct your client correspondence with confidence.

Example Email Exchange:

Let’s look at a mocked-up email exchange and throw in some key terms (all explained at the foot of this article). Below is an example of an email one might receive as a retoucher;

Hi X,
We have a beauty shoot of six images that we’ll need retouched for a Brand advertorial (we should have the selects by Thursday) in Y Magazine. Can you give me a rough idea of your availability for next week?
Regards, Z

Now this email might have been sent out to a few retouchers, and if your reply is unimpressive, or simply less impressive than another response you may not be getting that job. Giving the client just enough information to satisfy their request isn’t enough to engage them in a progressive dialogue and certainly isn’t enough for you to understand the scope of the project, and of course how to deliver an accurate quote.

Let’s take a look at an example response;

Hi Z,
Thanks for getting in touch, I have availability next week and I’d love to be on board.
Do you have a mood board/references for the shoot? If you could send across a couple of the possible selects that’d be great. What’s the ideal turnaround?

If I can get the selects and the brief/markups on Thursday I’ll aim to deliver a first draft by Tuesday for any revisions and we should have plenty of time for final amendments.


Now that might be too many questions for one email so I wouldn’t recommend it as a template, but it’s a buzzword-filled example of some of the information you’ll need early in the course of your exchange. Essentially it’s a matter of knowing what to ask for to assist you in providing a great product, and in doing so presenting yourself as a professional service provider whose understanding of the process will make your client’s experience of using your service a pleasant one. There are few things more satisfying in a creative industry than realizing that your new team member just ‘gets you.’ It’s a fantastic feeling and that’s something you want your clients to have.

RELATED: Becoming a Professional Beauty Retoucher

So if you’re looking to build trust and rapport with big commercial clients, you’ll need to know at the very least the terms listed below. There are many more so please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments, particularly any strange or unique examples you’ve heard!

A Quick Glossary


This is your guideline provided by the client. The brief is any information relating to your role in the process and may include instructions to follow a particular style (see references) and to remove, smooth, or fix particular elements. The brief comprises all written or spoken instructions before you begin and may be supplemented by mood boards and references.


The shots chosen by the client for the campaign, this can be as few as two or three shots from hundreds taken, or many more for a look book or e-commerce. Most shots taken on the day will remain largely unseen and unpublished, but it’s worth asking for them if you feel that one of the unselected shots could be beneficial, as an element for a composite for example.

Mood Board

Often an early stage in the process of the shoot involves collecting reference shots as an aid to the photographer. It can be helpful to ask for a PDF of this to get an idea of the desired look for the finished shots, particularly if the selects are not finalized or haven’t yet been shot. It’s often an enormous benefit to see what the photographer was shooting for.


Often sent as jpegs in today’s digital age (although when working on-site you will often be given hand-annotated proofs), a markup is a version of a select with notes and marks indicating changes the client expects.

Find Retouching Vocabulary and Retouching Job Application Checklist PDFs in the Bonus Materials of the Professional Beauty Retouch video course.


The time taken to deliver the final product. The client will expect you to ‘turn around’ the project before an agreed deadline.


Example shots that capture the feel and style of retouching required by the client. The client will outline their requirements in the brief, but of course ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and references are an ideal way to understand the client’s vision for the final product.


Your first draft is the first delivery to the client of the retouched shots. These may be signed off or marked up for revisions. After completing the amendments you will deliver a second draft. When the client is satisfied, you have a final draft. (Congratulations! Write that invoice!)


When the client is satisfied with the retouched shots they are considered signed off.’ The term suggests a signature from an Art/Marketing Director to indicate completion and readiness to go to artwork and print.


Small changes requested after delivery of a draft. ‘Smooth shirt a little, remove this stray hair and slightly less red in skin tones’ are considered amendments. A fully amended shot is considered a revision, and a round of revised shots is an updated draft. In a lot of cases, I have seen revisions, amendments and amends used interchangeably.

There’ll be regional and international variations to these terms of course, and some terminology specific even to certain companies and departments, but the language outlined here is universal within English-speaking markets. So ask for references, agree on a turnaround and submit your first draft for any amendments! And remember, the more you understand the brief, the fewer revisions you’ll need before that all-important sign-off!


Image © Diego Alborghetti, Retouching by Daniel Meadows

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