My passion for retouching was sparked by my dear friend photographer and retoucher Natalia Fadejeva who taught me the basics of the craft about three years ago. In the beginning, as with most things, I was taking it slow through a lot of trial and error. My results were subpar but I kept trying, practicing and improving.
I joined the Retouching Academy group at the end of 2013 and this changed my approach and the quality of my work dramatically. Sharing my retouched images in the group to get feedback from my peers as well as industry professionals helped me learn to identify my mistakes and how to fix them, which hugely contributed to the development of my retouching skills.
It was the beginning of 2015 that I ventured into the freelance world of retouching. Because I had done some retouching tests by then and I was being active on social media, I started getting noticed and approached by my first clients. From then on, I started gradually getting my work out there: getting published, approached by new clients and expanding my list of contacts and publications.
In a little over a year I managed to accumulate a good variety of work and publications in my portfolio, which now helps me in growing and developing my retouching business further. Along the way, I learned a few things which I think are essential for building a good portfolio that attracts your ideal clients and I would like to share them with you today.
Practice Makes Perfect
One thing that may sound very cliché, but is in fact very true is you have to practice, practice, practice! Do not underestimate the importance of regular retouching practice. It helps you develop your skills further no matter how good you consider yourself to be. Your retouching skill is a “muscle” that needs regular exercise to stay fit. As you become better, you may start to think that you don’t need to practice as much, but that may stop your progress.
Each image you work on is a challenge and teaches you something new. Every time you encounter a problem you’ve never dealt with before, you need to find a solution for it. Constant problem solving adds new skills to your retouching arsenal and helps you become even better at your craft.
Another important part of your on-going practice is developing your creative eye. It will help you when making your creative retouching choices. Look at what the artists at the top of the industry are doing. Print publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, etc. are great sources of inspiration. Looking through their pages will help you understand current trends, in regards to retouching: how skin is retouched, color grading, etc.
One of my favorite sources of inspiration online is the Retouching Academy Instagram feed where our IG editors find and share great images from both established and rising artists.
Work on Good Images
Working on images of high quality will help you take your portfolio to the next level.
Don’t stop there, reach out to photographers you like and ask to do free tests for them and in return ask for permission to use the retouched images in your portfolio.
Doing TFP projects (originated from “Time For Print”, typically means “unpaid projects”) isn’t bad – I still do those too, despite the fact that I have a good working portfolio already – but only when the images are of good quality, fit my style and have value for my portfolio, and/or when they are going into a big publication.
Knowing when to say No, however, is important. Working on images of subpar quality won’t allow you to showcase your full potential as a retoucher, so be sure to choose your TFP projects wisely. The images must be well shot, with good lighting, styling and makeup. A good image from a skillful photographer is one that doesn’t need to be “fixed”, but it can be “enhanced”, taken to the next level. Anything else is a waste of your time and effort.
Be Persistent and Consistent
Building a portfolio is a slow process that practically never ends. It’s normal to start out with very few images and go from there one step at a time. Set goals and aim to achieve them within a certain time frame. Discipline yourself to work hard and be consistent, it will help you to get there quicker.
When I started building my portfolio, I would write down a posting schedule in my diary to ensure my social media posts were regular. I’d set reminders for all my deadlines and make sure I don’t miss them. Delivering your images to your client in a timely manner is a highly valued trait in retouchers, appreciated by all photographers who typically run on tight schedules.
Maintaining good relationships with clients, keeping them updated, sending previews and always being on time will make them value you and, hopefully, recommend you. I can’t stress enough how powerful word of mouth can be in the retouching industry.
Maintain Your Portfolio
How you present your work is of utmost importance if you want to get noticed by the clients you are after. In this day and age, it is vital to have an excellent online portfolio. A good website can go a long way – if your work is well presented, organized and easy to access, you will have more success attracting the right type of clients, those who appreciate quality and attention to detail.
If you’re serious about your retouching business, you might want to invest in a good service that hosts portfolio type websites such as Squarespace, SmugMug or Format – they are all affordable and easily customizable.
As for the content of your website, be very selective with what you include in it. Being sentimental and keeping old images won’t do you any good. Only display your best work up-to-date. Striking images create high impact. Seek feedback from your peers and, what’s more important, from industry professionals who are already successful in your field to ensure your website only has your best work.
Be Easy to Find and Connect With
As a Senior Editor at Retouching Academy, my responsibilities include searching for and contacting talented photographers and retouchers. You’d be surprised to know how many of those artists are extremely difficult to contact: some don’t have proper websites, or there’s no e-mail address listed anywhere; and some don’t have any social media accounts, or their accounts are private with restricted messaging.
This makes me believe they are either perfectly content with the current state of their businesses, or they are oblivious and missing out on a lot of potential client requests as well as publicity.
Having an accessible portfolio and being easy to be contacted can only help you in your retouching career. Your social media activity plays an important role as well – it puts your work in front of your potential clients. Being active on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram is an excellent way to network and build new professional relationships today.
Your online portfolio as well as your social media accounts should always have your e-mail and other social media accounts visible and easily accessible.
Building a good retouching portfolio requires dedication and passion. It can be daunting, but you can make the process easier and quicker by following the main steps outlined in this article.
A carefully selected work in your online portfolio will help you attract the clients that you want. Being easy to contact will allow more of those clients reach out to you and, therefore, help you expand and develop your portfolio further, which in turn will help you get new and even better clients, and grow your business.
I hope you find my advice helpful. If you have more practical suggestions for fellow-retouchers, please don’t hesitate to share them with us in the comments below!