Commercial Retouching, Interviews & Making Of Stories

Retouching Academy Interview: Nick Duell, Commercial Advertising Retoucher

Nick Duell ( is a commercial advertising photo retoucher with over 10 years experience based out of Melbourne, Australia. It is always interesting and important to know what successful creative professionals think, believe and what they have been through to get to where they are at now, so check out our interview with Nick – we hope you will find inspiration and learn something new from Nick’s responses.

Tell us about yourself. How did you come to be a retoucher/digital artist?

My story is similar to most retouchers: I am a traditionally trained photographer and while studying, I worked at a professional photography lab as a digital scanner operator. Working in a darkroom full of computers, I saw the possibilities of the digital realm.

Through that job I learnt digital photography from the print, not from the camera, and from this I saw that the computer was equal to the camera as a tool in the image-making process. So much so, that I bought a more powerful computer that year instead of upgrading my camera like most of my school buddies were doing.

From there I worked for many years as an assistant photographer, just after the industry changed over to digital. Through a couple of permanent positions, I moved from being a photography assistant to a digital assistant, then took on a digital production manager role at a photography and video company that focused on the automotive industry.  It was here that I learnt the real art of retouching from the talented retoucher Dallas Graham while working on national and international automotive marketing images.

Three years ago, I decided to go out on my own, which has presented many exciting and challenging opportunities. It’s been a great ride; I have made some great relationships with clients and have been voted in Capture magazine‘s top ten list twice.

I still pick up the camera from time to time for personal projects, and even managed to be a finalist in the National Portrait prize last year.


Did you have any formal training in photography, or traditional/digital painting?

I completed one year at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), and then the Advance Diploma at Photography Studies College.

What types of retouching do you do most for clients and who are they (private or companies)?

The work I do is varied, from simple clean-ups to pure digital creations. There is not much room to pick and choose jobs these days. As for clients, I work for photographers from around the country and overseas, to advertising and design agencies, and directly with private companies.


What type of retouching is your favourite? 

For me, it is the composite image building that I love doing the most. As each composite is different and challenging (some easier than others, depending on how well the elements are shot), there is a hidden solution to a well executed picture, you just need to discover it.

What are three personal qualities that you think have really helped you to become successful in your craft and business?

  • Willingness to learn
  • Patience
  • An eye for detail


When you were starting out, what were your main sources of clients? Where would you recommend that beginning retouchers advertise their services?

My advice is make contact with as many photographers as possible, as they will be the entry point into the industry.

Some will try to take advantage of the situation and ask you to work for free. If you agree to this, make sure the photographer is shooting portfolio quality work (i.e. work you can use in your portfolio), otherwise you are wasting your time and you should get out of there as quickly as possible.

What are common photographer mistakes you encounter that make your retouching work more time- and effort-consuming?

  • Not thinking through the entire image making process,
  • Laziness – not looking out for the details, thinking it can be done in post,
  • Not briefing correctly — putting in phone call instead marking up a PDF, or image.

Basically, I find that more and more photographers are not worrying about the details in the shot and are taking shortcuts, thinking issues can be taken care of in post.


Do you have any practical advice to give to photographers who are trying to master retouching for their own photography?

Quickly learn what you are not good at and find someone who is to fill the spot. This is what all talented or successful artists do, no matter what field, you just don’t hear about it.

Do you teach retouching privately? If not, would you like to?

Maybe some day; I have not really thought about it.

If friends of yours, or people you really cared about, asked your honest opinion whether they should become professional retouchers, what would you say? What qualities would make it easier for them to succeed? What would be the conditions under which they should stay away from this profession?

My advice would be take it all in!

The world of photography, CGI, and video is slowly mashing together via the digital medium. So therefore, if anyone wants to succeed in this market he or she needs to be capable across all the disciplines. In a couple years, most successful studios will offer multiple disciplines, so if you have the ability to do all of them you are more likely to get a job.


Can you please share your favorite art, motivational, or inspirational quote or advice with our audience?

Most of my inspiration comes from painting now. I find the more and more you look at paintings (both old and new), you can see that painters face the same challenges as retouchers.

That is: lighting, colour and tone, and texture; we just use a different brush to achieve the end result.

Are there any exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment?

Of late, I have been doing a bit of web development. One of the platforms that I have built is Retouch Infantry, an online client portal that allows retouchers to communicate and exchange files with their clients through their own website.

You can see more of Nick’s work and follow his journey on his:


and blog:

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