Retouching Guidelines & Considerations
Business & Clients, Commercial Retouching, Fundamentals

Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

The general term “Retouching” can be categorized under the following subject-specific areas of Portrait, Editorial, Commercial, Beauty and Creative Retouching.

Each of these areas possesses its own assembly of considerations around what “retouching” is when editing the image in question. In other words, the decisions and actions one undertakes when editing in the area of “Portrait” will be different from those undertaken when editing an image in “Beauty”.

So how do we determine the category (its implicit techniques and time allocations) to be applied to an image?­­­ The following questions can help you evaluate which category your image falls under and how much time typically required to retouch one image.­­

1. Who is the client and what is the image to be used for? (For example, a well-known brand or a private client. Will it be in a magazine, on posters, or exclusively online, etc.)

2. How many images are to be retouched and delivered? (One image within a week, or a dozen in a day.)

If you can answer both of these questions before you begin retouching it will give you an outline as to what is required (print vs. web) and how much time you can afford spending on each image.

As mentioned above, each retouching “category” will still have its own set of reference points that we need to follow to achieve the desired end result.


In Portrait Retouching we typically try and keep all of the personal qualities and characteristics of the person’s appearance intact. The image should appear as if it hasn’t been retouched. Headshots and Model Tests are generally considered in this category, as they require depicting the subject as naturally as possible for them to be given potential work based on their actual appearance.

•      We should aim to leave all permanent features like scars, freckles, and moles in. Depending on the image, you may even  wish to emphasize or reduce the intensity of these features. However, non-permanent features like pimples, redness of skin, bruises are typically cleaned up, minimized 0r removed completely.

•    The skin is generally left intact apart from removing non-permanent details mentioned above. In female beauty portraits, the skin texture is typically evened out to look flattering, but not polished to perfection.

•    If you choose or are asked to improve skin texture, add contrast, color correct and sharpen the image – keep it subtle. Do not detract from the original image or depiction of the subject.

An example of a beauty portrait of Patricia Schneider by Julia Kuzmenko:


With regards to Editorial Retouching, we once again try to keep the image as natural as possible and only remove distracting elements. This form of retouching typically needs to promote a product, brand or service as the images are commonly used for lookbooks/editorials/advertising in magazines or publications.

For example:

Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

Photo & Post by Julia Kuzmenko McKim for LA Fashion Magazine, Dec 2013

•    We typically are expected to remove permanent features such as scars and moles, reduce the intensity of wrinkles and adjust any skin discolorations within the image. The skin should be cleaned up, but not excessively polished.

•    Editorials are usually a story, a series of images of the subject. Adjustments of contrast, color correction and the chosen grade of the image all need to match and be consistent across all images in the series.



Similar to Editorial Retouching, Commercial Retouching is typically used to advertise and sell a product or service, and covers a much wider range of subjects (cars, clothes, products, jewelry, food, airlines, cosmetics, etc.).  These are the images to sell the product, to “close the deal” so to speak, thus the viewer needs to be able to relate to the subject on a personal level or  feel the need to possess the product or service in the image.

•    Once again, we are expected to remove all distracting elements. Depending on the image it can take a number of hours to complete and normally is more time-consuming than the previous two categories.

•    We often have to change parts of the image in order to “beautify” the surroundings and create a pleasant atmosphere in the photo.

•    While each image will have its own considerations in terms of this element, the client will also have their own requirements about how the final image should look.

•    The important thing to remember here is that the collection of images needs to have a level of visual consistency above all else.

Photo & Post-production by Philipp Rupprecht. Lamborghini Aventador shoot for Mansory Carbonado magazine.

Mansory Carbonado: Making of from Philipp Rupprecht on Vimeo.

Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

Photo & Post-production by Philipp Rupprecht. Lamborghini Aventador shoot for Mansory Carbonado magazine.


Beauty Photography has a handful of subcategories from simple Beauty portraits for private clients (slightly more retouching than regular Portraits require), Hairstyling photography, Celebrity photography, Fashion Beauty – these types require more attention to skin retouching than all previous categories.

Makeup Beauty photography is the type where skin is the focus of attention and usually takes up to 90% of the image, thus it is the most time-consuming type of retouching, which requires high level of skill and experience.

•    We are expected to remove all permanent and temporary “imperfections” within the image.

•    Skin must be flawlessly cleaned and evened out. Key retouching techniques such as Dodge & Burn are usually used to achieve a highly polished look.

•    Hair in Hairstyling photography is another difficult element to retouch. Requires a lot of skill and experience.

•    Depending on what is required for the image, beauty retouching can easily take anywhere from 3 up to dozens of hours to complete.

For example:

Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

Photo & Post-production by Mikhail Malyugin. Special for TANTALUM Magazine

Speed beauty retouch from TrueMalyugin on Vimeo.

Special for TANTALUM Magazine

Photo & Post-production by Mikhail Malyugin. Special for TANTALUM Magazine

Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

Photo & Post-production by Mikhail Malyugin. Special for TANTALUM Magazine


Unlike the other forms of retouching, Creative Retouching is seen as an artwork or a particular creative vision rather then depicting “the truth” about a subject. Compositing multiple image or elements fall under this category as they can create different realities or imaginative realms that can’t be achieved from a single image. Thus this work will be the most time intensive and demanding in terms of ensuring that the image as it is “built” and completed still maintains its own integrity as an image.

Check out the story behind the creation of the image below: The Story Behind “The Princess And The Golden Chair” Artwork by Johan Normén.

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14 thoughts on “Retouching Guidelines & Considerations

  1. Timothy Jace says:


  2. Lorenzo P says:

    Amazing material!!! Julia keep leading the way my friend, you have a huge following!!!

    1. Thank you Lorenzo! My team is the engine of this movement 🙂

  3. David Liang says:

    This is fantastic for beginners, I never knew where to lines were on what and how much can be done for each genre.

  4. Lee Hutton says:

    Great article, Thanks

  5. Mohsen Pak says:


  6. Matt Sweadner says:

    This is awesome. Glad I found out about the Retouching Academy.

  7. NextGDesign says:

    All are awesome concept 🙂

  8. Nice greatest pictures i ever seen nice retouching for that pictures it’s really great i see you look gorgeous for that good looking. I see how really perfect you are in your beauty. You are attractive for that and I am interesting in you. Thanks for the info. i put it in my blog

  9. Louis Joseph says:

    Great post!!! It is great to see the differences between the different genres of beauty photography broken down in simple terms. Thanks!

    Louis Joseph
    NYC fashion and beauty editorial photographer

  10. nitin nikk,s says:

    ultimate, superb no word for thanks this information….

    1. Julia McKim says:

      Thank you!

  11. Christian Sturgeon says:

    This is good info. Within Commercial Retouching there are likely sub categories, correct? What can I expect retouching professionals do for Social content vs print or large format? Should a single GIF take hours to create? If yes, ok, if not, advise on how to reduce?

    1. Julia Kuzmenko McKim, RA Team says:

      That’s correct! And no, of course, retouching for a GIF should be as detailed as for print, but it depends on how many frames there are to retouch for a said GIF if you are comparing the time it takes.

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