Retouching is the process of getting an image ready for final presentation. This can take a variety of techniques and process, can be very subtle or dramatic but every image that you see used in advertising will be subjected to some form of enhancement, even the Real Beauty campaigns from Dove/Unilever will have undergone some retouching or digital enhancement such as dust removal and sharpening.

But retouching in a sense has been around since the very beginning of photography. Before digital photography became the norm, retouching occurred in the dark room with over and under exposure, dodging and blurring, masking and split-toning. The main difference these days is that anyone can enhance their photography be it using ready made filters found in apps such as instagram and hipstamatic or on their computer using programs such as Adobe Photoshop.

The skill in retouching for advertising is two fold. It breaks down in to two main areas although these can overlap. Image Manipulation (or Creative Retouching) and Technical Retouching  (sometimes known as Colour Profiling)

Image Manipulation which most people will be aware of through the highly criticised shots of celebrities on magazine covers where skin is smoothed out, eyes and teeth whitened, breasts enhanced, legs made thinner and generally tidied up. On product shots, damaged boxes are fixed, on cars the surfaces are smoothed out and highlights added, rogue reflections of the photographer are removed. The trick with this type of retouching is to understand what it is the client wants and then get approval from all the interested parties such as your own Creative Director initially, the Agency, the Client and their internal teams such as legal and brand stewards. The other skill is to choose the right retoucher for the job at hand, a beauty specialist might not be right for a product shot and car specialists are in a retouch suite of their own. Subsequently costs can vary dramatically which is why it is fundamental to get the right person for the job. You need a combination of skill, experience and speed to gauge this as accurately as possible.

The other version of retouching is more technical. A lot of this if not all can now be achieved using automatic techniques and is more commonly known as colour profiling but the operator must have a basic knowledge of what they are doing. Technical retouching assists the final reproduction of a file, it takes into account how the final image will be reproduced, such as whether it will be displayed on a screen for web or digital billboards, or if it is to be printed, on what kind of stock and using what inks. For instance the yellow ink used in North America is slightly warmer with a touch more red in it than European yellow inks. So a shot that has been approved in Europe will need to have a slight reduction in the reds to ensure that it prints exactly the same in the USA. Different stocks absorb the ink differently so there are maximum ink limits per type of paper.

To achieve global consistency every single image has to be manipulated in some way whether mechanically or visually to produce consistently great results.

Every image you see has some form of manipulation be it the camera body and lens used, the aperture the photographer has chosen, a filter, some sharpening, a colour change, a composition of many images.

This is a brief explanation of what retouching is rather than arguing whether or not it is ethical. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on this. Although if an industry wide retouch mark ever gets a global agreement we would welcome it.

“I’d love to retouch my whole life” Dusty Springfield

If you have any questions then ask away in the comment section.

Nick Page 10th July 2013




  1. this is very helpful post…thanks for sharing

One Trackback

  1. By Retouching for Photography on September 13, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    […] be changed with this. Glow of the skin can also be changed with this so that it becomes graceful. Photo Retouching is a magic for the photo hopers and for the persons who wants that they look perfect in […]

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