7 Secrets to Retouching Success

A good designer is never content, doing better work than others isn't good enough, it must be perfect.

The difficulty of this job is mostly due to the subjectivity of common people - the target of the designers. It's impossible to satisfy all tastes, but there are some designers that amaze the huge majority of us, therefore there are solutions - let's hope that humanity will have innovators to find them.

One of the most difficult design fields is the creative retouch of images. Some don't even consider this as part of design, some don't consider it as an art, but in fact photo manipulation can be used in many aspects of art and design. Improving an image demands a lot of creativity, but there are no precise rules or principles to guide you in order to create the best images, so the judgment of a work is completely subjective.

The Internet is full of amazing portfolios of designers that retouch photos, but many other designers too are sharpening their skills every day. In order to help, I've created this post, revealing some tips that aren't very common. Unfortunately, these aren't FBI top secret tips, but are very useful and not always used by everyone.

7 Secrets to Retouching Success 1

1.     Keep all your files organized

A good retoucher is a very well organized person (it's true that discipline and creativity don't combine very well together). A very challenging project requires tens or even hundreds of layers, and it's a complete disaster not to name them accordingly.

A good habit is to keep free/paid resources found on internet, on the hard drive - and it will be a real waste of time not to have these organized. It's simple and most importantly, time-saving: i.e., a folder named BRUSHES to contain brushes, one named COLOURS to have keep some usual colours of skin, eyes, lips and so on. There is no rule, it's all about each one's preferences but this tip is vital if you want to be efficient.

2.     Work in small doses

Retouching images requires huge mental effort and unfortunately, creativity and effective power are relative and for small periods of time are at the apogee. To combat boredom and to maintain efficiency, it is recommended to work in small reprises and not stay in front of the computer all day long. The length of these reprises varies according to each one, but probably 50 minutes is the best. Another recommendation, that really works for me, is to work on multiple projects, one hour for one, next hour for another project, then a small break and so on.

3.     Establish clearly what needs to be modified

From the moment of opening the project into your software, the first action must be to establish the improvements that need to be applied. There are tons of ways to do this, but the best way is to duplicate the layer and write or mark modifications you want to make on it.

4.     Pay attention to detail

The quality of a retouched image depends very much on attention to detail. A good designer is distinguished  from a more modest one through the quality of the small details. On a large scale the projects may look similar, but by zooming in, the quality is easily revealed. A very burdensome activity that could last hours, is the extraction of a subject from their background. Usually, after few hours of dealing with an extraction, no matter what software you are using, some details may be neglected; don't fall into this trap. It is better to ask for the opinion of someone else or review the work after a short break.

5.     Heavy modifications don't necessarily result in a masterpiece

Another childish mistake is to consider images that are heavily modified look better. Totally wrong! The real art of retouching is to refine the photo, without disregarding the artistic vision of the photographer, and the natural beauty of the subject. Truly, everything depends on the project and the expectations of the client, but try to avoid harsh modifications like the "Liquify" tool, which are less used by real specialists than light and color corrections.

6.     Let your creativity free, but don't ignore the deadline

It seems foolish or without importance, but having a positive attitude is mandatory to obtain a nice picture. An optimistic approach is the fundamental to creativity, so needed in such projects. On the other hand, a missed deadline is an unnecessary stain on the reputation. The conclusion is very logical: don't be scared by deadlines but never ignore them.

7.      NEVER copy! 

You don't have to be an expert web designer to see that one layout is quite "influenced" by an others, but there may be the false excuse that these really should look similar...it is true but...

When it's about retouching, there are no rules and a similar project is clearly stolen and the reputation will surely suffer. Even if you are uninspired, never, but never, copy from other projects! This fact doesn't mean that a photo retoucher shouldn't inspire from other works. It's necessary and even the most creative ones admire other photo corrections and enhancements.


Daniel Pintilie is a designer from Romania, and works for online sales optimization company Invesp, and enjoys writing on ecommerce page optimization and landing page testing.


For more on retouching, check out these tutorials:

Natural Portrait Retouch

7 Secrets to Retouching Success 2

Authentic Undead Retouch

7 Secrets to Retouching Success 3

Professional Beauty Retouch

7 Secrets to Retouching Success 4

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