Evolution of my Retouching Aesthetic

Time, as Mick Jagger crooned, is on my side.

Many things change, including taste. As with clothing, I try to be fashionable without being trendy. As my photography has evolved, so has my approach to retouching. As a general rule, I take the approach that “natural” is best, meaning retouching where the final result doesn’t scream “retouched.’ There are exceptions: beauty retouching, for example, depending on the purpose of the image, can result in perfectly flawless skin. I wouldn’t consider this case to be “natural.”

So my retouching starts where the character of the individual – including any features such as moles or beauty marks – is retained.

Conversely, I tend to notice immediately when skin pores have been removed and the skin is so perfect it looks like plastic. Or the eyes are over-whitened. Anything that screams retouching has been done.

My goal is still to present the subject in as flattering a manner as possible. I’ve mentioned this before. but the camera and its lens can be cruel, but only because they record a subject not as a human being would see them, but as a microscope. Detached. No emotion. I don’t view photography as a clinical experience, which is what an out-of-camera image often is.

The human visioning system is wonderful, but it is anything but detached. It is not objective. And that’s a good thing.

My job in retouching is to remove that detachment and add back the emotional elements that are missing; the real image of the person, not the antiseptic one.

There is no one-size-fits-all-approach that I take. A 20 year old I would handle differently than a 50 or a 60 year old. My intent is not to show them in a light other than themselves – and this includes age – but as they are seen. By people who love them.

I try to involve the subject as to general guidelines: do they want any marks removed (that are permanent – not blemishes that come and go), etc. Beyond that, my beauty and glamour background serves as a general reference point for my work; it’s how I see the world. You hire me to see you in that light. I don’t generally do work that is considered edgy or porcelain doll look or gothic. I see these as trendy. I’m a beauty photographer at heart. That’s my aesthetic.

I can’t tell you how many times models have come back to me and said that at first my images didn’t appeal to them as much as what was currently in vogue, but after only a few months they found their way into portfolios. And remained there. Fashionable, but not trendy. Trends come and go.

These images I did of Ana several years ago illustrate my point. In preparing some headshot examples, I noticed my taste had changed from when I originally had done the retouch. I’d like to think that I have advanced somewhat in my technique, but there are other considerations as well.


The first image is straight out-of-camera (though the crop matched the other images for consistency). The middle image is my initial attempt from that time period. The final image is my current work.

The first thing to notice is the white balance. I almost consider this a return to my roots. I went warmer (I know glamour is somewhat cool, so I guess I lean more to beauty). I am also paying more attention to facial structure through dodging and burning. It is subtle, but I am working more with the lines of the face much as a makeup artist would. I took the time to learn a little about makeup, and this has helped in knowing what features to highlight (and to recede). Finally, I am paying more attention to blending skin tones and creating natural skin (devoid, of course, of temporary aliments that affect us. Note to the young: these don’t stop just because you’re, say, 50. Zits are forever).

Now Ana is in her early twenties and doesn’t need a lot of help in the beauty department. But notice the subtleties: the hair, skin coloring,  eyes, and facial sculpting (subtle). Hopefully none of my images scream “retouch.” This is the approach I take to all my work, and is an approach I will take to your headshot and portrait as well.

This entry was posted in Technique.