The different levels of photo retouching

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on May 20, 2013
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You asked your photographer if he would retouch your photos, he said yes, so now, you can be at ease, knowing that any imperfection will be corrected by the photographer, right? Well, maybe not... Have you asked the photographer what he meant by correcting the photos? When he answered you, did you really understand or did you pretend you knew what he was talking about, in hopes of deceiving him into thinking you were knowledgeable, thus not a good target to lie to?


Perhaps a little introduction (or refresher) on what the different types of Photoshop work may be useful...

Basic corrections

This is what most photographers think of when they say they do photoshopping on pictures. The more honest ones will actually mention they only do basic retouching while most will avoid the subject altogether.


Basic retouching includes adjusting exposure, contrast, color, cropping, etc. Often, the errors being corrected are created (inadvertently) by the photographer when taking the photo. Basic retouching is relatively simple and can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to perform. As a result, you can always expect a photographer shooting with a digital camera to do basic retouching on all of his pictures.



 Original photo

Original picture, straight from the camera

 Retouched photo

Basic corrections done: Adjusted exposure, contrast and white balance (colors), re-framed photo to emphasize the models. Total time: 45 seconds.

Advanced (background) correction

There may be times where a detail in the background slips past the photographer’s attention or perhaps, he/she may prefer the expression on his subjects face on a photo that unfortunately has some “photobombing” items.

Such item could be a person jogging by, a flamboyant fire hydrant or an ugly garbage bag far in the background.

There are times where a distracting element that cannot be hidden, no matter the angle the photo is taken from, ruining an otherwise perfect background. That may be the case with telephone poles and wires or signs.


 Original photo

Original picture, straight from the camera

 Retouched photo

Can you spot the corrections?

Removed spotlights in the background.Made the plants greener. Removed power outlet on the far right. Also removed shadows from the thigh, which should really go into the cosmetic part of retouching. There are still a few minor details to be taken care of, but I wasn't gonna spill out all my secrets... ;)

Total time: 10+ minutes... 


Another example would be changing a sky: when the sky is filled with whitish gray clouds, the photographer may want to replace the white sky for a nice blue one, with white clouds.

A photographer that looks at that level of details is likely one that cares about how his work will come up.

This type of retouching may take anywhere from minutes to more than an hour.





Cosmetic retouching

Cosmetic retouching is what most brides to be are thinking about when they request Photoshop work to be done. Cosmetic retouching deals with imperfections of the subjects. That may include thinning a waist or other body parts, removing pimples and skin blemishes.


Great care and attention to details are needed to make cosmetic retouching, as the final results need to look natural and un-retouched. Any mishap will betray the use of Photoshop, ruining the magic of the photo.

Each photo may take anywhere from minutes to hours to retouch properly.




Special effects

Special effects may be as simple as turning a photo to black and white or sepia, or could be as complicated as turning the photo into a fantasy world. Most photographers won't go as far as to work a photo to make it look surreal, but most will do black and white, and sometimes even do some basic collage.


No really! There were 5 of them... floating on a cloud!

Results will vary from being dreamy to downright scary. Many serious photographers shy away from applying unnatural special effects to their photos because most of the time, it just looks odd, at best.

Properly done, special effects can enhance a photo, giving it a special sense of magic.


Removing red eyes.

Removing red eyes is perhaps, the most known retouching effect amongst non-professionals. It’s probably also the least used ones in the professional community since professional grade equipment seldom produces red eyes...

What does ZV Photography do for you?

At ZV Photography, we do everything necessary to make sure you get the best photos. Generally, all portraits style of photo shoots (like pre-wedding or trash the dress shoots) need to go through all the gamut of photo retouching before delivery to the customer.

For the journalistic photos taken on the actual day of the wedding, basic correction is usually enough to bring the best out of the original photo. If needed, we will use more advanced retouching, as long as it adds value to the photo.