Jul 18

Master a Professional Photo Retouching Workflow

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 23:15 — julie

Master a Professional Photo Retouching Workflow

For this retouching tutorial Tom has asked me to provide an overview of a full retouching process. Most tutorials and indeed most tutorial sites will give you snippets of information, teaching a lot of bad habits and a few good ones, and it’s often difficult for the beginner or serious amateur to know when they’re following good advice. I’ve written three retouching tutorials for PSDFan so far, including healing, dodge and burn and using curves in Photoshop. These will continue to develop and you can use them alongside this professional workflow overview to get the best from your photographs, from start to finish.

As a freelance retoucher I’ve developed a regular retouching workflow that I adapt from job to job, and if you’re ready to do a bit of reading and a bit of research, bookmark this page and use it as your reference. Come back to it, master each section and ultimately adapt what you learn and develop your own retouching workflow. There is no right way, this is just one (for examples of work retouched using these methods feel free to view my beauty and fashion retouching portfolios).

But enough about me, let’s move onto you and what you need in your retouching workflow. Whether you shoot or retouch portrait, fashion, beauty, commercial, whatever the genre your work will benefit from an understanding of a good workflow, and there are few retouching tutorials that provide such an overview, which is where I applaud Tom’s thinking. I’ll try to keep it simple, but in the links provided you’ll find a wealth of invaluable information, how how much more you want to read and how far you want to push yourself is completely up to you.


I recently discovered that the Crop tool in Photoshop CS5 has a really handy rule of thirds grid. To quote that Wikipedia article there, “The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.” Makes lining up your crop a little easier, although in earlier versions it can be done with Photoshop’s rulers.

It’s important to start with a good shot so the viewer’s eye is led to the correct focal points of your image. Try to crop to traditional print sizes.

There’s too much to go into in such a broad retouching tutorial, so for further reading see;

Photography composition – colorpilot.com

How to crop a photo for better composition – photodoto.com

Colour Correction

The camera doesn’t see what you see, and often you’ll need to correct an image to make it look more natural, closer to what the photographer saw. Have you ever looked at a photograph taken in a room lit with fluorescent lights and noticed it looks a lot yellower than you remember? That’s because your eyes compensate for colour casts and your sight adapts and changes constantly, whereas a camera is simply a tool that obeys its settings (most of the time).

It’s important to develop an eye for colour casts, note the common yellow cast problem in the image below. You’ll know if you read the Curves tutorial that this can be fixed by adding blue.

For further reading see;

Using Curves in Photoshop – PSDFan.com

Suggested Book: Professional Photoshop: The Classic Guide to Color Correction (5th Edition) by Dan Margulis

Healing/Dodge and Burn

Once you have your perfectly cropped and balanced, colour corrected photograph it’s time to do the time consuming Photoshop work. Remember to retouch the whole image, most retouching tutorials will give you techniques for skin, or eyes, or hair; make sure you combine all your techniques (if in doubt, trust the Professional Retouching Series here on PSDFan) and retouch even the background. There might be a fly on the table, a shirt button missing and a ball of white fluff on the carpet, you’ll never spot them if you’re staring at the skin for too long, but be sure the viewer will see them.

For further reading on healing and dodge and burn techniques, see;

Professional Retouching Tutorial: Healing – PSDFan.com

Professional Retouching Tutorial: Dodge&Burn PSDFan.com

Retouching in Photoshop 1 &2Daniel Meadows


Once you’ve cropped your image, colour balanced it and completed your healing and dodge and burn, you’re ready to sharpen your image for print. Ignoring the default sharpen filters, I want you to take a look at using the high pass filter, you’ll find the basic method here.

Now as always with the PSDFan professional retouching tutorials we’re going to go one better. Notice how it is suggested to choose a radius from 0.5 to 1? In a future tutorial we’re going to look at using multiple radii and learning how to choose them, so stay bookmarked, stick around, we’ve a lot more professional photo retouching advice to come on the new PSDFan :)

Suggested Book: Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom (2nd Edition) by Bruce Fraser

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