phlearn guest post on the Alana Lee Photography blog

Guest Blog: Introduction to the Basics of Retouching

Introduction To The Basics of Retouching


From magazine covers to family photos, retouching is used to enhance or change an image in many different ways. When starting out in retouching, learning some basic information will make the process easier. Retouching in Photoshop can be intimidating and may be confusing at times on where to start. Here are some tips on starting out in the process of retouching.

4 Tips On Starting Out Retouching

1. Color Calibrated Screen


Having a color calibrated screen is a vital part of retouching. If a screen is not color calibrated, overcompensation may occur when color correcting an image. To indicate if a screen is calibrated, open an image into Photoshop and notice the colors throughout the image. If the colors have a tint of blue or green, this indicates that the screen needs to be calibrated. Either calibrate the screen by eye or purchase a calibrator that adjusts the screen automatically. Once the screen is calibrated, color correcting an image will be more accurate and precise.

2. File Type


The source that the image(s) come from will predict how easy retouching will be. By photographing from a DSLR, chances are that the pictures will be in RAW format instead of JPG. The type of file will make a difference in the editing process. A RAW file contains all of the image data making the file higher quality while a JPG file is a compressed version of the file. If the image has over or underexposed areas, adjusting the highlights and shadows will be easier if the image was originally a RAW file.

3. Learn Basic Tools


When learning a new language, an individual starts with the basics and practices them thoroughly until they are ready for more words. Think of Photoshop as learning a new language. Try learning a couple of basic tools at a time to find out how the tool can affect the image and all of it’s potential. Many tools within Photoshop can be used when retouching and can save time if one understands the pros and cons of the tools they use. One may be surprised at how many professional retouchers use only a couple of tools to create masterpieces.

4. Critique the Image


When the desired image is placed into Photoshop, sit back and critique the image before editing. This will allow an individual to fully evaluate the image instead of jumping into the task right away. Indicate what needs to be adjusted by circling with the brush tool on a blank layer or placing notes with the Note Tool throughout the image. By creating this type of checklist, this will make the process quicker and keeps a more organized workflow.


When starting out, an individual may be unsure of what to avoid when making adjustments or key details on how to be successful in retouching. Here are some guidelines on what to do and what to avoid.

What To Do

1. Screen Brightness At 50%


Let’s say an individual drew an apple on a piece of paper and then held it up to the sun. Because the drawing is backlit by the sun, the apple and its colors stand out more than in actuality. This idea works the same with a computer screen. If an image is retouched with the screen’s brightness at 100%, then the image will automatically look brighter then it actually is. Try to keep the screen’s brightness around 50% to get an accurate visual of the image.


2. Duplicate And Layers


Working on separate layers is important when it comes to retouching. One of the first actions made when retouching is to duplicate the original layer. By creating separate layers, this prevents any permanent changes being made to the original image. This idea should also be implemented when working with different tools and effects. For example, before removing blemishes with the Stamp Tool, create a new blank layer above to ensure that the effects created will not be applied to other layers. If changes need to be made to the Stamp Tool layer, apply a layer mask instead of using the Eraser Tool. Layer Masks ensure that the information created can be reversed at any time.


3. Skin Detail


Creating flawless skin can be one of the trickiest and most tedious aspects of retouching. When using sampling tools such as the Healing Brush, keep track of where the information is coming from on the image and what the settings are. Retaining skin texture while editing allows the individual’s skin to look natural and realistic. Over processed skin is defined by skin that looks extremely soft, lacks texture or the skin looks like plastic. Websites such as, have many tutorials for extensive information on skin retouching

maintaining skin detail when retouching photographs

Original Image: Unsplash

4. Resize and Sharpen At The End


When an image is imported, the file is at its maximum quality. If the image is resized at the beginning of the retouching process, this will change the quality of the image. Resize the image after retouching to ensure that the image was edited at its highest quality. After the file has been resized, the image can then be sharpened. Sharpening after retouching avoids adding disruptions to patterns or unwanted noise.  Be aware of how much sharpening is applied and look for the signs that indicate that the image has been over sharpened. This can be identified by a “crunchy” look, over contrasted details, or jagged edges.

What To Avoid

1. Overly Noticeable Eyes


Eyes are typically one of the first things people notice in a portrait. It’s not uncommon for people to request to have their eyes brightened or create a “doe-eyed” appearance. If the eyes are over brightened or enlarged, then the effect will stand out in a negative way. When applying these type of changes, enhance or enlarge the eyes only slightly so that the facial features are balanced.

example of overdone eyes when retouching a photograph

Original Image: Unsplash

2. Glowing Teeth


One of the most common requests is to whiten an individual’s teeth. Whitening teeth is not discouraged but too much is noticeable. If the teeth are brightened too much, the “glowing teeth” effect will appear making the teeth very noticeable. This idea can also be implemented when whitening the whites of an individual’s eyes. Brighten the area slightly will ensure that the adjustment looks natural.

3. Halo Effect


This effect creates a “halo” or white outline around a section or subject that has been drastically brightened more than the rest of the image. Typically this mistake is made when an image is originally too dark and overcompensation is applied. This mistake not only can show up as a white outline but as a dark outline. If the main subject is drastically darkened in a bright image, a dark halo will appear around the area.

avoid creating a halo effect when retouching photographs

Original Image: Unsplash

4. Oversaturated Colors


An oversaturated image is typically hard to miss. The already bright colors in the image have been pushed beyond what is realistic. Adding some vibrancy to an image can make it seem less flat but too much can make it look fake. This idea can also be implemented when adjusting skin tones. Creating a “sun-kissed” tint to the skin should look natural and not “overbaked”. If the effect stands out, adjust the skin tone accordingly.

Always remember that retouching takes time to accomplish one’s goals.

Take as many breaks from the screen to keep a fresh eye and practice these key guidelines while retouching to strengthen your skills. There are many different sources to gain knowledge of retouching in Photoshop. For video classes to follow along with that can help with your retouching skills visit websites such as,, and that can provide many courses to enhance your Photoshop skills.

You can also find other blog posts (check out “My Top 3 Camera Menu Settings“) here on the Alana Lee Photography Blog if you are interested in more tips and techniques to improve your photography and retouching skills.



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