One problem I often run into in my job is that people are quite hesitant to talk to their photographers about retouching. I don’t know if people assume retouching is out of their control, or if people don’t know what to ask, or if people are just afraid to come across as vain. However, when it comes down to the retouching phase, it can really be a guessing game if the person being photographed hasn’t made their desires clear. Whether your photographer is doing their post work themselves or working with a dedicated retoucher, you’ll get the best results if you ask questions and let your photographer know what you want.
Question 1: The most basic question. Do you want your photographs to be retouched? Some people have really strong feelings about this. Whether you’re someone who is strongly opposed to retouching or someone who really wants retouching, you need to bring that up with your prospective photographer right off the bat. Find out what their policy on retouching is. Some photographers retouch every photograph they release. Some photographers refuse to retouch their work. Make sure you’re on the same page.
Question 2: How much retouching do you want? Do you want nearly invisible retouching or do you want to look like a fashion model? This is probably really going to come up in your photographer selection stage. Decide what you want and select a photographer whose style works with that. Find out before you book them whether their vision for the retouching matches with yours.
Question 3: What physical features are you self conscious about? Tell your photographer! They can address this in how they shoot AND they can address it in the retouching. I’m all for body positivity, but at the same time, it’s not fair or realistic of me to tell everyone that they’re never allowed to have any insecurities. We definitely don’t all see ourselves objectively and I feel it’s an image maker’s job to make their subject feel beautiful. Let me tell you a story about how we don’t all see ourselves the way the world sees us. One of my college professors was once photographing a woman who she thought was absolutely gorgeous. She had extremely high cheekbones, which are generally considered very attractive in women, so my professor lit the woman’s portraits to really dramatically emphasize what she saw as stunning bone structure. The woman HATED the portraits. It turned out she was really self-conscious about her cheekbones (which the people around her thought were lovely.) Once the woman told my professor about this, they were able to re-shoot the portraits in a way the woman liked, with less dramatic lighting. In the end, both sets of images were beautiful, but the woman only liked how she looked in one of them. The point is, we don’t always see ourselves the way others do, and your photographer and retoucher won’t know what you’re sensitive about unless you tell them. It’s our job to make you feel great. Help us do our job. (Oh and trust me, those of us who have been doing this a while have heard everything, so whatever it is, don’t worry about it. Just tell us. We won’t judge!)
Question 4: Do you have a blemish, cut, bruise, or other temporary problem today? It may seem really obvious to you, but you’d be surprised how often lighting or camera angle make it really hard to distinguish a blemish from a mole or scar or a bruise from a shadow and your photographer may not notice an issue at the time of the shoot. (Photographers have a lot to worry about while shooting!) Point it out if you get a chance.
Question 5: Speaking of moles and scars, do us a favor and let us know whether you want them to go or stay. Moles I typically leave in, but scars are a big question mark. They’re a character trait, so I often think they should stay. However, I very often get requests to take them out. People have very mixed feelings on this one. Heavy acne scars are doubly controversial.
Question 6: This one can be sensitive depending on your photographer, but you want to make sure you get back the style of retouching that you expect. Ask your photographer first if they do their own retouching and if not, whether they consistently use the same retoucher. If they don’t, ask if you can be guaranteed the same standard of retouching shown in their portfolio. Retouching styles can vary substantially from retoucher to retoucher, especially at different price points. If you aren’t happy with the answer you get about the retouching, but really like the photographer, you might have an option: It is a shot in the dark whether a photographer will let you suggest your own retoucher, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if they are not already working with a consistent retoucher to begin with. They should be passing on any price differences to you anyhow. However, don’t say I didn’t warn you if the answer isn’t a “yes.” Most photographers are good about maintaining retouching consistency, but I have encountered a few who aren’t, even at the high end, so I think that it is a good policy to check on this.
Long story short, remember that communication about retouching is key to getting the results that you want. It’s not uncommon for photos to be sent back to me for revisions because someone didn’t tell the photographer what they wanted. This usually results in more expensive retouching. I’d rather charge you less and make you happier.
Retouching is something that you as a photographic subject have control over. They’re your photos and we want you to love the results!
All photography by Stephanie Maulding