How do you deal with requests to do retouching?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by jonbrisbincreative, Dec 4, 2014.

  1. jonbrisbincreative

    jonbrisbincreative Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 30, 2014
    I seem to be getting more requests for retouching in portraits. Parents went this, that, or the other thing removed from an image. Touch-up a shadow here or there, remove skin blemishes, they don't like a certain reflection, etc...

    Do I just smile and eat the time in the interest of making sure clients are happy and won't tell other potential clients that I refused to do touch-ups, etc...? Part of me says "it is what it is" and that Photoshop is not a magic wand. Retouching is a compromise and can potentially make a situation worse (you can only clone and stamp or healing brush so much). But I want to make sure the clients are happy with the work since they frankly could care less about what equipment I have or what skills are required to execute a photograph--they only care about the final image. As capabilities increase, the expectations skyrocket. Maybe it's unrealistic in some cases but I've found that as the level of my images increases, so does the nitpicking. No one asks me to retouch event photos. They accept them for what they are: an image that was captured at a moment in time that is what it is, take it or leave it. But for some reason portraits are "different".

    I've thought about a couple approaches, one of which is to put a notice on my order forms that I only do retouching under certain circumstances and it isn't free.

    This is one of the things that I really hate about doing portraiture. I love the medium. I do really love taking portraits. But I really hate dealing with mostly parents nitpicking details from an otherwise great image. I always characterize myself more as a fine art photographer that does portraits simply because it seems easier to justify the "stand by your artistic vision" position. Maybe that's just a dodge, I don't know. This is definitely my least favorite side of the photography business.
  2. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Real Name:
    From a business perspective your time is worth something.

    When i do a portrait shoot, there is a small amount of post processing that I build into the fee. Basic skin retouch, teeth whitening stuff is done as part of the agreed upon fee.

    If they want more than that, say head swaps for group portraits, brace removal, background changes or anything else that would take more than 15 minutes to do is an additional fee. I share this information up front with the clients and it is posted on my website with the pricing lists.

    How much you charge would depend on length of time and level of difficulty.
    I've also used retouching services for those times when I did not have the expertise or the time to fulfill the requests. For those times, I generally just charge the client what the retouching service charges me.

    Whatever you do, it is best to be completely up front with the clients about what you are capable and willing to do as far as post processing.
  3. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 7, 2010
    The approach I see locally is a tiered offering. Basic retouch (whiten teeth; fix a blemish) is x$/image; more involved is a multiplier of x$/image, depending on the specifics.
  4. jonbrisbincreative

    jonbrisbincreative Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 30, 2014
    Do you have any suggestions on services here? I've not used any of them before so not sure where to start looking to see if this will work for me.
  5. Bif

    Bif Mu-43 Veteran

    May 28, 2012
    San Angelo TX
    Real Name:
    Bruce Foreman
    Don't wait for your clients to "ask" for it. Learn to do the "basics": Lines around the eyes, bags under eyes, and deep creases and wrinkles along with zits and skin blemishes as a matter of course.

    I used to be a "purist" and not believe in retouching. Until I acquired Wallace Studios of San Angelo in the early 1980's (good ole "film days"). A lady ordered an 8x10 from a portrait I did, she was in her early 60's and when I picked it up at the lab and looked at it I knew I couldn't show it to her. So I paid for it and put it right back in process but ordered basic retouching.

    When I acquired the studio I also acquired a pre-existing agreement with a retoucher who rented a room in my studio and when I started paying attention to what she did I realized I had the finest retoucher in the SouthWest in my own building so I "wised up" and started routing all portrait negatives through her for basic retouching. My studio product was much improved.

    With the digital age retouching is much simplified, instead of fine brushes applying dyes to color negatives, clone stamping with a soft "brush" is very workable. There is also software that almost does it automatically, and may be the best approach for retouching large areas.

    But with clone stamping realize there is often a "stopping point" short of total removal. I often simply "soften" deep lines, make them smaller. Retouching the neck on an older woman simply takes time and care but you shouldn't take it so far as to give her a 17 year old's skin complexion.

    On camera diffusion helps a lot, too. I used to use Cokin #1 and #2 diffusion filters on the lenses of the Mamiya RB 67 camera I used in the studio. Also look up Rick Sammon's article "Smoother Skin In Minutes" on the web. His technique takes putting in some learning time but gives me the same look I used to get with Mamiya's soft focus 150mm lens for the RB.

    Professional portraiture without necessary retouching can easily be a very "low class" act.
    • Like Like x 2
  6. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Real Name:
    Ray, not Oz
    ^ Just as you try to light your subjects in the best possible way, there are things that can be out of your control and need to be retouched without asking; things like errant hairs, a blemish that stands out far more than it should, etc. That should all be factored into your price from the outset.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Real Name:
    I've used in the past. Good work, easy to upload/download images, quick turnaround. Prices for what I needed seemed reasonable.
  8. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    Real Name:

    firstly I wanted to actually say thanks (rather than just clicking it) for a well put together reply which I also found interesting reading (was just browsing the subject out of interest).

    which of course got me thinking about the entire focus of the "causual" photographer who is really a noob with no formal training and a big wallet for gear straining for the hottest and latest thing in gear to get every skerrick of detail out of their shots.

    Canon too once used to sell (back in the 35mm daze) a soft focus lens for portraits it was the EF135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus (with an internal Softfocus mechanism) (see here)

    Clearly softeners and "dial in" softness are part of retouching before photographing and also (pun in tented) are clearly not about clarity and detail.

    Back some years ago I read of a test where some baby portraits were taken with different spec cameras from 6Mp and up. They were printed and put up for appraisal by the public (who were asked to vote on what they thought were better photographs). Unsurprisingly noone voted on anything which was from higher or lower Mpix cameras (which was not identified on the print) but it seemed voted on the basis which picture had a more pleasing expression on the baby and presumably lighting and rendering they liked. Noone seemed to comment "oh I really liked that shot, was that taken with a D1x? and a Zeiss lens"

    The pursuit of detail is for landscape photographers (sometimes) for portraits its something else. My favorite shot of my Nice (she's changed since then ;-)


    and this is a very salient warning:
    I've seen quite a bit of "rock and roll" retouching...