Editing vs. Retouching

I occasionally refer to deliverable images in a few ways: Edited or Retouched (no, I don’t release unedited images). Lets take a look at what I mean when I say each thing:

Edited images: are corrected for exposure, basic color adjustments, etc. This generally means using Lightroom or Capture One Pro. While both of these are very powerful editors neither have the pixel-punishing-power of Photoshop, which leads us to Retouching.

Retouched portraits: I get deep in the weeds of fancy Photoshoppery including: removing blemishes / pimples, skin smoothing, removing sweat, removing fly-away / stray hairs, brightening eyes, etc., IE: magazine quality work.


Let’s look at an image from a recent photoshoot as an example.

Unedited original image vs. edited image

Above is an original and an edited image to compare. In the edited version I’ve cropped it, adjusted the exposure, black point, adjusted highlights & shadows, contrast, clarity, dehaze, and did a bit of color toning.

Edited vs. Retouched

And now (above) let’s look at the edited and retouched images. I’ve done additional color grading, skin retouching, dodging & burning, removed the light-stands, removed the distracting smoke trail from the bottom right, added texture to the smoke, fixed the edge of the backdrop, and more.

Retouching is time consuming work. Most of the time I do it over 2 sessions. The first session I go through and make all the changes that I think I want to see. Then I give my eyes a break because at a certain point you can’t see the forest for the trees. When I go back to revisit the image I typically pull back some of the adjustments, having seen it all with fresh eyes. I’ll then also make some additional changes that I may have missed in the first session.