What to expect from your portrait retouch artist

Natalie Shelby is not only a photographer, assistant, and baby wrangler, she is also a world-class retouch artist. She has been commissioned for several book publications as well as local and international magazines. Over a decade of professional retouch experience in Houston and Los Angeles has taught Natalie a few things that everyone working with a retouch artist should know.

These days the words "retouched" and "photoshopped" have bad connotations, which is completely understandable given the pressure we put on ourselves to look a certain way. The world's largest stock photo agency, Getty Images, recently stopped allowing 'overly' retouched images into its online store and just last week CVS has declared its own battle with unrealistic beauty expectations. Our philosophy is that you should look your best without looking like you've "had work done". If you don't look like yourself, there's absolutely no point in getting your portrait taken.  With that in mind here are a few things to expect from a professional portrait retouch artist.

1. Removing Blemishes

Sometimes we have blemishes or we might not get enough sleep, we don't want to look back on the day we are supposed to remember how small our kids were and remember how big that pimple was! A qualified retouch artist should be able to remove these blemishes and other non-permanent.

We never remove birthmarks or other permanent marks unless directed to do so. No one should tell you what or how you should look.

2. Skin Softening

Skin softening can help with oily skin, large pores and dark circles under the eyes. You definitely don't want it to look like someone ran a bad filter over your images. When it is needed we use it sparingly.

In this image Natalie removed some blemishes and flaky skin, evened out her skin tones and background. 

In this image Natalie removed some blemishes and flaky skin, evened out her skin tones and background. 

3. Removing Distracting Elements

Nothing can hurt a beautiful wall art portrait more than a distracting element in the image. Ugly power lines, trash on the ground, light poles, etc. These are always removed when possible for any image that will find its way onto your wall. 

4. Headswaps

It can be difficult getting everyone to look and smile at the camera at the same time, especially if you have little ones. Retouch artists work wonders and can do a headswap on someone who may not have had their most flattering smile or who was blinking. This can really help make the perfect statement piece for your family.

This is only done if you have captured several shots of the same exact pose, which is why we always snap at least two of every shot. 

Here, Natalie did a headswap on the little girl on the left, lengthened her skirt, and removed distracting elements such as the reflector on the right, dark cracks, and distracting dirt spots on the ground and wall. 

Here, Natalie did a headswap on the little girl on the left, lengthened her skirt, and removed distracting elements such as the reflector on the right, dark cracks, and distracting dirt spots on the ground and wall. 

5. A Little Slimming is OK

A portrait retouch artist might give you the option to slim down a body. We definitely do not advocate "Victoria Secret" retouching but sometimes our clothes don't lay right or we may not love the way our arms look in a given image. A little slimming is acceptable as long as you still look like yourself.

Natalie slimmed her jacket on the sides due to the way it bunched up when she sat down, removed fly away hairs and blemishes, and subtly softened her skin. 

Natalie slimmed her jacket on the sides due to the way it bunched up when she sat down, removed fly away hairs and blemishes, and subtly softened her skin. 

6. Retouching Photos for Wall Art & Albums vs Digital Files

Wall art, albums and other products that are designed and will be displayed typically have more extensive retouching than a digital file. Head swaps, skin softening, teeth whitening, blemish removing, removing distracting elements can all go into making your wall art and albums stand out.

Digital files, however, typically have basic retouching - blemish removing and minimal skin softening. The reason is that extensive retouching is't needed. It would also probably take up to a month to receive your images if every single one of them had major retouching done to it. 

7. A Retoucher Must Be Skilled and Tasteful

A professional retouch artist should be skilled at making your image look as if it were never retouched. You don't want your friends and family to notice that the images have been retouched or like they have a cheap Instagram filter on them.

One of our most frequently asked questions is about retouching, we hope this information helps you understand the process and gives you confidence knowing that when you work with The Shelby Studio for your portraits you're in good hands.  

Jacob ShelbyComment