Portrait Retouching Checklist

Most of my work is related to portrait photography. For this reason I developed methods to make the whole editing process more efficient. From what to look for when I’m selecting the images to in which order I retouch them, everything has a sequence and a reason. In this article I’ll share my workflow and in the end you’ll be able to download my checklist for your own benefit.

01. Expression/Emotion/Gesture
When I’m selecting images, the first screening process by which my work goes after a session, what I look for before everything else, is what the picture tells me. What expression/emotion/gesture it conveys. Joy, trust, emptiness, loneliness, etc.? This is the aspect that more often leads me to press the Delete key.

02. Technical Issues
Although the value that the technical part has in a photograph, this comes in second place, at least in my workflow. Issues such as lighting, composition, focus, environment, clothing, etc., are now taken into account. The combination of points 1 and 2 means that after this step I only have photos worthy of being presented to the client. But sometimes, and due to the presence of very identical images, I opt to edit only one or two, leaving the rest as alternatives if the client requests them.

03. Eyes
Now begins the retouching part. The eyes are one of the most important aspects if not the most since they are the windows of the soul. Special attention must be taken to carefully analyze the following points:
Are irises well lit?
Is the white of the eyes ok or it needs to be corrected? (Beware to not overdo, it shouldn’t be pure white and the hue varies from person to person)
Is the contrast in the eyes ok?
Are there veins that needs to be removed?
Are the eyelashes and eyebrows ok?
Sharpen the eyes.
These are the points I consider most important but there are more. In the fashion industry we could be confronted with requests such as changing the colour of the eyes among other things.

04. Mouth
In this topic are included both the lips and the teeth, and the main retouching aspects are the following:
Are the lips well outlined and clean?
Is the colour/light of the lips ok or does it needs to be enhanced?
Is the contrast in the lips ok?
Is there any tooth that needs to be repaired?
Does the teeth needs to be brightened?

05. Face/Skin
Aspects related to the face and the skin are included in this topic. Some of the issues to consider are:
Are the nose and ears ok, are there any aspects that needs to be corrected? (As an example you have the earrings holes in the ears. If the customer is not wearing earrings most of the time the holes should be removed)
Does the skin have a uniform colour/hue?
Are there any blemishes or other issues that needs to removed?
Are there dark areas under the eyes that needs to be corrected?
Are there any hotspots that needs to be reduced?
Does the wrinkles needs to be reduced? (Not always necessary, depends on work and customer)
Is the make-up ok? (If present)
Does the skin needs to be softened?
Does the face needs to be sculpted? (Dodge & Burn)
The amount of retouching we do in an image may vary a lot, a fashion photo shot normally requires more work than one for a private client.
I left aside freckles because in general I’m against removing them, but the client may request it.

06. Hair
Hair retouching can vary a lot but in general the following aspects are recurrent:
Are there any stray hairs over the eyes or face to be removed?
Is the colour of the hair ok?
Is there any gaps that needs to be filled?
Does the hair has highlights and a healthy look?
Does it needs more contrast?

07. Final Touches
Normally I end the retouching process with the some sharpening regardless of  the technique or if it’s global or localized (the eyes, as I mentioned in point 3, require a special attention). In this final phase I also include retouching aspects such as the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, clothes, etc. Some of the procedures are the same as in the case of the skin, but everything depends on the framing, what appears in the picture and therefore what needs to be done.

These topics apply to most situations but occasionally we have images that require additional work, either by physical characteristics of the clients or because we are asked to. In both cases we have a reference of the main points that we should not overlook. This same points will be the subject of independent future tutorials.
Below you can download my checklist as a PDF document (English) showing the various points by categories. I hope it could be a useful tool.

See you


Portrait Retouching Checklist