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

7 Essential Foundations

Having a solid base for knowing how to judge where we are and for where we are going is critical not only to reach our destiny successfully, but also to do it efficiently. In this article I intend to help you lay the foundations for a better and faster workflow,  improving the decisions you make and consequently in the way you work. I will not address retouching in particular as this is a subject requiring a separate article. I’ll just suggest 7 practical tips covering the different stages of the creative process and its execution.

Rembrandt van Rijn: Evangelist Mathaus and Angel, 1661

01. Know your art
It may seems basic but the truth is that we do not always have the knowledge that should be present when we begin to define ourselves as artists. It’s also true that sometimes we go on our own path but for the most part there is already an artistic, historical and cultural route that can help us build our own style. Even when we want to be different from the rest, to know the work of those who have been before us and of those who are our contemporaries can only be seen as a good thing. Let me give two examples. I like particularly of Rembrandt’s lighting and it’s something I use a few times in my portrait work. Knowing the techniques behind this style not only facilitates my work but also makes it more fluid and creative. I also like black and white photography so I believe I should know some of the greatest masters of this art or know what the Zone System is. It’s impossible to know everything but this basic knowledge can help a lot in making the right decisions to achieve things faster.

Comandos personalizados

02. Know your tools
This is another aspect that may seem essential but is often neglected. Back in the 90’s when I started taking the first steps in image editing I heard the opinion of a “teacher” saying it was impossible to know and use all the features of Photoshop. He was right because each artist has his own needs and uses his tools in a particular way. In the case of Photoshop you also have lots of features to satisfy the needs of different artists, so each one uses it differently. So you can say that multiple paths can lead to the same result. However, when I choose Capture One as my RAW editor, I’d better learn how it works and how I can get the most out of it in my work context. Knowing our tools also allows us to shape them to the way we work, which also makes us more efficient.

Wacom Tablet Intuos Pro

03. Choose the right tools
Not always we have the opportunity to have the tools we would like. But when that’s possible we must choose them properly. This principle applies to both photographic equipment and accessories as well as to the software we use (in the context of this blog). Regarding the equipment, this is a delicate subject because of the amount of tools we can find, the difference between photographers and personal styles and also by the diversity of jobs and their own requirements. While suggestions may be given, it is up to each one to assess which tools suit them best. In terms of software nowadays we can test almost everyone before choosing what is best for us. Features, ways of working and results are conditions to take into account. Finally, I want to share a personal example regarding this topic. One of the tools that influenced my work in recent years was/is a Wacom tablet. For some time it was part of my list of priorities, I knew well the impact it could have on my workflow, but for various reasons I was delaying the acquisition of it. Today I can only recommend over and over to consider using one for the entire image editing process. I chose the medium size because I think it’s the best compromise.

04. Judge correctly
I have a characteristic that occasionally can become a problem, being a perfectionist. I say this because many times what happens to those who spend a lot of time editing images is to edit more than necessary. How? It’s easy to understand when we know that the retouching needs of a photograph is different when its going to be used in a social network, magazine or billboard. A correct evaluation of the purpose for which an image is intended can save us a lot of time. Being a perfectionist sometimes causes me to forget this rule and edit to the smallest detail when no one will see that stray hair. Here comes an important tip, always edit non-destructively. More on this in an upcoming article.

Painéis Macro e Library com diversas acções gravadas.

05. Automatisation
When we work on a regular basis in a certain type of work, we see ourselves doing systematic tasks repetitively. This is specially truth when it comes to editing and retouching images. Nowadays a good part of the programs give us the possibility to automate several of these processes. In Capture One I like to save styles and presets to use countless times even when they are just a starting point for a totally different result. In Affinity Photo I use Macros (actions) where the range of possibilities is much greater. From the simplest functions to the most complex effects and styles, whenever it’s possible I save a Macro for later use. What sometimes took a long time to create is now a click away. Use and abuse this feature.

06. Take a break
Overwork is not a good friend of perfection. When we spend too much time working on an image, normally one of two things happen, or we begin to edit details that didn’t needed to be edited, or we lose our way and we go over the ones that needed to be corrected. Ideally, we should take short breaks of time or interpose what we are doing with other tasks. The time between periods of work and rest depends but normally after an hour we begin to loose focus. This suggestion seems counterproductive but believe me that it’s a principle worth putting into practice.

07. Organization
One of the ways to be more efficient is to maintain a working methodology for all stages of our project. The consistency and repetition of procedures makes us faster and more objective. From the renaming of the photographs to the attribution of keywords and their classification, to the way how we edit them, everything helps to create a routine. Let me  give you another example, in Capture One I have the tools on the workspace organized in the order in which I edit an image. This way its an automated process allowing me to stay free for more creative issues.

Simple procedures and decisions can make a big difference, in this case time. Usually it’s the little things that contribute to great results. I hope some of these tips can be useful in the same way they are for me.
Some points discussed in this article will be the subject of further development in upcoming articles.
See you.


Zone System
Capture One
Affinity Photo
Intuos Pro (Wacom)