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

To Edit or Not to Edit?

Recently I was planning a photo to be the base for a future article, and I decided to include my eldest son in the role of photographer (since I was the model…). As I was explaining the idea and the concept I get this question from him: “But is that not faking?” This genuine reaction led to a constructive talk about whether or not to edit a photograph. By the way, the idea was to create an image in studio and then move it to a different composition in order to tell a story.

But returning to the old question, old because it’s one of those questions that brings more debate to the table and that more consequences has caused, sometimes not very positive for the authors or the photos in question. Is it okay to edit/change an image? There are photographers on both sides of the answer. But the debate this question as generated often make us lose sight of what really matters. Whether or not to edit an image (regardless of the amount) is not the real issue. What is really important is if we are deliberately “faking” a photograph in order to deceive/adulterate reality and there fore our audience.

Editing/retouching has always occurred in one level or another. Even before the digital age, the editing process of an image was always present, whether in the choice of a filter or film with certain characteristics or in the laboratory. Retouching always followed the evolution of photography.
With the emergence of computers this process went to another level, but be deceived if you think it was necessary to wait to 1988 when the Knoll brothers released commercially Photoshop 1.0. Long before “wonders”  were already happening in image retouching. Check this video.

Today’s digital reality goes beyond this type of editing and it’s been easily showing one that does not exist. On the other side is the traditional lab techniques of which even the greatest masters make use in their photographs. Here and there we come across examples of this as the following link is a proof of.

Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom

At the same time there are cases of photos that have been “modified” without the knowledge of the general public. Not that there was any real intention of hiding this fact (although this also happens), but this reality leaves us many times with uncertainties. It may be because we faithfully believed what they showed us or because we never imagined that photographer A or B could do it. We can also have an idea about an artist or work that doesn’t always correspond to reality. The truth is that we are caught by surprise. The latest and hottest case is of the famous Afghan girl (National Geographic cover). You can find out more at the following link:

Eyes of the Afghan Girl: A Critical Take on the ‘Steve McCurry Scandal’

Personally I’ve never had problems with editing on a smaller or larger scale. And since I shoot in RAW, I always need to edit my images to some degree. However, based on my background, I’ve also defended we should be able to achieve the photograph we imagine at the time of shooting. Example of this are the following two photos (the first one that had a simple black-and-white conversion, and the second where I adjusted the values of brightness and saturation) whose “effects” were achieved at the time I click the shutter:

I’m all against the common “I fix it later in Photoshop” but completely in favour of the artistic freedom that these and other tools allow us. In conscience we must be true to ourselves and change the question “Should I edit this image?” to “What message do I want to convey with this photo?”.
There’s a huge difference between being false and being creative and it’s up to each photographer/artist to decide where one ends and the other begins. What do you think of this question? Is it pertinent and it’s something that shapes your work and felling about photography?
The featured photo in this article was edited to convert it to black and white using various localized adjustments. Does it change the reality? Do you think it’s fake?…