Mastering Photo Retouching: Tips and Techniques for Beginners

Mastering Photo Retouching

As per Verified Market Research, the market of photo editing software was worth around $293.44 million in 2022. Looking ahead, it’s estimated to climb to approximately $402.37 million by 2030. It’s quite evident that this industry is experiencing significant growth. Learn the Mastering Photo Retouching techniques and possible ways to optimize your workflow.

Taking a photograph is only half the job. The other half involves digitally editing the image in software. So, if your pictures don’t look like those on your favorite photographers’ websites, don’t get disheartened. More often than not, you just need to apply some corrections.

1. Choose Functional Tools

If you want to perform photo retouching like a pro, you need reliable with a broad selection of tools and features. Experts often opt for Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom because of their rich set of features and capabilities. Take your time to study these programs and understand the different tools and functions they offer, including layer masks, adjustment layers, and non-destructive editing options.

However, if you’re a beginner, we suggest starting with free or cost-effective alternatives to these programs. For instance, you can try Darktable, RawTherapee, and GIMP. These software are compatible with all operating systems. You can also consider Pixlr, Fotor, and BeFunky. These are web-based tools that don’t require installation. They also work on all operating systems.

We also want to draw your attention to such programs as Luminar Neo, Topaz Photo AI, and VanceAI. They come equipped with a range of AI-driven adjustment tools and filters that allow making speedy and easy edits.


2. Find Your Unique Style

There’s no universally “correct” way to retouch photos. Professional photographers follow different approaches when it comes to image editing. We suggest considering various editing styles like Natural, Bold and Vibrant, Light and Airy, Dark and Moody, Film Emulation, and more.

Some photographers like to play around with brightness and color saturation, while others lean toward black-and-white photography. There are those who enjoy vibrant, well-lit shots, while others prefer darker and moodier ones.

To discover your own style, take a look at social media and photographers’ portfolios. Pay close attention to what captivates your interest. Try to grasp what you particularly enjoy in photos. Is it the arrangement or the visual appearance of an image? If it’s the latter, then photo retouching is definitely the key.

If you’re new to photo editing, you may not yet know how to achieve the desired result. However, the first step is understanding what you like.

When editing images, take a moment to consider what you’d like to achieve. For instance:

  • Do you want a photo to be brighter?
  • Do you prefer an image to be straight?
  • Would you like the colors to be more vibrant?

We suggest you take a look at the portfolios of photographers and photo retouchers like Desiree Mattsson, Dani Dimond, Quentin Décaillet, and Nick Leadlay. Currently, they are considered some of the top talents in the field, and each of them has their own unique style.


3. Make Use of Actions and Presets

Actions or presets are combinations of settings that give a photograph a specific look.

Open your photo in editing software (for example, Lightroom if that’s what you’ve chosen to start with) and try out various built-in filters. See how the image automatically transforms. This way, you can determine which filter suits it best.

Fortunately, nowadays, you can find a wide variety of Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets and even mobile Lightroom presets online. Some photographers and companies offer them in ready-to-use sets. With such filters, you can create professional photos with no effort on your part.


4. Don’t Be Afraid to Frame Your Photo

Framing is an indispensable stage of photo retouching. By doing it, a photographer can select the most suitable angle, location, and direction for the shot. Besides, it is possible to draw viewers’ attention to the most important subject in the frame, thus, showing them what they should scrutinize in the first place.

Horizontal photos are generally easier for people to perceive. Furthermore, it’s more convenient to hold a camera horizontally rather than vertically, and not all tripods allow you to tilt the camera to a 90-degree angle.

However, a vertical frame can impart a certain meaning and depth to a photo, especially when the subject being photographed is vertically elongated.

PRO TIP: When deciding whether to go for a horizontal or vertical framing during editing, make your choice based on the placement of the main subject within the frame.

When people look at any retouched photo, their attention is naturally drawn to the most appealing element. By arranging the details in the image accurately, a photographer can direct the viewer’s gaze toward what they want to emphasize. Identify this attractive element and use framing to ensure that the viewer sees it first and foremost.

5. Take Advantage of Auto Settings

As photo editing software advances, so do the embedded algorithms used for automatic image enhancement. Therefore, a program can examine a photograph and suggest appropriate enhancements.

PRO TIP: The automatic option is usually indicated by an icon with a magic wand.

Even many professional photographers overlook the automatic photo processing tool, but some admit to using this feature in Lightroom. Lr doesn’t degrade the quality of the original image, which means that if you don’t like the processing result, you can always undo all the changes.

6. Always Correct Colors

No matter if you prefer vibrant photos or a more subdued color palette, by adjusting colors, you can give your picture a more professional look. There are plenty of tools available for this purpose. Contrast, saturation, and brightness are typically adjustable in photo editing programs. Contrast greatly affects colors as it determines the difference between light and shadow in a shot.

If you’re shooting in RAW format, your photos may appear flat. To give them more depth, the first step is to raise contrast.

PRO TIP: Lightroom and many similar photo retouching programs have a tool called HSL. Using it, you can fine-tune colors selectively.

7. Always Remove Stains and Unwanted Objects

No matter what image for retouching you are dealing with, it is paramount to pay attention to details. To make a picture look perfect, you may need to remove certain elements or clutter from the background.

It is very easy to remove unwanted items in photo editing software. Just use the removal tool (Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop, Spot Removal in Lightroom). In Lightroom, you can click on the area you want to erase, and the program will select another part of the photo to replace it with. Lightroom typically handles this task well, but if you want, you can select the “patch” manually.

Many photographers use Adobe Photoshop and similar software for retouching photos because it’s more versatile. For instance, you can remove people from a scene or alter an entire building.

8. Master Advanced Retouching Techniques

These are mainly the techniques that require more attention and greater patience and skills.

Dodge and Burn. Improve the depth and dimension of your pictures by selectively darkening (burning) or lightening (dodging) particular areas. Utilize the dodge and burn tools or establish separate layers with gentle brushes to achieve a subtle yet noticeable effect.

Frequency Separation. This advanced technique allows you to split the texture (high frequency) from the color and tone (low frequency) of an image. By working on each layer separately, you can enhance specific details without altering the overall picture.

Hair Retouching. This includes retouching hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, or clothing of a model with a hairy texture. This process involves several key steps: outlining individual hairs, smoothing internal gaps, filling spaces and “white spots,” aligning hair texture, softening, adjusting the hair’s shape, working with highlights and shadows, and correcting hair color.

Mastering Photo Retouching

9. Always Hone Your Skills and Experiment

Becoming really good at photo retouching is all about putting in the effort and trying out new things. You should check out tutorials, join discussions on the internet, and take a close look at the work of famous photo editors for some ideas and motivation. Don’t shy away from trying different methods and styles to create your own special way of making pictures look awesome.

PRO TIP: Many photo editing software developers have their own video tutorials on YouTube dedicated to photo retouching tips and tricks. For example, you’ll find various tutorials for Adobe software, and there are also many guidelines for Luminar Neo and GIMP.

10. Stick to a Consistent Photo Retouching Workflow

Keeping things consistent is really important in photo retouching. It’s like having a secret method that not only keeps you organized and efficient but also gives your photos a similar vibe in all your projects.

To keep your photo retouching consistent, begin by creating some rules and standards for your photo retouching process. These can cover things like fixing colors, smoothing skin, and making other usual tweaks. When you set these standards from the get-go, you make sure all your photos share that same special touch.

Next, make a detailed checklist or a clear chart that breaks down how you go about retouching photos step by step. Think of it as your trusty roadmap to keep everything organized and make sure you don’t skip any important parts while improving your pictures.

PRO TIP: It’s a smart move to check in on your workflow regularly and make changes when needed. As you dive into more projects and run into new challenges, you may realize that some of the steps in your process need a little fine-tuning or updating. By giving your workflow a regular once-over and making necessary adjustments, you’ll make sure you stay efficient and get the job done right every time.

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