Behind the Scenes: Retouching

Retouching sometimes gets a bad rep. And I get it, nobody wants overly-retouched unrealistically gorgeous ladies in magazines warping our perception of beauty. But for professional portraits, retouching is actually quite essential. The approach of enhancing what’s already there, removing elements that are distracting, and revealing the beauty that we see in the real world that’s so hard to capture in camera is what portrait photography is all about.

Even children need a bit of retouching! In this image, the under eye area was lightened and skin was retouched to create a non-distracting portrait of how her Mom sees her every day.

Even children need a bit of retouching! In this image, the under eye area was lightened and skin was retouched to create a non-distracting portrait of how her Mom sees her every day.


Teeth whitening, under-eye circles, and hair

Why spend thousands on teeth whitening when it takes 30 seconds in Photoshop to make them look white and sparkly? Ok, not exactly, but you know what I mean! You will never see ultra-white teeth in my portraits, but yellow is always reduced during the retouching process to guarantee everyone looks their best. Under-eye circles are also a standard part of retouching, because we are all tired nowadays (even babies and children don’t always get their beauty sleep all the time). And hair.. there’s hair that’s out of place, distracting flyaways (I don’t retouch them drastically, as I outline below), hair across the face, and yes, receding and thinning hair lines that are usually taken care of in post production. After all, when you have a great portrait, all those little details matter.

Image of retouched and unretouched teeth. Photo by N. Lalor Photography in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Casual Studio portrait of a young woman. Personal headshot by N. Lalor Photography. Studio in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Correcting for camera distortion

Remember hearing that “the camera adds 10 pounds”? Most of the time, it’s not you, but the camera that’s making you look bigger than you really are. Which is why my approach to retouching is more about correcting for camera distortion than morphing people into someone they’re not.

In fact, whatever is closest to the camera will appear the largest - that means arms will look HUGE, even if they’re not. Our faces are also always moving and shifting in real life, so when you freeze a moment in a photograph, it might not always be flattering (more on what I do with this one below). Bringing a portrait into Photoshop and changing certain elements is always done with great care. And it’s about staying true to how we see each other in real life, not how the camera sees us.

Image of retouched and unretouched arm on young woman. Photo by N. Lalor Photography in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Blemish removal & skin smoothing

I wish we all had perfect skin.. but for some reason a photo session always brings out a blemish or two. Babies and children especially get unpredictable acne, scratches, and bruises that can’t be avoided. And I love telling parents that it’s totally fine! This is why retouching is so important for family sessions, even if children seem like they have perfect skin already. With the super-high resolution cameras, everyone can use a bit of skin retouching.

One thing that’s important to note is that every one of my images is expertly retouched by hand without the use of filters or plugins. This is the way magazines do their retouching, because no time-saving automated software has been able to produce the high-quality result I’m looking for.

Image of retouched and unretouched smooth skin. N. Lalor Photography. Photography Studio in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Family Portrait of woman, man and dog. N. Lalor Photography. Photographer Studio in Greenwich, Connecticut

Removing distracting elements

As much as we try to get everything right in camera, when you’re photographing children, pets, or working within a time limit, distracting elements end up in photos all the time. One of the things I watch out for is hands in random places, and if they end up in the portrait, I will remove them if I can. For the instance above, I did correct that hand in later shots of the same pose (which is how I had an image to composite from), but the best expressions were in the first round of portraits. Merging two or more images is something that happens for almost every session, and you can read more about that specific approach below.

Most of the distracting elements are taken care of during posing, but sometimes they do end up in the selected portrait.. in which case, I will remove them, like this hand that didn’t need to be there.

Most of the distracting elements are taken care of during posing, but sometimes they do end up in the selected portrait.. in which case, I will remove them, like this hand that didn’t need to be there.


Fixing double chins

If you’ve ever seen unflattering photos of yourself, it’s often that double chin that makes an appearance. We all have a double chin in certain situations.. and some of us have one in 90% of the photos we’re in (that’s me, btw). It can be avoided with posing, but sometimes when you’re laughing and trying to juggle your toddler on your lap, posing just isn’t practical. And that’s why post-product and editing is so important. We can keep that candid photo of you with your child, but fix that double chin.

Photo of retouched and unretouched double chin. N. Lalor Photography. Photography Studio in Greenwich, Connecticut

Creating that perfect portrait

That shot you see of everyone smiling and looking at the camera might not have actually happened. Often those “perfect family shot” images are composited together, after the fact. I often have to take elements from one photo and insert them into other (or combine 3 or more) to make sure everyone is looking the right way, with the best expression. Now, it doesn’t always work out, because a good composite requires that everyone is roughly in the same place in all the photos, but when it does, it allows us to have portraits that would otherwise be impossible!

This photo didn’t happen. Why? Because photographing a 2-year old and a newborn is very unpredictable. I ended up combining 2 images to create this “perfect” portrait. See below for the two photos that were used.

This photo didn’t happen. Why? Because photographing a 2-year old and a newborn is very unpredictable. I ended up combining 2 images to create this “perfect” portrait. See below for the two photos that were used.

The original two images that were merged into one “perfect” portrait. Baby looked good in one, and her big sister looked good in the other. This is why Photoshop can be so crucial for portraiture.

The original two images that were merged into one “perfect” portrait. Baby looked good in one, and her big sister looked good in the other. This is why Photoshop can be so crucial for portraiture.


What doesn’t get retouched

Birthmarks or anything permanent

While acne, scratches, and redness get retouched, permanent marks on the face and body are left alone. This goes for scars as well, unless you specifically let me know that you’d like them edited out of your portraits. I believe that we are most beautiful when we accept ourselves, with all of the little “flaws” that make us unique.. which is why I feel so strongly about leaving them in portraits.

Photo of young girl smiling with braces. N. Lalor Photography, Greenwich, Connecticut.

Flyaways & stray hairs

This isn’t a magazine ad. There’s no need for hair to be super perfect and it’s important for images to be realistic. So unless a piece of hair is truly interfering with a portrait, it usually doesn’t get removed.

Braces

As long as your child is comfortable with their braces, we should be good to go for the photo session. In fact, a lot of children need an extra boost of confidence during this time and having a portrait that beautifully captures them with their braces is truly special. One tip I will mention is to opt for the clear rubber bands for the braces before your family portrait session as they are the least distracting.


Cameras have megapixel resolutions that capture every single pore, crease, and eyelash. And if you’re not a model, that amount of detail can be scary. Retouching helps us regular people look our best in photos. It allows us to not worry about that pimple that came out of nowhere, a bruise that just happened, or a scratch on the baby’s face. It’s one of the biggest reasons to hire a professional photographer, and to work with someone who can bring your vision into reality.