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Achieving Realistic Retouching Results

Have you ever looked at one of those over-retouched photos that looks like it was either computer-generated or that the model was molded out of plastic instead of being a flesh-and-blood human? We all have to start somewhere and over processing is almost a rite of passage for photographers. Sometimes the effect is meant to be the star of the show, but usually you want the retouching to enhance your model, not outshine her.

How to know you’ve gone too far with your retouching

  • If people (except other photographers, perhaps) look at your work and say, “Nice Photoshop work,” instead of, “Wonderful image,” you’ve probably done too much.
  • If people can name the specific effects you used, such as blurring, vignetting, etc.
  • If the model looks at her final image and asks, “Nice, who is this of?”

Tips for keeping retouching realistic

  • Don’t zoom-in too much. It’s important to get close to your work, but not so close that you’re tempted to clone out every pore and heal every wrinkle.
  • Remember that real skin has variation to its texture. The skin on an elbow doesn’t look like the skin on the rest of the arm. Arms don’t look like legs. So don’t try to make every body part look like a baby’s butt.
  • When applying effects, apply them until you notice a difference, then back off to about 70% to 80% of that point.
  • You don’t need to use every trick you know on every image.
  • Don’t try to use Photoshop to fix bad lighting, bad shooting, or a poor choice of scene. The more you have to do in postprocessing, the more it will look fake.
  • Before you dive into a Photoshop tutorial, look at the “after” image. Does the style look like what you want your work to be?

Nude model

Unretouched nude